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    Seattle, Eastside rattle their pitchforks over highway 520

    There's a long history behind the complaint that Seattle is always ready to delay anybody else's safety project but wants help right now for its own worries. A new mayor puts himself in the eye of a building storm of bad feelings.
    The line of battle between Seattle and the Eastside.

    The line of battle between Seattle and the Eastside. WSDOT

    There are lots of ways to look at the Highway 520 bridge issues. Most, though, seem to have a good deal to do with geography.

    That became clearer than ever after several Seattle political leaders, including Mayor Mike McGinn and House Speaker Frank Chopp, raised objections at a Monday news conference to the current state plans for rebuilding the Highway 520 bridge.

    A KING 5 News poll found that among city residents with an opinion on the design, 46 percent agree with the mayor and other critics that, with the state expanding the bridge from four to six lanes, two of the lanes should be reserved for transit, with no access for car-poolers. Only 33 percent of city residents like the idea of having traditional HOV lanes combining bus transit and two or three-passenger vehicles.

    But the current plan calls for exactly that. And Gov. Chris Gregoire accused the objectors of delaying the bridge. However, some of the behind-the-scenes talk is that the differences between the city and the state aren't that great in the whole scope of the project, mainly having to with designing how the new bridge ends in Seattle.

    There's a Redmond-based group, the Northwest Progressive Institute, with which McGinn has a lot of shared, liberal values. On its blog, the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate, the Montlake press conference brought a gale-force blast. Here's one straightforward passage (later, the writer really got warmed up, noting the increasing perception that Seattle's leaders act like children):

    We Eastsiders (most of us at NPI live on the Eastside) are sick and tired of watching people who represent Seattle and run Seattle delay this project by throwing up roadblocks. Sen. Rodney Tom put it well when he told The Seattle Times: "To me, every time they turn the corner they come up with a new wrinkle. We have an agreement; let's move forward."

    Note that the irritated Sen. Tom is a Democrat, like the speaker, the mayor, and, of course just about every other Seattle politician.

    Obviously, Seattle has legitimate reasons to be concerned about how the bridge affects city neighborhoods. In fact, these serious issues stood out even as the state decided it could finally select a preferred alternative.

    The plan is estimated to add 20,000 vehicles trips daily through the Washington Park Arboretum. More than a half-dozen neighborhoods are also worried about more traffic, fumes and noise. Advocates raise serious questions about how the traffic, new highway ramps, and bus-stop locations would affect the bicyclists and pedestrians who already travel in good numbers through the area and who are supposed to be encouraged in any serious transportation planning.

    The larger issue, to be sure, is how to use the space for additional lanes on the bridge. At the press event, the theme of transit as the future overrode everything else. As Fran Conley of the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520 put it, the big question is what kind of 520 will work as transportation for the next 60 to 80 years?

    Conley got to that point after saying, "Many of us have spent years in processes sponsored by the state, working to design a good 520 highway. But we have to realize that the wrong question was being asked. The question that we were being asked was, 'How do you put a bigger 1950s-style highway through Seattle?' " The result, she said, was the design the mayor, some of the city council and Seattle legislators, including transportation-expert Sen. Ed Murray, now want to fight.

    No one ever stopped and thought about that before? That's hard to swallow, though at the press event it was easy to blame former Mayor Greg Nickels (and, in Murray's case, the media) for having focused only on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Murray tossed in another barb. Referring to a city council letter on 520 and what it might have meant for the state going ahead with 520 work on the east side of the lake, Murray said, "I'm not sure exactly what the council letter said, and I have read it several times."

    After the press event, seattlepi.com political columnist Joel Connelly laid out in devastating detail how the city and its own legislative representatives are doing quite a job of alienating the Eastside and its lawmakers in Olympia, who vote on matters affecting the city. As Connelly noted, a bill making progress through the Senate, SB 6366, would weaken cities' authority over permitting of major state transportation projects within their boundaries. Target: Seattle, of course.

    While McGinn, as mayor, makes a big target for those angry about the press event, there is the reality that he is the newest actor in the group. A new mayor can hardly be held seriously accountable for building the political habits, processes, and whatever else lie behind Seattle's history of delays, indecision, and mixed messages on projects at home and in the region.

    But there is an awkward inconsistency, which won't be missed on the Eastside, between McGinn's urgency about repairing the earthquake-endangered Seattle waterfront seawall and his urging of still more studies and returns to the drawing boards on how to handle the earthquake- and windstorm-prone 520 bridge. And the juxtaposition fits the larger narrative of a big city supposedly acting like a little, spoiled kid.

