The good news is: The tolls and years of construction hassles on the 520 expansion project will probably eliminate much of the traffic the bridge is being designed to accommodate.
But that's only if the project is ever actually built.
Representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Montlake community spoke to a public meeting in Eastlake on Wednesday about the 520 project, which has been in the planning stages for almost 12 years and which the state would like to have completed by 2016.
The debate over the project heated up this week with dueling press conferences between those who favor more transit options on the floating bridge (Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, state House Speaker Frank Chopp, several state representatives and at least one member of the city council) and those who want to proceed with a design chosen by state legislators last fall, now known as Option A+ (Eastside government representatives, five Seattle City Council members, representatives of labor unions).
At Wednesday's Eastlake meeting, Daniel Babuca, an engineering manager with WSDOT, and Michael Horntvedt, a WSDOT engineer, explained the three options a state legislative work group selected from last November.
The legislators selected Option A (with sub options), which would construct a new six-lane floating bridge across Lake Washington to replace the current four-lane structure. There would be three lanes in each direction with one of those lanes reserved for transit and carpools. There would be a new seven-lane viaduct crossing Portage Bay and lids over I-5 and Roanoke, 520 between 10th E. and Delmar Drive, and in the Montlake area.
Also included would be a new drawbridge at Montlake, different and limited access to Lake Washington Blvd., and direct access lanes to the freeway for transit. All three options include a 14-foot-wide bike path across the lake.
WSDOT's map of the 520 project.
Horntvedt said that WSDOT looks at what effect the project will have versus not building it. WSDOT's numbers show:
- 1.1 million residents will live in the Seattle area by 2030.
- 115,000 cars cross the bridge each day now.
- Without the new bridge, that number will grow to 135,000 cars daily.
- With the bridge and its new transit options, the number will grow to only 120,000 vehicles.
Babuca said the connections between 520 and I-5 will remain pretty much as they are now. The big difference is that there will be direct connections for carpools and transit to the I-5 express lanes. Another difference will be the lids that, Babuca said, will help to reconnect communities severed by the freeways. The lids will be mainly passive use (no playfields, Babuca said), with trails and landscaping.
Right now, the state is taking comments on the projects supplemental draft environmental impact statement. WSDOT will hold a public hearing and open house on the project from 5-7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Naval Reserve Building at Lake Union Park, 860 Terry Ave. N.
Ted Lane and Jonathan Dubman from the Montlake community spoke about what they see as WSDOT's misguided approach to the expansion project. They support the mayor and others who want to see the HOV lanes on the bridge dedicated exclusively for transit (possibly light rail). They'd like to see the project designed so as to control how many cars come into Seattle each day. They'd like to see better connections between the bridge and transit options on the Seattle side.
In general, said Lane, they just think the 520 expansion is too much. "The project that came out was too big, too wide and insufficiently friendly to transit," Lane said.
Lane said the Montlake community was surprised at how wide the shoulders are (and fears they could be restriped into two additonal lanes), how tall the floating bridge is (40 feet from the water to the top of the structure), how big the Portage Bay viaduct is, and how far transit riders would have to walk to get from stops near the Montlake end of the bridge to a transit hub at the University of Washington (1,200 to 1,400 feet).
Lane said Montlake wants an option that's "in scale and context sensitive to the urban environment."
Dubman said that the project has dragged on so long that the world has changed. Gas is more expensive and people want more transit options than when the project began. The bridge and Seattle approaches need to reflect those changes, he said.
Those opposed to Option A+ have started a web site, sustainable520.org , to present their arguments.
One problem the project faces no matter which option is chosen is a shortage of money. The state pegs the total cost at $4.53-4.63 billion dollars and they're still about $2 billlion short. The floating bridge is funded but the Seattle end of the project isn't. Tolls on the current bridge (possibly $3.65 each way) are expected to begin next year but they won't be able to make up the funding gap.
Lane noted that the current bridge was done on the cheap and that we shouldn't make that mistake again.
WSDOT's Web site on the project has detailed maps, lots of background material on the project and the various design options, and a place to comment on the supplemental draft EIS (you have until March 8).
A video flyover of Option A is available on YouTube: