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

SR 520 - Summary of Key Issues from Seattle Channel

At issue:
One of the busiest roadways in the Puget Sound region, State Route (SR) 520's floating bridge opened for traffic August 28, 1963. Officially named the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge, but more commonly known as the SR 520 floating bridge or the Evergreen Point Bridge, the structure has provided a vital link for area residents to cross Lake Washington for over four decades.

The bridge was designed for 65,000 vehicles to pass over its span each day. Currently about 115,000 vehicles rely on the bridge to get to and from work. The bridge is just less than 2.5 miles long with nearly a mile and a-half of it floating on the water. Thirty-three pontoons keep the bridge afloat while 62 anchors help keep it in place. The draw bridge at the midspan allows large ships to pass through to the northern portion of the lake. The depth of the lake at drawspan is 200 feet.

Like any water vessel, the bridge has seen its share of blustery days on the water. The bridge is regularly shut down when a high wind storm blows through the region. The bridge can withstand wind gusts between 50-70 miles per hour. Strong wind storms have forced the closure of the bridge for several days while crews repair the damage.

The damage the bridge has suffered over the years from wind, combined with age and concerns about the structure's seismic stability, is forcing state officials to consider options to rebuild the floating bridge. The construction project will give transportation officials the opportunity to widen the bridge with the hope of easing a common spot for traffic tie-ups.

Construction options:
Currently, there are two construction options on the drawing board. Both call for the reconstruction of the bridge from Interstate 5 to Bellevue Way with the complete rebuild of all over passes and street bridges in the construction zone. Both bridges in Union Bay near the University of Washington will also be replaced.

Four lane bridge option:

* Two lanes in each direction would be similar to current bridge.
* Wider lanes with 4-foot wide shoulders on the inside lane and a 10-foot wide outside shoulder will be constructed.
* A 14-foot wide bike and pedestrian lane will run the length of the bridge.
* A sound wall will be built along portions of the bridge in neighborhood areas on both sides of the lake.
* Storm water treatment and electronic toll monitors will be installed on the bridge.
* New structure will be built with the ability to support future high transit needs, such as a light rail.
* Four lane option is estimated to cost between $1.7-$2 billion.

Six lane bridge option:

* Will feature three lanes in each direction, including one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane in both directions.
* Ten-foot wide shoulder will be on both the inside and outside lanes.
* A 14-foot wide bicycle and pedestrian path will run along the bridge.
* Five 500-foot long lids will be built over SR 520 to reconnect communities on both sides of the bridge including; Montlake, North Capitol Hill, Portage Bay, Medina, Yarrow and Clyde Hill.
* A sound wall will be built along portions of the bridge in neighborhood areas.
* Storm water treatment and electronic toll monitors will be installed on the bridge.
* New structure will be built with the ability to support future high transit needs, such as a light rail.
* Six lane option is estimated to cost between $2.3-$3.1 billion, which also includes design options.

Construction of the new floating bridge will be just north of the current structure to allow traffic to flow as normal. The pontoons will be constructed off site and brought in through the Ballard Locks once they are ready to be put in place.

While funding for the project is primarily through state funds, transportation officials also believe charging a toll will help to generate millions. Tolls aren't new for the bridge. When it opened in 1963, drivers paid a toll and nearly $60 million was generated until the toll was lifted in 1979. This time around, officials estimate $700 million will be raised from tolls. The price would be fixed according to time, day and direction of travel. While no specific fee has been set, planners estimate the toll could cost $3.50 each way.

Thanks to technology, toll booths are a thing of the past. Crews would construct an overhead automated card reader that would detect a credit card size sticker on windshields. The toll would be deducted from either a pre-paid account or would be directly linked to the drivers debit or credit card account. For drivers who don't normally use the SR 520 bridge, they could go online and register their license plate with their debit account so tolls could automatically be deducted from accounts. Other options to collect tolls from infrequent bridge users are also being explored.

The project has already secured million of dollars from other state sources:

* $52 million - 2003 Transportation "Nickel" Fund
* $500 million - 2005 Transportation Gas Tax
* $1 million - 2005 Federal Funding

Depending on which option is selected, the project will need to raise between $500 million and $1.9 billion to complete construction. Money is also expected to come from the Regional Transportation Investment District ballot measure which will go before voters in 2007.

