Council says move forward on 520 bridge, deal with rail later
The Seattle City Council has all but abandoned the idea of running light rail trains on a new Highway 520 bridge any time soon.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Read the council's letter: www.seattle.gov/council/attachments/2010sr520lettertogov.pdf
The Seattle City Council has all but abandoned the idea of running light-rail trains on a new Highway 520 bridge anytime soon.
In formal comments Thursday on the $4.65 billion state highway project, the council supported the current plan by legislators and the state Department of Transportation, to forge ahead with two general traffic lanes and one lane for buses and three-person carpools, in each direction.
Trains would arrive a generation or two from now, if ever, the council presumes. Sound Transit and the state lack money to add light rail. The council further predicted that "buses may provide a more flexible and effective form of high-capacity transit for this project area." If the twin carpool lanes can't run at 45 mph, cars should be kicked out and the lanes converted to "bus rapid transit," the council says.
More buses are coming soon anyway, funded by a federal grant to experiment with 520 tolls, as a means to reduce car traffic.
Mayor Mike McGinn, in a separate letter Thursday, took a stronger line for rail — urging the state to work up to another year to design a bridge that is truly rail-compatible.
State lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire have determined the span will "accommodate" future light rail. So far, their commitment has gone only as far as a design for extra pontoons, which could be added beneath the bridge deck to help support a 200-ton train.
McGinn acknowledged that it's not realistic to insist on train service the day the bridge opens, in the mid- to late-2010s. However, his letter still envisions a bridge that is fully engineered for trackway to be added. McGinn ventured that it might be possible within 10 years from now. According to McGinn:
• The extra pontoons for rail should be manufactured now, using $150 million in savings the state says it has reaped on low construction bids so far.
• The state should design a way to add tracks from 520 to the Sound Transit station at Husky Stadium. A gap between east- and westbound 520 lanes near Foster Island would allow trains to exit from the center, continuing on a bridge over Union Bay to the University of Washington. Or trains might take another path, he said in an interview.
"The replacement for the SR 520 bridge will have a life of 75 to 100 years. This is our one chance to 'get it right' and to build a bridge that meets the needs of Seattle and the region for years to come," says McGinn's letter.
Gregoire immediately objected to slowing the project. "Delaying 520 is not an option. The 40-year-old bridge is in danger of sinking in the next earthquake or windstorm and must be replaced. The new bridge will have four lanes plus two carpool and transit lanes to accommodate our region's current and future transportation needs. When a plan to bring light rail to both ends of the bridge is developed and funded, the new bridge, as designed, will be ready to accommodate it."
Meanwhile, Sound Transit is designing a rail route on the Interstate 90 bridge, to open in the early 2020s.
Seattle officials also made several proposals to reduce the roadway bulk in the Montlake neighborhood. The council wants to scrap the DOT's proposed seventh lane over Portage Bay, for westbound traffic to merge onto 520 from the University of Washington or exit to northbound Interstate 5. Instead, the shoulder would be used as a peak-time exit lane to I-5.
McGinn went further, urging the state to consider a leaner four-lane footprint over Portage Bay; that way, the (bus and/or rail) lanes of 520 would end at Montlake, having served the Eastside-to-University corridor.
Negotiations likely will continue through summer, before state DOT publishes its environmental statement by year's end.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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