    While Seattle leaders are framing their latest position as a matter of good judgment about the future, they can't expect anything but a good argument from the Eastside, the state and even businesses and institutions in the city. At a press event Thursday to urge moving ahead with the state's plan, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Seattle and the King County Labor Council lined up with the Bellevue City Council. Indeed, seattlepi.com reported City Council President Richard Conlin (hardly lacking in progressive credentials himself) and four other council members were there to say they support the HOV lanes as part of the plan, while also saying the city's concerns about the west end of the project need to be resolved. The Northwest Progressive Institute says building HOV lanes to encourage car-pooling now is compatible with adding light-rail tracks later when funding becomes available.

    Despite all the posturing and playing to key constituencies, the differences between the city and the state aren't that great in the whole scope of the project. Perhaps there is indeed a place in the middle of the bridge for everyone to meet. But with incumbents running scared in this populist political climate, they will be tempted to avoid coming down on either side of the issue before the fall election, kicking the decision can down the road one more time. The debate's only been going on for a decade, after all.

    Joe Copeland is political editor for Crosscut. You can reach him at Joe.Copeland@crosscut.com.

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    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    I saw a six Seattle politicians supporting the new Montlake proposal on Monday. That might count as several but it is a distinct minority of legislators and council members. You need to read that KING TV poll again. The questions asked about HOV lanes and light rail did not accurately describe and proposal being presented, either the new one from Montlake, or the one most everyone but Montlake interests support. In other words, that poll is clearly not a reliable or credible measure of public opinion in Seattle on this topic.

    I think you will find that the 20,000 additional traffic in the future is not based on any bridge design proposed, but simply population growth.

    The big news has been missed on so much of the reporting. A majority of Seattle's political leadership, at City Hall and in Olympia, supports moving forward with the design Murray and Chopp, with the support of the Montlake crowd, wrote into law many years ago. In other words, the defining geography of the current controversy is no longer the Eastside versus Seattle. It is Montlake and a few parts versus most of the rest of the state. The majority of Seattle's elected leadership are acting in the best interests of Seattle, as they see it, which means that the Seattle interest, save for six electeds (three legislators and three citywide electeds) are not, and are clearly more focused on much more localized turf.

    There has been a clever attempt by the Montlake interests to make this about causes larger than their neighborhood beefs, like climate change, transit advocacy, and Seattle writ large. But most people have seen through the stunt, while applauding the creativity behind it.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    And what neighborhood to you live in, Jan.......?


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    The reporting here was largely right-on EXCEPT for giving some authenticity to the KING TV poll that it might not deserve and Jan's point about the source of the 20,000+ additional trips (PSRC projections, not a design objective for the bridge). It's kind of disappointing to see some of the transit and bike/ped advocates sit on the sidelines when so much of this project is devoted to transforming this corridor into just the kind of multi-modal facility that we say we want. As it's turned out, it's the GP lanes that will bear much of the cost. If that's not progressive new urbanism, I don't know what it. That's why Andrew and other progressives are pushing back (thank you for weighing in, NPI).

    Deb Eddy

    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

    What I don't think people living on the east side realize is that Seattle's capacity for accommodating the automobile is 100% MAXED OUT.

    I-5 is a parking lot
    Our street grid is over capacity.
    Our neighborhoods were never planned to accommodate for the massive amount of traffic we have and the streets simply aren't getting any wider.

    It will never, ever matter how large you build a bridge across Lake Washington, there is no room for more SOV trips! There is no room to build larger streets either. What is needed is a radical change in the way people can get in, out and around Seattle.

    That is what I like about the transit only lanes. Park your car on the east side of the lake and have fun riding an intuitive, comfortable system of streetcars and light rail in the city.

    Carpooling is a very effective and smart way of getting around, but the simple truth is that it just isn't enough to solve our people movement problem in this city.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    Attention Autophobes: Please move very far away and take all of the defective Toyotas and Prius vehicles with you.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 1:49 p.m. Inappropriate

    Montlake takes a lot of heat for objecting to more of same. Montlake isn't alone in its objection. The other neighborhoods adjacent to 520 object as well, and so should the Arboretum, the Friends of Olmsted Parks, and the University, but then again their proponents don't live beside the freeway.

    Nobody seems to take note of the fact that our two major freeways almost ruined Montlake and neighborhoods all over our city. It takes a lot of civic work to recover and maintain quality of life and value after such a trauma. That's one reason you'll find that these neighborhoods are highly organized and not eager to suffer more damage. They've already taken a bullet for you, and they know well what the effects of having a freeway run through are like to live with. The governor doesn't. Most of the legislators don't. I don't think our City Councilmembers do. The eastside, where 520 and I-405 run through strip malls and office parks, doesn't. NIMBY? You have been in our backyards for years! Now you want to move into some of our frontyards, too!

