Progress on 520, not without controversy

92nd Ave Interchange
92nd Ave Interchange
The 92nd Avenue Northeast interchange features a one-lane roundabout to help drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians safely and efficiently navigate local streets and the SR 520 highway off-ramp.

If you drive on 520 you can see that progress is being made, or at least that there is a lot of construction activity. The start of construction was a shock to many people, particularly the removal of the trees necessary to do the work widening and moving the landing in Medina about 200′ north of the current landing.

The caption on the drawing above was written by WSDOT and is part of the controversy referenced below the jump in this post.

Contracts have been let on both the Eastside portion and the floating portion. We still have financing work to do on the Westside portion – the funds are in hand to do the first two portions, so we are moving ahead. The Seattle Times reported that the State Treasurer believes that if the Eyman initiative (I-1125) this year about tolling passes that we will not be able to finance even this part, as the bond market does not respond well to non-standard toll-setting authority. (article here)

The design details of the project as it crosses the Points Communities have been known for a long time and shared with the public many times, but sometimes changes occur as the engineering of the project gets deeper into detail. Typically a project like the bridge that uses theĀ  “design-build” contracting method is about 30% designed when the contracts go out. The winner of the bidding finishes the design and the construction. We’ve found that its a LOT cheaper this way, as pointy-headed engineers who don’t have to build the thing don’t make decisions that can be better made closer to the ground. This is true in lots of engineering disciplines and was true at Microsoft as well.

Two controversies have come up very late in the design cycle – the 84th Ave crossing and the 92nd Ave crossing. Some modifications were made at 84th last year, and the 92nd crossing is generating some community concern right now.

The design process here has literally gone on for over a decade, and all the decisions have to be agreed to by all 4 of the affected communities, so there have been a lot of negotiations with lots and lots of people. It is risky and expensive to change designs at the last minute and WSDOT is loathe to do so, particularly once construction has started, though they will try to make reasonable accommodations to what the community wants.

I’ve always felt that my job as a legislator on these kinds of issues is to make sure that WSDOT and the state are responsive to local elected officials, and that’s what I’ve done in this case. I do not know as much about the details of all the issues as the mayors and councils of the four cities do and they worked together for years to get the design as right as possible.

I’ve attached a (short) WSDOT document that details the current issue at 92nd and why a roundabout was chosen. It’s an interesting read and exposes some of the complexities of the decision here.

2011_0805_92nd_Roundabout_factsheet (1.27 MB .pdf file)

Author: Ross

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.

2 thoughts on “Progress on 520, not without controversy”

  1. Ross, the WS-DOT document regarding the proposed 92nd Ave Roundabout does not provide credible justification for a Roundabout at 92nd Ave, nor is the description of the process and community involvement accurate. The WS-DOT document gives two reasons for the Roundabout:
    (1) to replace and upgrade the transit drop-off area (Kiss & Ride); and
    (2) to safely and efficiently move traffic and pedestrians through a five-point intersection.
    On point (1), the Kiss & Ride on the lid is fine and can be fully accommodated without a Roundabout.
    Point (2) is a mis-leading description of what is needed. We have a through street (92nd Ave) with modest traffic and a one-way freeway offramp. The other two streets are cul-de-sacs with little traffic and don’t need to be part of the same intersection. The off-ramp has operated safely and efficiently as a T-intersection controlled by a stop sign. There have been zero pedestrian or bicycle accidents in the past five years, and one single fender-bender. This is no safety improvement for pedestrians or bicyclists, and definitely inconvenience and increased complexity for pedestrians, bicyclists and even motorists. The intersection does not meet many criteria for when a roundabout is called for.
    475 Yarrow Point residents (cf ~700 registered voters, 420 votes in last general election) have signed a petition asking WS-DOT to eliminate the Roundabout. If a stop-signed controlled T-intersection can safely meet the auto traffic levels, cannot the community select a design which we feel preserves the character of our community and is friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists?
    A proper design-build contract allows for reductions in scope, which is what we are asking. The design is not far along. Our town engineer says that there have not been drawings to scale yet. Construction of the Roundabout wasn’t scheduled until next year.
    Our community did not know this was coming, and even conceptual drawings were not made public until this Spring, which has led to the community rallying in opposition to a 120 foot diameter Roundabout. What people had expected was more like the 40-foot Hunts Point traffic circle, and even our Town Council didn’t know what was coming.
    This is an opportunity for WS-DOT to listen to strong community sentiment, and community self-determination, instead of telling us what was decided for us via some process none of us had access to. And to save some money by not building an unnecessary, unwanted Roundabout.

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