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Repeat until it feels true: The Highway 520 bridge project is not the Viaduct

Replacing the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is tough and necessary. So how do we avoid a repeat of the Viaduct fiasco?
The line of battle between Seattle and the Eastside.

The line of battle between Seattle and the Eastside. WSDOT

As the Seattle City Council took an incremental vote Monday, April 23, on replacement of the Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, a lot of things were unclear, but one thing was very clear: This process is supposed to be different from the Alaskan Way Viaduct fiasco. Lessons learned, and all that. That's what people kept saying. No one wants another war between the city and the state, with little to show from the rancor but lost time and money, a bruised electorate, and a sense of futility for those stuck in traffic. But at least from one perspective, 520 already feels like a transportation Ground Hog Day. For starters, the two structures present challenges that are eerily comparable. Both are old and crumbling, vulnerable to earthquakes. Both are essential to our overwhelmed and fragile network of roads, each carrying more than 100,000 cars a day. Replacement of either is hideously expensive and disruptive, with costs outstripping budgets. Politically, talk of replacement is poisonous, given the warring around transportation projects, the gulf between Seattle and the suburbs, and the imperative to stop global warming by standing against the carbon-burning automobile. Yesterday, the council endorsed a resolution establishing principles for the future 520 project, just as it did years earlier for the Viaduct. The 520 principles call for good design, lots of transit, improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians, minimal impact on the environment and the Arboretum, and even an analysis of the project's "carbon footprint." (Nothing bigger than size 12.) The state Department of Transportation is told to coordinate bridge planning with work on Sound Transit's Montlake light rail station. And make sure to "mitigate impacts" on neighborhoods and the University of Washington. Oh, yes, the university, Balrog in the basement. Missing from the resolution is the council's assessment of the Pacific Interchange option, a six-lane proposal conceived by some Montlake neighborhood activists that has won strong support on both sides of Lake Washington. The omission is intentional. Supporting the Pacific Interchange option, or any option, would ignite controversy, adding to opposition that already exists among those who want a bridge no bigger than four lanes. The real guiding principle is to avoid another Viaduct war. So keep calm. Build confidence. Nothing's final here. One step at a time. In 2004, the city and the state faced a difficult choice over the Viaduct, Seattle's elevated waterfront freeway. Elevated or tunnel? The mayor and the council approved a deal with the state that said tunnel, unless money ran short, in which case it was elevated. So both options went forward for study, costs rose, and three years later the electeds gave it to the voters, who said no to both. Since doing nothing was unacceptable, work will begin on the south and north ends of the Viaduct, putting off for later what to do about the mile along Seattle's central waterfront. Which brings us back to 520, where we also see a strong desire to finesse the unpleasant but assume a risk about the future. Those who push the Pacific Interchange option saw a partial victory in yesterday's vote, momentum for their cause. But to pick one tender point, the Pacific Interchange would cost $4.4 billion. If you look skeptically at funding, as we learned to do late in the Viaduct process, that could be as much as $2 billion more than is likely to be available for the project. More money could come from such sources as a tax proposal on the ballot in November, but it's already in trouble with some environmentalists. In Seattle, these big transportation projects are hard to do, but in the doing, what gets done?

O. Casey Corr is a Seattle writer who has worked for The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He now is employed at Seattle University as director of strategic communications. You can e-mail him at casey.corr@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 3:01 a.m. Inappropriate

THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s: 1. THOSE BRIDGES THAT LIVE BY THE TOLL, SHOULD DIE BY THE LACK OF THE TOLL
The bridge was built with a toll. I see no earthly reason for REPLACING the bridge. It works fine now. Keep it maintained and operating as long as you can. Add extra lanes in sections over a long period of time.

2. DON'T ASK FOR WHOM THE BRIDGE TOLLS, IT TOLLS FOR THEE, DEAR USER
To replace the bridge, start a toll now, collect the money you need, then replace it. End of story. Whatever you do, DON'T BUILD IT WITH BONDED MONEY.

3. JESUS SAVES, TAXPAYER PRAYS, USER PAYS
Forget state funding, regional funding, all the other funding. The bridge itself is unnecessary. There are many ways to go to Bellevue from Seattle, and from Seattle to Bellevue. Those who want to use this bridge should pay for using it. This is SO MIND NUMBINGLY OBVIOUS. A toll should also go on I-90. The clear principle for OPTIONAL infrastructure, such as most bridges, is that USER PAYS.

4. FLOAT RESTAURANTS ON FLOATING BRIDGES
As we think about financing the thing consider adding floating restaurants as well as lanes, available ONLY to those who use transit. Ride the bus, stop at a restaurant mid span on the way home. You say they aren't making waterfront property anymore? Think again. I won't go into how much the State could raise by building Condos along the bridge...

5. PUT A LID ON FLOATING DECIMAL POINTS
I note that the plans I've heard of for the expansion of the bridge include several lids ala Mercer Island for the Three Points communities. I would suggest that these lids are ridiculously expensive and the costs should not be borne by the general taxpayer as they were in Mercer Island. If the Three Points communities want lids, let them pay for them. Otherwise, I don't understand how you can argue against NOT lidding additional miles and miles of 520 on the Eastside.

6. DO NOT EZ-PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT FOUR BILLION DOLLARS
Of course the toll should not be collected by toll collectors, but should be collected using the EZ-PASS system. Rates should be set dynamically to regulate flow.

7. A NEW BRIDGE COSTS A LOT OF MONEY, FIRST POINT.
IF A TSUNAMI HITS THE BRIDDE IT MAY SINK, SECOND POINT.
SOUND TRANSIT, POINTLESS.
The current bridge needs two additional general purpose lanes so that--like a pipe--it has constant throughput. Putting light rail in this slot simply degrades the road system. Note that the 520 Bridge was built in 1962 and only now 45 years later are we finally addressing capacity constraints. SoundTransit either needs to pony up the money for its additional lane, or get out of the way of the mass of people who still use cars. The purpose of mass transit should not be to destroy the road system. It may be fine in Manhattan to have a perpetually grid-locked road system. That's the status quo. But we're paying BILLIONS for SoundTransit and its reason for being should not be to bring traffic to a stand-still so that it can justify its existence. Kind of like cutting off your legs so you can walk on your hands, it lightens the load, but does it make any sense? Remember the first principle -- USER PAYS. When ridership can be rationally justified and the system is self-sustaining -- like a tolled bridge -- then mass transit starts to make sense. Right now we just don't have the densities to justify. When we do, then put the thing in. 45 years from now or so. Not before. We can't afford it and also serve the 95% of people who work for a living and drive to work, or simply drive for a living.
Stuka

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s: I agree with all of Stuka's points except for 7. I argue that we do have the density now. When I was a 520 commuter I would have paid big $ to not have to sit behind the wheel staring at the car in front of me for half an hour. While staring I often dreamed of starting a ferry system to cross the bridge, or a ski lift, or just about anything so that I wouldn't have to sit in my car on the thing for 260 hours a year. When I was offered a job on my own side of the bridge I jumped at the chance and haven't looked back.

Point 6 is a great one. EZ-Pass works very well, and I like the dynamic pricing.

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

DOT credibility!: The public, politicians, bankers, investors, law firms that do bond work and environmental groups all appear to nod in rapt, but glazed, attention whenever the all-knowing civil engineers at the the State's Dept. of Transportation (DOT) do a power point.

We might do well to remember that it was the DOT who was responsible for sinking two floating bridges, the most expensive (I-90) corridor of interstate highway ever built in America until Boston's Big Dig, the design of the fragile approach piers on the west side of the 520 bridge, the equally faulty upper joints on the support columns on the viaduct, not to mention a batch of arguably unnecessary new pedestrian overpasses whose costs run in excess of 4 million each.

Grade school kids and local Native Americans have know about the potential of earthquakes for centuries. It's a fair question to ask why DOT didn't do a better job of earthquake design the first time. With their history of faulty designs, imaginative inaccurate cost estimates and inability to build projects that won't last 50 years, why do we rely so much on their opinion? Where are the Roman road and viaduct engineers when we need them?

There are a number established, highly reputable, civil engineering consulting firms that have for years questioned DOT's qualifications and conclusions. It seems reasonable that when we are dealing with project costs that exceed the gross national product of some small nations that we take the DOT and the politicians out of the picture and put a group of single mom's with kids in charge of shopping for new bridges and viaducts.
KK

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Think towards the future: Why are they wasting their time and our money with a carbon analysis? Don't they understand the direction automobile technology is headed? In 20 years we may have cars that emit no carbon emissions whatsoever.

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Response to Stuka's comments above: Thank you, Casey Corr, for writing on this important topic. And thanks, Stuka for the entertaining post. To respond to that:

1. The bridge is at significant risk from windstorms and earthquakes and cannot be retrofitted in a cost-effective manner. It needs to be replaced. There is a broad consensus on this.

2. I agree with tolling as soon as possible. However, building a new bridge will take up to 10 years. If we delay, we may lose the bridge. Bonding is a useful tool to accelerate the construction of the new bridge, just as a mortgage is a useful tool to buy a house before you are of retirement age. Another important factor is that due to inflation, it will be dramatically more expensive to build a new bridge if we put off construction by a number of years.

3. "User pays" is, as a general rule, a fine principle. And, in fact, users will pay for the new bridge - in an amount that may hurt. Now, one may ask: just who are the "users" of the bridge? Is it only those who cross it, or does it include those who benefit indirectly from its presence?

Tolls are currently expected to generate $1.2 billion of the $4.4 billion total. What kind of toll would be required to raise an additional $3 billion? I don't know, but it would be mighty high. As you raise the toll, demand drops off, so it may not actually be possible to raise $4.4 billion through tolls even if we wanted to. Does this mean we shouldn't build infrastructure that doesn't pay for itself with user fees? Interesting question.

4. I gotta admit, a floating restaurant is a nifty idea, though visitors and deliveries are going to have to arrive at the restaurant by bicycle unless you want to float a transit station, parking lot and add/drop lanes as well.

5. The lids being considered for 520 are nothing near as elaborate or expensive as those on Mercer Island, which are ventilated. These are essentially widened bridges on the order of 500-700 feet, where highway overcrossings need to be built anyway. They don't cost all that much in the big scheme of things. And there is no way this project will be built without them, so it's not worth fighting over.

6. Electronic toll collection similar to EZ-PASS is, in fact, the plan. Dynamic tolling rates will be evaluated and I believe there is legislation on the Governor's desk to do just that. (It's referred to as "managed lanes".)

7. A new bridge costs a lot of money, yes. The bridge may sink, yes. As for whether Sound Transit is useless - you are entitled to your opinion.
jdubman

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 3:48 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s: Right now we just don't have the densities to justify. When we do, then put the thing in. 45 years from now or so. Not before.

The problem with that is that once you do have the densities, the cost of real estate, right-of-ways, and construction becomes prohibitively expensive.

But I'll tell you what, let's compromise: Sound Transit was created in 1996. The Redmond line will open in 2028 at the earliest. That's 32 years. Allowing for a few years of delays while our kids fight over whether to tunnel under Bellevue or not, it could easily be 2036 when it opens, which would be 40 years after ST was approved. Close enough? :)

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: response to response to Stuka's comments above: [The bridge] needs to be replaced. There is broad consensus on this.
There was broad consensus on the viaduct too. It was an "emergency." Yet we've waited years. EVERYONE who builds and plans wants to build something new. That's why there's broad consensus to build. Interesting that there's no broad consensus on paying for it. That's the rub.

Bonding is a useful tool.
Government has huge assets and exists in perpetuity, unlike a young couple looking for a house. There's simply no reason to pay banks and pay interest. Just pissing away our money. If you have the cash flow, you can easily pay.

[Who] are the "users" of the bridge? Is it only those who cross it, or does it include those who benefit indirectly from its presence?
Good point. Clearly direct users are the primary beneficiaries. If 10% or 15% of costs are borne by others then fine; but calculating indirect externalities is a politicians' game. They want control of the revenue stream, because that's their source of power. Better to keep the revenue with the people who build the roads.

[Due] to inflation it will be dramatically more expensive to build a new bridge.
Inflation just means that money has less intrinsic value over time. Real costs are unaffected. The argument "It'll cost more if we wait!" is always trotted out for infrastructure investments. Things don't cost anything if we never do them. Light rail is a classic example. We haven't needed light rail, so the system we didn't build twenty years ago has been a huge savings to the region! Certainly it costs more now than then, but so what? Should I compare the cost of light rail to the cost of horses and buggies of 1800? Which would cost more? Which would suck more money from road projects and worsen traffic?

[Deliveries] are going to have to arrive at the restaurant by bicycle.
Actually, why not by boat? But imagine condos and a floating community and how that would drive density and pay for several billion in construction cost and become a signature feature of the entire region!

[There is no way this project will be built without [lids], so it's not worth fighting over.
It's wrong and inevitable, so save your bullets. For what? If they're ridiculously expensive, we shouldn't be paying for them. If nearby communities want to pay for them fine. The standard, I believe, is noise suppression barriers. It's the right thing to do, and government shouldn't go around promising otherwise.

Maybe Mercer Island's lids cost $1 billion and these are a steal at $400M a pop. Remember that we're building ROADS not parks. We have enough trouble funding projects as it is.

[EZ-PASS is the plan].
Some day EZ-PASS-like technology will pay for everything. We should be working right now to require cars to have technology to record routes and mileage, and tax accordingly depending on usage and infrastructure used. Should be straightforward to do and would allow for repeal of gas and other taxes that fund roads, bridges, and ferries. Note that "managed lanes" doesn't really do justice to the broader concept. Privacy concerns are a tempest in a teapot.

Sound Transit is useless - you are entitled to your opinion.
The idea that what the region really needs is a train from downtown to the airport is laughable on the face of it. Because it's in competition with roads projects, it exacerbates current congestion relief problems and undermines efforts to maintain existing infrastructure.

Historically, even with the GMA, the the city's growth rate is at under 1% a year. Projected ridership numbers are hopelessly blue sky. But OK, buy right-of-ways now, get the density, tax it and THEN build it. Not now.
Stuka

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 7:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Take me for a ride in your car, car...Take me for a ride in your car, car...: Let's belabor the obvious: people prefer to commute in cars, and most of them prefer to drive their own cars. What is there about this politicos don't get? Light rail on 520, bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways all seem to come before the fundamental reasons we build roads, bridges, and...viaducts...in the first place: CARS!

Why can't planners and engineers and politicians simply start from the premise that people want to drive? It empowers them, gives them privacy and a sense of freedom, and offers them a space of their own in which to suffer their daily commute.

Instead of socially engineering them out of their cars and trucks and whatever, which is pretty creepy if you ask me, why not concede the point and build accordingly?

But n-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!!! This is Seattle where everything has to be done according to the gospel of "progressive" political thinking and the latest in politically correct fashion. Heaven forbid that anyone would stand and speak the truth: the emperor has no clothes!

The only way they'll get my steering wheel is to pry my cold, dead hands off of it!

It's about freedom, baby!

The Piper...

Posted Tue, Apr 24, 10:38 p.m. Inappropriate

I like what KK says: WSDOT (and other institutional forces such as the Mayor, City Council, Governor) lost too much credibility with the Viaduct fiasco to be able to get the money for a brand-new 520. They all claimed that a Repair was impossible.

What is it happening now? The Repair. (They'll claim it's a "Rebuild" but that's simply a matter of changing the definition of words.)

We'll spend an awful lot of money and psychic effort fussing over 520. In the end we will Repair it. The costs (direct financial and indirect disruptive) are more than we want to pay.

Posted Wed, Apr 25, 11:05 p.m. Inappropriate

A rebuild/repair is feasable and cheaper: Jdubman -- even the DOT has admitted to me that the extra "cost" of simply floating in a new span and rebuilding the columns is only too expensive because of the "social costs" of having to close the bridge for a few weeks. The fact according to the DOT (and at least two engineers of worldwide reputation have backed me on this) retrofitting the current bridge is clearly the least expensive alternative. Oh, and by the way it has the least impact on neighborhoods.

True, that option lacks artistic finesse, and would fail to encourage migration of new residents. Businesses ability to recruit people from out of state would be impacted, but is that our main priority? Whatever is built, it will saturate to full capacity quickly.

Those of us who lived here in the 70's and 80's remember the expansion of I-90 and how it simply turned Issaquah and the plateau into an ant farm. The commute got worse, our taxes went up, and developers profited handsomely. Bridge congestion? No discernable improvement.

It's prettty simple. Vote yes to a six lane bridge if you want to enable growth, and help employers fill jobs. Push for a 4 lane rebuild if you want to save money and keep our neighborhoods and arboretum intact.
sbroback

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 7:41 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s - part 1: The original post of Stuka is convoluted. I need to parse thought each of the seven items. Due to the comment size restriction here, my reply is broken into four parts, which I hope will follow in uninterrupted sequence. There is a lot to discuss.

1) ... I see no earthly reason for REPLACING the bridge. It works fine now.

Whether Stuka thinks replacement is justified or not is interesting, but only another opinion. I prefer to trust the judgment of the WSDOT. This sort of decision is their forte. The recent DOT video showing a hypothetical catastrophe may have been alarmist. However, portions of two other floating bridges HAVE sunk in the past 30 years. An ounce of prevention ... Even if it pencils out to a few gigabucks.

2) To replace the bridge, start a toll now, collect the money you need, then replace it.

Agreed. Interesting that item 1) is contradicted here, but skip that for now.

Whatever you do, DON'T BUILD IT WITH BONDED MONEY.

The tolls will go to pay for principal and interest of bonds. Otherwise, the bridge would be built piecemeal, as tolls were collected. I don't think that this would be either practical or effective.

3) Forget state funding, regional funding, all the other funding.

Wrong again. It is a state highway, part of the regional infrastructure, which some federal money will also be applied to.

The bridge itself is unnecessary. There are many ways to go to Bellevue from Seattle, and from Seattle to Bellevue.

A few hundred thousand 520 users will probably disagree. By the way, has anyone driven on I-405 lately? It usually seems pretty busy to me on the rare occasions that I'm required to use that highway, even WITH the 520 bridge.

Those who want to use this bridge should pay for using it. ... A toll should also go on I-90.

Don't worry, they will. The payments will be in the form of tolls. Even for Mercer Island, though some of the residents there seem to be in denial about this.

The clear principle for OPTIONAL infrastructure, such as most bridges ...

The option is a ferry. You can consider the ramifications for yourself, to decide it would indeed be a viable alternative. Take into account the expenses, service interruptions, and SUBSIDIES of the Washington State Ferries, who would likely also manage such a system on Lake Washington. Also the minor problem of water pollution of an inland lake.

4) FLOAT RESTAURANTS ON FLOATING BRIDGES

I must say, some locals have a knack for thinking outside of the box. By sheer coincidence, I was thinking of suggesting a mile long buffet along the rebuilt Alaskan Way Viaduct - the middle, to be precise. This is a good time to 'float' that idea. (OUCH!)

5) ... If the Three Points communities want lids, let them pay for them. Otherwise, I don't understand how you can argue against NOT lidding additional miles and miles of 520 on the Eastside.

SEPA requires site mitigation of new highway construction, including noise and visual pollution. The SEPA requirements are not retroactive. If they were, I would suggest enclosing all of I-5 in a tube, from Blaine to Vancouver, WA.

... Part 2 follows.

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 7:44 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s - Part 2: ... Part 2:

6) Of course the toll should not be collected by toll collectors, but should be collected using the EZ-PASS system. Rates should be set dynamically to regulate flow.

This will probably happen, in conjuction with cameras to nail the scofflaws. The system is not perfect, though, and passholders MAY receive a phototicket in the mail occasionally, if their windshields are dirty, or if their cellphone is scrambling their transponder signal. Toll booths will still be necessary for infrequent users who don't have a pass device, or whose subscriptions have lapsed. Cash or plastic will be accepted.

7) The current bridge needs two additional general purpose lanes so that--like a pipe--it has constant throughput. Putting light rail in this slot simply degrades the road system.

We disagree on a technical point here. The light rail will ENAHNCE the regional infrastructure. Just as BART has enhaned the regional infrastructure of the Bay Area of California. Seattle blew it's chance to build a system on the cheap forty years ago, when BIG federal money was available. We've waited too long, and now we will pay the price.

... Note that the 520 Bridge was built in 1962 and only now 45 years later are we finally addressing capacity constraints.

The population of Washington has tripled in the past sixty years. Much of that growth has occurred in the Seattle Metro area. This has resulted in capacity problems and accelerated wear that may not have been anticipated when the bridge was designed fifty years ago. Technology has also made some advances in that time. On top of that, voters aren't usually ecstatic about paying for transportation projects until there is a crisis, and even then, many prefer denial to action. This is why we are in this predicament today.

SoundTransit either needs to pony up the money for its additional lane, or get out of the way of the mass of people who still use cars.

This is not Sound Transit's responsibility, and motorists don't have special rights over various forms of mass transit. For the latter reference, it is usually the other way around, as will be true here. Always has been (since our society has become enlightened to the use of mass transit), and probably always will be. Get over it.

The purpose of mass transit should not be to destroy the road system..

Inverted logic again. By decreasing the number of cars, mass transit PRESERVES the road system. This is why some vehicle taxes go to fund various mass transit programs.

But we're paying BILLIONS for SoundTransit and its reason for being should not be to bring traffic to a stand-still so that it can justify its existence.

The raison d'être for Sound Transit is that there are too many cars. (Thank you for verifying that fact.) When fully functional, SOV users will have an efficient alternative. There will be growing pains, but the result will be worth the wait.

... Part 3 in a moment.

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s: ... Part 3:

When ridership can be rationally justified and the system is self-sustaining -- like a tolled bridge -- then mass transit starts to make sense.

To some of us who support Sound Transit, the system is already justified. There must be an initial investment to achieve some critical mass. You don't build light rail one piece of steel at a time, and hope that a rider shows up. Same argument against building a bridge piecemeal.

When we do, then put the thing in. 45 years from now or so.

The 520 rebuild and Sound Transit are happening now, because they are both necessary. And sorry to pop your balloon again, but the entire process will probably be repeated in another fifty years, if we have the same transportation options then as now. And it will cost even more then.

Welcome to life in a metropolitan area of a democratic society.

We can't afford it and also serve the 95% of people who work for a living and drive to work, or simply drive for a living.

I won't belabor the point, but would you care to predict the price of a gallon of gasoline in 45 years?

IF A TSUNAMI HITS THE BRIDGE IT MAY SINK ...

This is probably more of a concern for the Hood Canal Bridge. Unfortunately, part of it DID sink, in a storm in 1979. Risk assessment is part of the planning process for any large project, but you don't refuse to build a structure because something MIGHT happen. There is always the possibility of a catastrophe, whether it be a tsunami, earthquake, windstorm, volcanic eruption, or worse. You take into account the most likely hazards and try to plan for a worst case, but the worst case might be impossible to face down with current technology. If that should occur, hopefully you have learned from your mistakes, and you can try again.

History is littered with design failures. Each one has helped engineers to learn to improve their designs for the future. This is evolution that can be proven, with or without the Darwin analogy.

... Part 4, the conclusion, follows.

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 7:57 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE 520s - Part 4: Part 4:

... The Upshot:

State highways are partly financed by all state taxpayers, partly by federal highway funds, and in rare instances tolls. We all use some highways more than others, but we all help pay for all of them. There are good reasons for this system to be designed as it is.

The argument is often made that eastern Washington is a net exporter of transportation dollars to the wetside. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but this may be true in terms of total dollars spent, since the majority of our highway infrastructure is in the west. The argument falls apart, though, as soon as you look at per capita numbers. On that basis, the west side sends many more dollars east. I don't intend to try to settle this argument today, since it will probably rage forever, in addition to other east/west issues.

To illustrate my main point, take the Sherman Pass Highway in the east, SR20. You may have never driven on it, but it is a state highway, and you help to pay for it's construction, maintenance, and surveillance. This is also true of every other state highway. It's the same for all of us.

The west and east have different needs. The Olympic peninsula has different needs from Seattle. Walla Walla has different needs from Wenatchee. Odessa has different needs from Kelso. And the WSDOT does its best to meet all those needs, depending on funding and local politics.

Mass transit is a separate polarizing issue, and secondary to the 520 bridge replacement issue. I will only suggest visiting cities with successful systems, such as San Francisco and Portland, to see what could happen here someday, should our bickering ever cease. I believe mass transit will be part of the future here, but perhaps not in my lifetime.

Much of the rest of the state feels that Seattle consists of self-absorbed megalomaniacs, and that King County is a resource sponge taking from everyone else. This feeling may be at least partially justified. But the residents of King County don't need to rub it in.

King County should be grateful that the rest of the state is contributing, even if a few individuals would prefer that that not be the case. But this is how our state highway system is structured, and I don't that to change anytime soon.

I'll stop here. Thank you for your interest. Comments and criticism are welcome, even encouraged.

Happy motoring.

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: jdubman's response to Stuka's comments above: I trust you have seen my original four-part reply to Stuka's comment above, so I won't repeat it here. You and I don't agree on everything, but we seem to have similar gastonomical tastes.

I seem to remember that there is a clause in SEPA that allows, yea encourages, the integration of fine dining establishments with new highway projects. WSDOT is another enthusiastic supporter. And the lege has no problem in funding these public/private partnerships. And popularity? This is literally a no-brainer.

I've put in my bid for the Alaskan Way Viaduct rights. I'm currently soliciting ideas for the name of the restaurant on top of the middle mile. The winning entry will receive a percentage of the profits. (Unfortunately, they may be a while in coming. The startup expenses will be astronomical. For comparison, think of the Monorail.)

I think that, due to the site constraints, a buffet format would be most appropriate.

This concept has been a recent inspiration of mine, so I haven't had a chance to consider many possibilities. Give me time, though, and other entrants will have their work cut out for them, as they try to top my flights of fancy.

So far, there are two contenders:

... Middle Mile Munchout

... Middle Mile Monorail Memorial Meateater's Mecca

Admittedly, the concept is still young. Give it time to brew.

As for the 520 bridge, assuming it retains its original name:

... Rosellini Rotisserie

(I've already talked to Al. He gets a piece of the action too.)

I haven't had quite as much time to consider this, but I am also putting my bid in for restaurant rights for the 520 bridge. Assuming I prevail, the winning entry will share in the profits here as well.

OK, diners everywhere, the silverware is in the buckets at the starting line, along with the trays and beverage line.

Bon Appétit!

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: I like what KK says: You know, maybe I've been in denial of the possibility of retrofit over rebuild. It would only be $500m less than a complete rebuild ($2.3b vs $2.8b), but that $500m would be welcome over at 520, to perhaps defray some of the tolls.

Of course, the tolls would also be defrayed by royalties from my proposed bridgetop restaurant, but set that aside for now.

The only problem I see regarding this possibility is with the mayor. He seems to have a bad case of viaductophobia. I really don't think he'll be too happy to have this monstrosity in the middle of his new waterfront park, presumably to be named after him.

Well, maybe he won't mind. I've been wrong before.

The City Council gets a heaping dumptruck full of blame for foisting that ludicrous advisory ballot on us, but they may well escape the wrath of voters once again. I REALLY hope I'm wrong here, but Seattle seems to have a masochistic component that keeps re-electing posers to positions of authority.

Unfortunately, that same argument applies to the mayor, but I REALLY hope I'm wrong here.

The governor is a different story. It's her responsibility to determine the Viaduct replacement option. Before the advisory ballot, she seemed confident and certain of her original decision. Now, she seems to think the whole shebang is radioactive, and hopes the mayor will take the (radiation) heat instead of her. The net result is that her bacon is turning into a cinder, as measured by polls statewide.

The 520 project has only turned up the gas under her frying pan. She earlier intimated the possibility of Viaduct funds going to the 520 project, if a less expensive SR99 replacement option were to be selected. Now the 520 users are waiting for a golden parachute. What happens if she changes her mind again, or if a Viaduct retrofit ends up costing as much or MORE than the rebuild - and that $500m disappears, as well as some more money down the same hole?

Oh well, just another flipflop to add to her list. As if that's her only credibility problem right now. She needs to do everything right for the next 18 months, otherwise her poll numbers will remain in the dumpster.

Time for her to go to U-Haul and reserve a truck for January 2009?

Don't you wish you were governor right now?

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: A rebuild/repair is feasable and cheaper: I would only comment that the addition of light rail capability to the new bridge might help slow the growth of SOV commuter traffic, although that improvement may not happen in our lifetimes.

I like the antfarm analogy. I've applied it to the Microsoft campus before, but the broader application to sprawl works as well. I wonder how the ant of the future will like the light rail system. Or will it be obsolete ten minutes after it goes live?

Guess I'll find out in my next life - especially if I return as a member of the Formicidae family.

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Same old, same old.: The only significant difference between the 520 bridge and the Viaduct are their locations. And forget about those lessons supposedly learned during the Viaduct process. Nothing of value was learned.

Since my residence is about one block from work, I only ride the roads for business errands, and I can assure you that neither structure is loaded to capacity, at say 10:30 a.m. If people had to pay $20 to use either route during rush hour not only would congestion be less, but also the carbon footprint.

Give every vehicle two free trips a month so Mom and Dad from Cle Elum can visit, but start the tolls now and put the money aside to be used when natural causes reduce the structures to an unusable state.
osavr

Posted Thu, Apr 26, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

New 520 Restaurant Plans Revealed!: I know each blog site has its own user rules. Sometimes tangents to the original topic are frowned upon, although I think they are generally beneficial.

I'm a big picture guy, and I like to see all the facets and ramifications of a problem through various viewpoints. Sometimes problems can be linked together, and common solutions can be found. Some topics, like the 520 and SR99 rebuilds, are already linked, both because they are transportation-related, and because the governor has linked them in a statement she made a few weeks ago.

The 520 rebuild is an issue for both the east and west sides of Lake Washington. Another linkage for this post as well. The east has their ideas, and Seattle ... Enough said. Sometimes there is even a rivalry between these two factions of our region.

Anyway, if I am considered to be abusing my privileges, I apologize in advance. But I beg the webmaster's indulgence for one last post on this facet of this topic, before I move on.

(A potential problem with this post is that it could generate a flurry of replies, since the subject may be controversial. But I hope that, in the spirit of a free society, that would be a good thing.)

In case your morning shot of caffeine hasn't kicked in yet, I broached an idea in an earlier reply on this thread. To follow up on that, this seems like an ideal time to reveal more details of my scheme.

Some weeks back, on another board, the topic of this cross-lake rivalry came up. One of the posters there made what was an innocuous comment at the time:

Bellevue needs its own Space Needle.

It was posted near April Fools day, so I thought it was a prank. As the original poster didn't copyright the idea or pursue it, I will. In the fullness of time, that remark has proven to be the germ of a grand inspiration.

To wit: I intend to apply to build a Space Needle replica at the 520 toll plaza.

And no, I am not a gigabucker. I expect some taxpayer help here.

The toll plaza lounge and vista will be a haven for weary commuters escaping the city, having just endured a long wait at the toll booth. (Longer still when the electronic toll-collector is on the blink.) Or for eastside city-goers to have a pre-function before contending with the 520 traffic nightmare.

Not only that, but there will be a toll-FREE tram to my restaurant on the bridge. (By the way, I'm still waiting for suggestions for names. And also for the tower. Grab a piece of the action while you can.) Eastsiders can access my facilities for free.

The restaurant could be a destination for city residents desperate to escape the growing urban jungle. I'm thinking of some incorporating a new nearby Sonics arena into my plans as well. I'm all ready to talk to Mr B, as soon as he returns from OKC.

Since facility will be a destination upper-crust playground, I should be compensated for my efforts, by local and state governments. In other words, I'd really like to get a piece of the toll revenue action. Suppose that's a realistic possibility?

And what's next? How about a similar structure on Mercer Island, at THEIR toll plaza? More toll revenue, happy camper here.

Poverty Rock will never be the same.

Ah, a fertile mind and a blog. It can be a profitable combination.

Posted Fri, Apr 27, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

WSDOT Secretary Doug McDonald resigns: Excuse me for being a little off-topic here, but there is no article regarding the resignation of the transportation secretary, Doug McDonald, just announced. It IS related to my earlier posts regarding the governor and her transportation-related problems, though, including the SR520 rebuild.

For reference, see this article:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/313448_resign27ww.html

The resignation of the Director of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Doug McDonald, was announced by the governor's office this afternoon. This has all the appearances of a gentleman's firing. Friday afternoon, 90 days notice. The governor may attempt to blame the mess regarding the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the 520 rebuild on him, as she tries to save her own skin. Maybe it will work, and maybe not. To me, this is an indication of how desperate her situation is becoming now, 18 months before the election.

She hopes that a new name will ride in on a white horse and save the day. Perhaps this will happen. In the meantime, her credibility is shot, even among recent supporters. This attempt at damage control may help, or it may backfire. It's not good policy to blame your problems on a scapegoat. This is only one more indication of the lack of leadership skills desired by the public - in the leader of our state.

The transportation mess won't be going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, we've just lost a competent leader at DOT. And for the citizens waiting for some relief for our aging highways, and confirmation that the past years of dithering aren't continuing, the agony continues.

Have a nice weekend. Enjoy the commute home. And as you drive on the Viaduct or the 520 bridge, remember who is really responsible for this fiasco. Now the citizens have a scapegoat of their own.

Her name is Christine Gregoire.

Republicans, sit up and take notice. Your golden opportunity has finally arrived, this very afternoon. I think you know what to do. You have eighteen months to prepare. Just do it.

Democrats, you have a chance too, if you want to hold onto the governor's mansion into 2009. You need to find someone who can do the job. Not another pretender, please. Get busy, if you want to prevail.

So long, Doug.

Posted Fri, Apr 27, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

correction - Secretary of Transportation Doug McDonald: My apologies, I was in a hurry and a little upset, and my proofreader was on the blink. The subject of the preceding post is Secretary of Transportation Doug McDonald.

This is not good news.

Posted Fri, Apr 27, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: WSDOT Secretary Doug McDonald resigns: I whole-heartedly agree that McDonald was a bastion of competence and smarts and reasonableness amidst the cut-throat cancerous bloated transportation bureaucracies we've created in the region. It will be interesting to learn what caused the resignation.

I'd hoped we'd get a czar, namely McDonald, to clean up the mess. Governance is an enormous problem, and maybe this is the first sign of the jockeying for power that happens as bureaucracies are consolidated. Let's hope we don't get no-nothing politicos to try to engineer a solution. We've seen how well that works.

I personally think Gregoire and/or McDonald did the right thing in putting the kibosh on the billions of dollars in waterfront beautification enhancements that Nickels wanted for the Viaduct.

I bet the Sound Transit folk were glad to see McDonald go. I don't doubt that he has less enthusiasm for light rail than many, simply because he saw how ST was sucking up the overall long-term transportation budget, as well as the patience of the taxpayer. As a result, the State is without reasonable funding to maintain our highway infrastructure.

Sound Transit is like one of those hundred pound fetal tumors (teratoma) that can grow inside a human body, draining away the nutrients from normal somatic operation. Only after such a tumor is removed, can the Body Transport move on to a normal healthy life.

(Note that Sound Transit recently finessed (ie. weasled out of) their legal requirement for sub-area equity by allowing investments anywhere to count anywhere because eventually you'll be able to go anywhere. This is exactly what tumors do. They ignore legitimate boundaries to growth and lay unjustified claim to resources for non-functional use.)

