I-90 tolling proposal public input opportunity

Ancient (1979) toll booth on the 520 bridge
Ancient (1979) toll booth on the 520 bridge – courtesy WSDOT

I received the following memo from WSDOT this week. We are entering the phase of finalizing the funding plan for the Western landing for 520. One of the options is tolling I-90 to pay for the remaining $1.4 billion in work to be done.

We currently have enough money in the budget to connect the 6-lane bridge to Montlake, but not go all the way to I-5, and the Westbound connection from Montlake to Foster Island is somewhat crippled. The decision to move forward with construction of the floating and Eastside portions has saved a tremendous amount of money over waiting, and has pushed the decision forward so that the bridge will actually get done.

Leaving the 520 bridge in this partially-complete stage would be disastrous – the traffic congestion from the merge would be painful and we would not get the throughput we want. Seattle would not get the mitigation it wants.

Tolling I-90 is not the desired option, but it’s our backup plan and we’re doing the study. The memo is about ways to have input, should you so desire. There is a meeting on Thursday October 10th you may be interested in as well.


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Legislative Update

We’ve gone through the first week. The governor and the state-wide officials have all been inaugurated, I fit into the same tuxedo I got married in 23 years ago for the inaugural ball, the Senate is in uproar about Senator Tom’s defection and the consequent change in partisan control, the sun came out (briefly) in Olympia, and we are back to work. The only real surprise to me was the tuxedo fitting.

The Senate is controlled by Republicans due to Democratic Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon caucusing with them. Sen. Tom is the “majority leader” and Sen. Sheldon has a leadership role. I’m not sure how this will work out in the end but it’s gotten a lot of press. We have successfully negotiated a bipartisan budget for the last two years that I have been budget chairman, and I expect that to continue. The change in control of the Senate does not affect the budget as much as you might expect. It may have a profound effect on issues like women’s healthcare, gun safety and those that have more partisan differences of opinion. I am withholding judgment until the end of the session and we see how things work out.

We have three big tasks this year that we must complete, plus a few additional projects many of us would like to get to if we complete the important work.

  1. Adopt a budget that balances for both 2013-15 and 2015-17 in order to comply with the strongest balanced budget requirement in the country. (It’s interesting to note that the state has adopted balanced budgets every year since 1889 without this requirement so maybe it wasn’t as important as people thought it should be…)
  2. Resolve the supreme court’s requirement in the McCleary case that we live up to the constitutional requirement to “amply provide for the education of all children.” Current estimates are that this will require about $4.5 billion every two years by 2018, and we must make “steady progress” towards meeting this goal.
  3. Work out all the details of the Medicaid expansion enabled by the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare.) This will cover nearly 350,000 additional people in Washington and save the state over $100 million a year. The health insurance exchange will cover an additional 400,000 or so people, leaving almost everyone in Washington covered.

I’d like to adopt a transportation package that finishes the funding for the West end of the 520 project and invests in other important transportation infrastructure, but this should come after we address the base budget issues and McCleary. I’d also like us to take reasonable steps forward on gun safety in light of the recent spurt of mass killings, but this will be difficult as there are substantial differences between members on the issue. Perhaps the US Congress will be more functional than the Legislature on this topic, but that would be a real surprise.

This newsletter is made up of several recent blog postings I’ve done. If you’re interested in the topic you should be able to click through to the website to see the rest of the article. I find that if I share everything I write with you that the parts at the end don’t get read. Perhaps I should take this as a sign, but I can’t help myself.

For more posts that didn’t fit into this newsletter, and the stuff I post during session you can read my website.

Budget Outline

The current economic outlook calls for modest growth, but growth in tax revenue slower than our obligations. Our current projections show a shortfall of $904 million in the 2013-15 budget.

2013-15 balance sheet

The cryptic “NGFS + Op PW” title in the spreadsheet stands for “Near General Fund plus Opportunity Pathways” accounts, and is the sum of most state taxes that go into the overall budget. “BSA” stands for “Budget Stabilization Account” or the rainy day fund. We can’t spend this fund without a super-majority vote, so the problem is $904 million, not the $349 million on the bottom line.

Many changes will happen to this budget before we are done, including the addition of the McCleary obligation. Adding all the problems together nets you about a $2.8 billion problem.

Keep reading about the budget… 

What’s the “McCleary Problem?”

In 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court found that Washington State was not funding our education system at anything close to the level the constitution requires. Just before the holidays the court opined again, that

“the overall level of funding remains below the levels that have been declared constitutionally inadequate.” (Washington State Supreme Court, 2012)

On the Legislative side the Joint Task Force on Education Finance report issued in December 2012 detailed an eventual cost of about $4.5 billion dollars per biennium in additional funding needed to meet the court’s definition of “constitutionally adequate.” Arguments that the court isn’t talking about funding are belied by the quote above.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this session the Legislature needs to make steady progress towards completely meeting the court’s requirement by 2018. There are 5 school years between now and 2018, and “steady progress” means we get about 2/5ths of the way to the complete solution, or about $1.7 billion.

