The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

The Eco-case Against Expanding 405

Interstate 405
Seattle, Washington
Cost to Federal Taxpayers: $700 million (Phase I)
WSDOT should scrap the $11 billion, four-lane I-405 expansion. It is unclear how much of the total project cost will be borne by federal taxpayers, but as much as $700 million will be required to complete phase one. Instead, a much less expensive program could be implemented, employing "best-first" highway improvements to fix existing design flaws and aggressive transit and trip-reduction efforts, at a total cost of only $3.1 billion, all of which could be funded by local dollars.

John Healy, 1000 Friends of Washington, (206) 343-0681,

Kevin Shively, Transportation Choices Coalition, (206) 329-2336
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) proposes to spend roughly $11 billion to increase capacity along the entire 30-mile stretch of the Interstate 405 (I-405) beltway between Seattle's eastside suburbs and Interstate 5. This cost estimate is likely to increase substantially when WSDOT releases a revised estimate based on its 2004 Cost Estimate Validation procedures. The project's political proponents and the local road construction industry have flagged the project as a top priority, calling it critical to the economic health of the Puget Sound region and the entire state.

WSDOT's 20-year plan for I-405 includes construction of two additional lanes in each direction, reconfigured interchanges, and reconstructed arterials that feed into I-405, as well as additional bus and van pool service. The overwhelming defeat of Referendum 51-a gas tax referendum that would have provided $1.7 billion for the I-405 project-in 2002 forced WSDOT to rethink the massive project, and the agency is now pursuing the project in two parts.

An executive committee of regional transportation officials approved the first phase in October 2003. Under this $4.7 billion plan, WSDOT would expand I-405 by two lanes in each direction on some portions of the highway, and by one lane in each direction along the rest with sufficient right-of-way for another expansion in the future. One interchange will also be reconfigured. Barely 5 percent of the money for this project would be used to fund transit improvements-additional buses and bus stations, bus ramps to HOV lanes, and an expanded vanpool program-despite WSDOT-commissioned polling that shows public support for trip-reduction is stronger than support for road construction in the corridor. In April 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives earmarked $3 million for I-405 in its version of the six-year transportation bill reauthorization.

Taxpayer Concerns
WDOT's planned I-405 expansion would take 20 years to complete and still not solve the corridor's congestion problems. At best, federal taxpayers would be expected to spend up to $700 million for the first phase. The freeway elements of the preferred alternative would cost over $1055 per square foot of pavement. Critics point out that the estimated cost of construction approaches or exceeds what WSDOT estimates drivers would save through reduced travel times, and these costs do not even include construction-related delay and increased accidents.

Only $485 million has been committed for the I-405 project from the nickel per gallon gasoline taxes passed by the Washington legislature in 2003. Although voters roundly rejected Referendum 51, regional transportation authorities are resting their hopes on the passage of a Regional Transportation Improvement District (RTID) ballot measure, which would raise up to $2.8 billion for the first phase of the I-405 project by increasing sales taxes, license fees, and a three-county gasoline tax. Without this funding, which is far from guaranteed, WSDOT would likely need to abandon the expansion plan or rely on even more massive federal outlays.

A coalition of regional transportation and conservation organizations, Sensible Solutions, proposes a "Triple Win" Plan for the I-405 corridor. This plan focuses on the most congested spots, increases transit, and would also place a priority on freight movement, bicycle and pedestrian projects, trip reduction strategies, and transit-oriented development. At a cost of approximately $3.1 billion, the "Triple Win" proposal represents a massive savings over the $11 billion WSDOT proposal, and can be funded with a combination of tolls and state, regional and federal funds that can reasonably be expected over the next 20 years.

Local Community Concerns
Expanding I-405 would not solve the corridor's congestion problems. Construction-related delays associated with a 20-year project on I-405 would be massive, worsening regional congestion over the project's life. WSDOT's widening would destroy 300 homes and businesses and would affect more than 1,400 other properties. Widening dozens of miles of neighborhood arterials would also reduce green space, increase neighborhood traffic, and make the streets less safe for children and less conducive to cycling and walking. A 2001 report commissioned by WSDOT concludes that this project will likely encourage sprawl and population shifts from Seattle to outlying areas.(1)

Environmental Concerns
The direct and indirect impacts of this project on sensitive wildlife habitat would be severe. I-405 crosses or directly affects some 170 streams, tributaries, and wetlands, which support a number of threatened salmon species. The Puget Sound Technical Recovery Team has identified three Chinook populations in the I-405 corridor: Green River, Cedar River, and north Lake Washington Chinook. A wider I-405 would result in hundreds of additional acres of impervious surfaces, and additional toxic runoff would end up in area waterways, degrading drinking water supplies and the habitat of threatened species. Damage to the region's watershed basins and aquifers would also degrade drinking water. The I-405 expansion would fill as many as 62 acres of wetlands and disrupt 168 individual wetland areas. Article published June 2, 2004

The articles are posted solely for educational purposes to raise awareness of transportation issues. I claim no authorship, nor do I profit from this website. Where known, all original authors and/or source publisher have been noted in the post. As this is a knowledge base, rather than a blog, I have reproduced the articles in full to allow for complete reader understanding and allow for comprehensive text searching...see custom google search engine at the top of the page. If you have concerns about the inclusion of a specific article, please email for a speedy resolution.