    WSDOT has ever been a bully and a bad neighbor as it runs through our city(take a look at the roadway and the suffocating Clematis on the trees along the roadway). Take a look at the history of takings without fair compensation as recently as the 1960s. Take a look at arbitrary buffering vegetation removal because the vegetation (bside a freeway! "isn't native." If WSDOT has to jump through more hoops these days (thank goodness), it is still a bully. I find it hard to believe that eight members of our City Council, with nothing to lose now but the City's permitting authority, would allow themselves to be so bullied on our behalf. Don't they love our city and its treasures? Don't they care about our neighborhoods?

    As far as reneging on the results of the six-lane mediation process is concerned, a lot of us, many in favor of a good four-lane solution, just sat it out, knowing it had to run its course. The A+ result couldn't have been anything more like the camel produced by committee. Friends of Olmsted Park bought off on A+ with a seven-lane Portage Bay Bridge in order to get rid of the ramps in the Arboretum, never mind what happens to Foster Island and the rest of the Arboretum and our neighborhoods when the proponents of every plan want to get rid of the ramps. By the time the trade-offs had accomplished their work, the thing was hideous. A Viaduct so despised on our waterfront moved into the middle of our tiny bays and lake and yes, our yards.

    If you care about safety, you should urge the governor and the legislature to do what we can afford now--fix the bridge, with wider shoulders for disabled vehicles, and buy the time to come up with a well-designed thoughtful solution as we see how our times develop--flex time, telecommuting, neighbohood work stations, decentalized medical facilities, high-speed transit with on-call shuttles to and from, and yes, live where you work!

    Erin O'Connor

    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 2:16 p.m. Inappropriate

    Enough! Build it! These people could talk e. Coli to death, and they will never be satisfied.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 2:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    If anybody is still left not knowing what "the Seattle way" refers to, here's yet another reminder. A decision has been made. New folks get elected who disagree with it; they have their own plan. They want to reset (to use a popular term) the process all over again, and again, and again, until their plan "wins." Before that version gets started, new folks get elected who disagree with that; they have their own plan. Repeat. I agree 100% with Ivan. Enough! Build it before a natural disaster forces people around the lake and onto I-90!


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's fun to watch all the pundits tell us that Seattle needs to shut up and take its medicine. I strongly support the Seattle politicians who are representing Seattle concerns. It's called democracy.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 4:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm all for democracy too. It looks to me like a few Seattle politicians are representing special Montlake area interests exclusively. A big majority of Seattle politicians appear to be supporting Seattle's interests - the interests of all the rest of us, while also making reasonable requests for a better project for Montlake, and a lower bridge across the lake.


    Posted Fri, Feb 5, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Jan lives on Queen Anne, but used to live in Montlake. Like most people who live in Montlake now, I arrived after 520 was built. The cost of my home reflected that - enjoying the handy access but hating the noise. It looks to me like there are lots of elements of the preferred design that make big improvements to the neighborhood, especially the noise. It also appears that a majority of the Seattle City Council is constructively working to make it even better by insisting on a better interchange, a smaller road and a lower bridge: all reasonable, and doable, requests, provided something new actually moves forward.


    Posted Sat, Feb 6, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    Queen Anne residents should note that the Deep-bore tunnel turns "Mercer West" into a major thru-corridor between the north portal on Aurora and Elliott, adding as many as 10,000+ vehicles daily, including semi's. If Jan's OK with that, she must not live near Mercer. Who knows how this new traffic pattern will affect Mercer between Aurora and I-5, as if the Mercer Mess wasn't bad enough. Now is a good time to challenge SDOT and WSDOT decisions. Hey, how about that I-5 Columbia River Crossing boondoggle?


    Posted Sat, Feb 6, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    "If Jan's OK with that, she must not live near Mercer."

    Or moving on to the next best place, a rolling stone gathers no moss!


    Posted Sat, Feb 6, 7:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    Will the editors please explain why "Editors' Pick" is laudatory?

    Deb Eddy

    Posted Tue, Feb 23, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    Imagine if most of the commuter would be part of a carpool, it would be so much easier to get in the city. I tried the carbon dioxide and driving cost calculator on a carpooling network ( www.carpoolingnetwork.com ) and they suggest huge annual savings : up to 2000 $ and 1,5 tonnes per year.


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