I personally do not believe that just adding additional money to the system will resolve all the problems we face, particularly with respect to the achievement gap faced by many low-income students. The funds are necessary, but probably not sufficient to improve matters significantly. The same can be said about the proposed accountability changes. I believe we can do both, and have significant results. There will be much negotiation this year to come to a resolution.

For more information read What’s in McCleary?

Gun Safety

I’ve held off commenting on gun safety because I wanted to think about it for a while after the Sandy Hook incident. Writing new policy in knee-jerk response to a single incident typically is a bad idea. However, there have been enough incidents that I think we need to respond and create a safer place to live.

I have already received a lot of email on this issue and I try to address most of the issues that have come up. These are addressed in the actual blog post – there have been a LOT of issues raised.

Some people think about this issue from a “rights” perspective – “I have a constitutional right to own whatever kind of firearm I want” and some from a public health perspective – “it turns out to be a bad idea to let people with unresolved mental health problems or domestic violence issues, felons, and children own dangerous weapons.” We can balance these two perspectives in reasonable ways.

  • Ensure that people with domestic violence restraining orders, mental health issues, etc. are unable to purchase guns by requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including those at gun shows.
  • Keep guns out of the hands of small children and other unauthorized people by creating some kind of “safe storage” requirement. If you are going to keep a gun in your house or car you should be responsible to ensure that children do not have access to it.
  • Reduce the availability of military capacity guns that can fire many rounds very quickly. This is an extension of the principle we use in banning the private ownership of machine guns, bazookas and tanks and would fall under the supreme court’s definition of “unusual and dangerous” weapons. I believe this is a problem that can best be addressed at the federal level, not at the state level. I have no detailed knowledge of Sen. Feinstein’s bill or President Obama’s proposal and cannot comment on the specifics other than to say that it is an issue in the other Washington, not this one.
  • And, on a more personal note, I would feel more secure if most people (including elected officials, but not the numerous state patrol officers stationed at the capitol) were prohibited from carrying firearms on the floor of the House. A surprisingly large number of people who are not off-duty police officers feel a need to carry concealed pistols in a building filled with children, tour groups and sometimes angry protesters. The likelihood of accidents seems high.

For the much longer post read Gun Safety in Washington.

Education Voters Public Forum – Tuesday Jan 22nd

I’m appearing with Senator Steve Litzow at a forum hosted by the League of Education Voters on Tuesday of this week. I don’t expect the event to be a formal debate, but Steve and I will lay out some differences between the positions our caucuses have, and talk about the possibility of compromise and what that might look like. (I recognize that “compromise” is a word that is vanishing from our political lexicon, but in this Washington we try to maintain a quality vocabulary.)

Formal press release:

The League of Education Voters is hosting a forum to discuss education in Washington state with Rep. Ross Hunter and Sen. Steve Litzow on Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the King County Library Administration Building. (960 Newport Way NW, Issaquah)

The forum will allow residents to learn more about competing visions for funding public education in Washington.

During the event, participants will hear about the current budget shortfall, the costs associated with meeting the McCleary decision by 2018 and a comparison of the different legislative approaches to address the issue.

The forum is free and open to the public. Please register by emailing info@educationvoters.org. There will be more of these events.

Openings for Boats on the 520 Bridge

WSDOT has negotiated a better deal with the Coast Guard regarding bridge openings when boats with tall masts want pass. More hours in the exclusion zone and more notice. If you travel the bridge frequently you may want to sign up for WSDOTs text message alert service. When they know, you’ll know. This is a painful, but temporary experience until the construction is done, but it’ll be for more than one summer.

Here’s their press release on the ssue:

Continue reading “Openings for Boats on the 520 Bridge”

520 Bridge Openings will be More Frequent

I was astounded the other day to drive across 520 and see the reader board announcing an opening mid-day on a weekend. In the past these seemed to happen at night or sometime when it didn’t impact me. Presumably this was by design. There’s been a change due to the construction activity and I got the following email from WSDOT that you might find interesting.

This is a follow-up to an April 5 press release (attached) we sent you regarding SR 520 construction on Lake Washington. We are operating under new Coast Guard requirements for boaters with vessels over 45 feet tall. Please see today’s attached traffic advisories regarding a bridge opening this afternoon.

Updated Coast Guard rules require WSDOT to open the SR 520 drawspan for tall vessels with advance notice. This requirement is in place because floating bridge construction barges block the eastern navigation channel near Medina, which has clearance for boats up to 64 feet tall. A majority of boats use the 45-foot-tall west navigation channel to pass beneath SR 520.

