520 Generates Controversy

As usual, every time we take a step forward on the 520 Bridge project we generate a bunch of controversy. In December the 520 Legislative Workgroup released its recommendation for the “A+” design option. I’ve written extensively abou tthis and you can read my blog of search local news sites for news about the 520 bridge for details.

On Monday morning Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn held a press conference with House Spekaer Frank Chopp, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, and Sen. Ed Murray to propose a set of changes to the design, which they voted against in the workgroup. Their new proposal is to limit the use of the 3rd lane in each direction to transit only, and to investigate using it for light rail only.

I am not a fan of this change for the following reasons:
1. We have an HOV network on all major roads in the area, except 520. If we expect people to carpool we need to provide them with a better experience. It’s not better on 520, so people don’t do it. Imagine an hour in a car where you don’t control the music, you don’t like the people (any more) and it doesn’t give you any speed advantage. If it’s faster you ca n tolerate your co-worker’s unfortunate burping problem, but not if it’s the same amount of time as driving your own car.
2. If the HOV lane becomes clogged with busses and HOV vehicles, we can easily increase the occupancy requirement – go to 3 people per vehicle. The goal is to keep that lane moving at a reasonable speed and move the maximum number of people.
I’d love to have light rail across the bridge. If they want to add fixed rail to the bridge I am open to it, but Sound Transit keeps weighing in that it doesn’t work. However, I don’t think we should throw the existing Sound Transit plan up in the air in order to consider a major new change of direction. The 520 plan is designed to allow expansion for light rail in the future by adding pontoons. The east side alignment will work smoothly with light rail – all the overpasses etc. are wide enough to handle the capacity. Planning the landing on the west side so that we don’t preclude this option is important. To not preclude the addition of high capacity transit was a piece of negotiation we did a few years ago.
As a community we have worked on these plans for over a decade, with participation from both sides of the lake, from transit, from elected officials, from neighborhoods, from everyone. If we are to change major regional plans every time a new mayor of one of the 39 cities in the county is elected we are in deep trouble. This bridge plan improves the westbound peak-time transit experience from Redmond to Seattle by 40+ minutes. We have a plan that won 10-3 in the latest community involvement process, a plan that fits into the budget, that can be permitted, and that replaces the bridge on schedule. We should move forward.

About the Author

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.