Hopefully Mr. McDonald will resurface in a new transportation capacity helping to lead us along the more rational lines of capacity improvements demonstrated in by recent work on 405, where significant reasonable-cost improvements have been made to remove bottlenecks.

Compared to the Enronic funding frenzy of Sound Transit, WSDOT is Berkshire Hathaway and Doug McDonald its Warren Buffett.

My prediction is that the joint ballot title will go down in flames. People won't buy the "Do something, Do anything!" argument when they see the thousands of dollars that'll be plucked out of their individual household pockets for the next fifty years to fund that transportation champion of the 1900's, the choo choo train.
Stuka

Posted Mon, Apr 30, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

My crystal ball - a peek into the future ...: This post is in regard to the firing of Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald last Friday. For background on this issue, refer to this blog:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/soundoff/
comment.asp?articleID=313577

(As usual for this blog format, the link is split in two. Join the halves for the intact address.)

So, what does the future hold?

The image currently in my crystal ball:

The mayor and his cronies will produce a repackaged 'tunnel' proposal to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, named the 'lidded trench' or something similar. The governor and newly-named Secretary of Transportation will back this proposal enthusiastically. And we will watch another political firefight in our fair city over the coming months.

Election season these next few years might be really exciting for a change.

Speaking of elections ...

Oh, yes. Shortly after the 2008 general election, tolls will be imposed on the 520 and I-90 bridges. The (guinea pig) users of the newly-tolled Tacoma Narrows Bridge will have worked the bugs out of the new electronic tolling system. That system will then be ready for prime time on Lake Washington, with all the electeds safely at their desks.

Remember, you read it here first.

Have a nice day.

Posted Tue, May 1, 5:41 p.m. Inappropriate

The Firing of Doug MacDonald: All,

Throughout this thread there is an underlying assumption that Sec. of Transportation Doug MacDonald was fired. Did it not occur to you that it might be extremely difficult for him to continue in his job when his macular degeneration has progressed to the point where can no longer drive? The news media has (for a change) been tactful and not made a big thing out of it, but it is common knowledge and he has not been secretive about it. He did, in fact, resign.

I talked briefly with him about a year ago -- a week before his drivers license renewal was due -- and he said that there was no way that he could pass.

I may not always agree with him, but overall he has been an outstanding SoT. A lesser man might have fallen into despair.

BTW, he is a much bigger supporter of transit (including, but not limited to ST bike/pedestrian paths, etc) than you have given him credit for.

I expect that he, like Aubrey Davis, will be active in transportation far into his retirement.
Iceman

Posted Wed, May 2, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: The Firing of Doug MacDonald: Did it not occur to you that it might be extremely difficult for him to continue in his job when his macular degeneration has progressed to the point where can no longer drive?

That DID occur to me, and that may well be part of the reason for his leaving, although that was not cited as such in any of the articles I've seen. All I have read is that he still has 'plenty of fuel in his tank.' And if his leaving occurred in a vacuum, I might be persuaded. But with the timing of his departure, and the surrounding events at WSDOT and the governor's and mayor's offices, I smell a rat.

I know several other people of his age and older who also suffer from MD, and still lead active lives, even though they can no longer drive. But if his disease were in fact a serious limitation to his ability to work, I think that detail would have been given as a reason for leaving.

The news media has (for a change) been tactful and not made a big thing out of it, but it is common knowledge and he has not been secretive about it. He did, in fact, resign.

Secretary MacDonald is a public citizen, and his departure is rightfully a concern of the public, especially if there is skullduggery under the surface - which I supect there is.

A firing is a humiliating experience for anyone, especially for a public citizen. Be that as it may, it is up to the people to protest the firing of a talented and capable public servant for political reasons, which I believe is the true underlying cause here.

Comment lengths are severely restricted here. I've gone into a lot of detail on this issue on the P-I soundoff boards, if you would like more background on this topic.

I may not always agree with him, but overall he has been an outstanding SoT. A lesser man might have fallen into despair.

My point exactly. People of this caliber don't grow on trees. His record of success indicates his true value to our state, if not in political terms for a few electeds.

BTW, he is a much bigger supporter of transit (including, but not limited to ST bike/pedestrian paths, etc) than you have given him credit for.

You are NOT referring to comments I have made here. The mission of WSDOT includes those factors you cite. And I agree completely with that. In fact, I can't think of any topic that Doug and I have disagreed on during his tenure. That is why I am a little bit upset to see him go for what appear to be manufactured reasons.

I expect that he, like Aubrey Davis, will be active in transportation far into his retirement.

As for myself, I hope he runs for mayor. Wouldn't it be something to have a local leader who really understood this city's worst problem - Transportation?

Or, if he'd prefer, for governor. I'm on his team. Automatic.

Next time you see him, give him a prod for me, will you?

Posted Mon, May 7, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: WSDOT Secretary Doug McDonald resigns - new SoT?: I'd hoped we'd get a czar, namely McDonald, to clean up the mess. ... Let's hope we don't get no-nothing politicos to try to engineer a solution. ...

I'm betting on a tunnelhead stooge myself, but I REALLY hope I'm wrong here.

Posted Thu, Feb 4, 5:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Size 12 carbon footprint. Hilarious. What is this, the National Review?

DannyK

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