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SR 520 open houses this Tuesday and Wednesday evenings

I received the following update from the WSDOT today. These meetings may be interesting for folks to know what’s happening on the 520 project.


After 15 years of design and analysis, this week we are launching visible construction on Lake Washington for the new SR 520 floating bridge. Join us at open houses Tuesday and Wednesday nights where we’ll present a full slate of information about:

  • Construction plans and updates
  • Newly released designs of the SR 520 floating bridge
  • Seattle Community Design Process update
  • Program sustainability plans
  • Permitting update
  • Our plans to minimize construction effects
  • How you can be notified about construction-related activities

Meeting details

March 27, 2012 – 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Three Points Elementary School
7800 N.E. 28th St., Medina, WA 98039

March 28, 2012 – 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Museum of History & Industry
2700 24th Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98112

Questions? Email WSDOT at sr520bridge@wsdot.wa.gov, or call them at 206-770-3500.

520 Tolling to Start Dec 29

Ancient (1979) toll booth on the 520 bridge - courtesy WSDOT

WSDOT sent out the following press release today. You may want to get your Good to Go pass soon.The pass offers a significant discount on the toll.

SR 520 tolling to start on Thursday, December 29
Today we announced that tolling will start on SR 520 on Thursday, December 29. If drivers haven’t already purchased a Good To Go! pass, which helps them get the best toll rate, they should take action now:

Purchase the popular $5 sticker pass at participating Safeway, Costco, QFC or Fred Meyer stores then activate it online. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo/retail for a list of retail locations.

Buy any of five pass options online at GoodToGo520.org.
Visit a full service Customer Service Center or a Mobile Customer Service Center. Find locations and hours at www.wsdot.wa.gov/goodtogo/contacts.htm.

Continue reading “520 Tolling to Start Dec 29”

Progress on 520, not without controversy

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)

Continue reading “Progress on 520, not without controversy”

520 Update

The Eastside project (405 to the landing in Medina) is underway. They are removing some trees now and expect to continue to do work for the next few years. If you go to the project website you can sign up for newsletters which will alert you to closures and other useful bits of knowledge.


I’ll continue to track the progress of this project.


The vendor we hired to implement the tolling on the 520 bridge did not do a very good job, and WSDOT wisely delayed turning on the collection system until they could get the kinks worked out. I am disappointed in the outcome, but pleased that they delayed until it works. I’m also a little frustrated about how the tolling system was designed, but I don’t get to be in charge of everything in the world, which is probably fortunate.

You will need to have a “Good To Go” tag on your car to pay the lowest toll. The following website has info on how to do this:


I would expect the tolling to start up in June or July, and it takes a couple of weeks to get the tags, so you may want to get started now. I would prefer to not have tolls on the bridge, but there is no other way we can pay for a new bridge.

520 Lid design at 84th

There is finally an agreed-upon design for the 84th St. interchange with 520. This has been remarkably contentions and WSDOT has gone to great lengths to come up with something that works, or at least that people think will work.

WSDOT requests proposals for SR 520 floating bridge

Three teams compete for $600 million to $750 million contract

SEATTLE – The clock starts today for three prequalified teams who want to design and build the new SR 520 floating bridge, estimated to cost $600 million to $750 million. The new bridge will replace the existing vulnerable floating bridge with a six-lane facility that will help improve travel between Seattle and Redmond.

The teams have until spring 2011 to submit their bids and proposals for the new floating bridge. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will review the proposals and select the winning design-build team in mid-2011. Construction will begin in 2012, and the new bridge will open by the end of 2014.

The prequalified teams are Flatiron-Skanska-Traylor Joint Venture, SR 520 Corridor Constructors (Walsh Construction Company, PCL Construction Services and Weeks Marine) and Kiewit-General-Manson Joint Venture. WSDOT selected teams based on statements of qualification submitted in October.

“Seeking proposals is an important step toward our goal – replacing this vulnerable bridge so we can continue to serve commuters and commerce every day,” state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said. “We expect these world-class teams to show how they will design and build a new floating bridge that meets our schedule and budget.”

Continue reading “WSDOT requests proposals for SR 520 floating bridge”

520 Groundbreaking

On Monday we dug a ceremonial set of shovels into the ground for the eastside portion of the 520 project. A contractor has been selected, the bid has been accepted (saved $116 million, about 25% under estimates) and the project will get under way.

The reality here is that they’ll start real construction in the spring, when we normally start big digging projects, but we have removed all the impediments to the project at this point.

We still have work to do to both close down the design and cement the funding for the west landing, from Foster Island to I-5. We are very close here, having approved Option A+ in the original set of options. We’re exploring details with King County and the City of Seattle at this point – arboretum exits, bus stops, etc.

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