Project timeline:

* 2007 - Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
* 2007 - A design option will be chosen
* 2009 - Construction scheduled to start

The latest news:
The cost of commuting across SR520 could add up

Commuters across the SR520 floating bridge may have to shell out $10 just to get across. That's the current toll estimate from the January 29 House Transportation Committee Hearing in Olympia.

Based on the proposal, the round-trip tolls of the new Evergreen Point bridge would range from $5.66 to $8.13 in today's dollars and $6.90 to $9.90 when the new bridge is expected to open in 2015. Official estimate it could take over 40 years to finish funding the bridge.

The latest cost estimate for the new bridge is $4.38 billion. The Legislature agreed to fund $552 million and the Regional Transportation Investment District $1.1 billion if voters consent to a tax increase that will raise $8.5 billion for several road projects.

However, even with that funding the project is still $2.7 billion less than the estimated cost.

One state lawmaker said they have to respond to the overwhelming cost of the SR520 project this session.

Previous updates
Governor favors six-lane rebuild but funding still isn't there

Governor Christine Gregoire announced her preference for a six lane rebuild of SR 520 in a December 15 press conference, but she also admitted the state lacks the finances for the much needed project.

The six-lane option includes two transit only lanes - one for transit and carpool, four lanes for motorists. The current bridge is expected to wear out within 20 years and is often shut down during strong windstorms.

Current estimates put the construction costs ranging from $4.4 billion to $5.3 billion. Money from federal grants, tolls and gas taxes would only cover a little over $2 billion.

While many city leaders favor the six-lane option, some neighborhood groups in the Montlake area are concerned the larger bridge could have a negative impact on their neighborhood.

The proposed Pacific Interchange would deposit cars traveling west bound between Husky Stadium and the UW Medical Center. University of Washington officials are considering asking state leaders for compensation for the disruption construction would cost their campus. They say fans may stay home from football and basketball games to avoid traffic issues.

Gregoire has asked state leaders to continue work on finding additional funds for the bridge.

Six-Lane Design Front Runner for New Bridge

City Council members narrowed down the design options for the new SR 520 bridge, opting for the two six-lane designs. Both versions of the bridge have four lanes for general traffic with two lanes reserved for transit/HOV lanes.

The Council will continue to work with WSDOT on design and financing options. Council members have also reserved the right to keep a four-lane option as backup if certain issues can't be addressed.

Council members are expected to make a final decision on the city's preferred alternative in mid-October. After that, their decision will be passed onto the SR 520 Executive Committee, a regional advisory body designed to make their own recommendations for Governor Chris Gregoire. Their recommendations will be given to Gregoire by the end of the year. Both Council members Richard Conlin and Jan Drago are members of the SR 520 Executive Committee.

Financing Options Reviewed

The group charged with taking a closer look at the proposed SR 520 redesign and construction said the finance plan falls short of what may be needed to rebuild the bridge across Lake Washington.

The Expert Review Panel released their report of Washington State's Department of Transportation financing plan stating, "We find it unreasonable to assume the project will realize sufficient funding from secured and anticipated funding sources." The report was released on August 31.

A six-lane rebuild, which is the option the review panel studied, is estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The report states the funding premise is overly optimistic about securing the fund need to complete the project.

Governor Gregoire has instructed the Legislature to begin working on finding the state's share of finances as well as assessing ways to get public and private financing.

For more information, read the Expert Review Panel's full report.

In early June, an independent expert panel was created to review the construction and finance options of the SR 520 floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Seawall projects. The panel consists of eight experts in the fields of planning, engineering, finance, law, emerging transportation technologies, geotechnical and economic fields. Governor Chris Gregoire convened the panel since millions of state, local and federal dollars will be used to complete the projects.

The panel is expected to begin meeting in late June or early July. Some of their meetings will be open to the public, but others will be a closed work session. They are expected to submit their report in September that will help inform state and city officials whether the plans to replace the two main arteries through the Seattle area are achievable.

Who's involved?

* City of Seattle
* Washington Department of Transportation
* Seattle Department of Transportation
* Federal Highway Administration
* Sound Transit

Neighborhood and local groups involved with planning:

* Greater University Chamber of Commerce
* Laurelhurst Community Club
* Montlake Community Club
* Portage Bay/Roanoke Park Community Council
* Ravenna/Bryant Neighborhood Association
* UW Regional Affairs Office
* North Capitol Hill
* Madison Park

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