Gregoire vetoes height limit for new 520 bridge
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday vetoed part of a Highway 520 bridge-replacement law — a section that would have restricted the bridge's height to 20 feet above Lake Washington.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a bill to get Highway 520 construction started soon — but vetoed a section that would have restricted the floating bridge's height to 20 feet above Lake Washington.
Senate Bill 6392 allows a bond sale to pay for prompt construction on the Eastside bridge approaches next year, and for fabrication of the pontoons in Grays Harbor and Tacoma. These bonds would be backed by tolls, which the state intends to impose next year on the existing bridge. Tolls would vary, with a possible peak afternoon rate of $3.25 each way.
After 13 years of design arguments, the bill gets the project rolling, even while state and local officials continue to negotiate over how to design the more controversial sections on the Seattle side of Lake Washington.
The governor kept language to have "work teams," including the city of Seattle, figure out the design and transit connections for the Montlake interchange, and earmarks $200 million for those features.
"Replacing the 520 bridge is about protecting public safety and maintaining a vibrant economy. The laws signed today will get us going to make sure we open the new bridge on time in 2014," she said. That goal is for the floating part. To build through Seattle's Montlake neighborhood and over Portage Bay will take a few years more.
Bridge proponent Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, said the partial veto won't detract from the timetable for the overall $4.65 billion replacement.
The governor's staff said she didn't want to cause procedural or legal snags in case the height exceeds 20 feet.
"As a practical matter, the engineering may not be able to assure that outcome. It might be 21 feet, 3 inches," Eddy said. "Somebody could sue."
Earlier, the state Department of Transportation proposed a general deck height of 30 feet, provoking outrage from neighborhoods near the bridge. Since then, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said she would have engineers aim for 20 feet or less. A tall bridge deck is meant to allow safer and easier access for maintenance crews, Hammond has said.
A few of the floating pieces must be taller transition spans, where the floating deck meets the fixed bridge sections on either side. Because the new bridge won't have a drawspan, it must provide clearance for vessels to pass beneath, meeting Coast Guard regulations, said Transportation Department spokesman Lloyd Brown.
Fran Conley, coordinator of the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, said Gregoire ought to promise a height of less than 20 feet. She also chastised the state for earmarking tolls on the old bridge to pay for onshore Eastside lanes that are not critical for safety.
The existing four-lane bridge, built in 1963, is at risk of capsizing in a severe windstorm or earthquake. The new crossing would include a bike trail, two general lanes each way, and one lane each way for carpools and transit.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
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