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 3, 2008

Governor's plan for 6-lane 520 inadequate for future capacity

Gregoire: 520 Bridge can be replaced ahead of schedule
State could save as much as $700 million, governor says


The state can rebuild the Evergreen Point Bridge two years earlier and hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper than previous estimates, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday.

At Gregoire's request, the state Department of Transportation reviewed the original plan, looking for ways to more efficiently replace the aging state Route 520 Bridge.

The previous plan assumed the bridge would be completed in 2016 and the associated high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, interchanges and community mitigation on the six-mile corridor between Interstate 405 and Interstate 5 would be completed by 2018.

"Based on the work they've done, we can get the bridge done in 2014," Gregoire said.

The correlating improvements to Route 520 between I-405 and I-5 could be completed by 2016, according the new department estimates.

Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said that review showed that expediting the project would save the state as much as $700 million.

The project has been sped up with efficiencies including building the bridge pontoons one year early, advanced wetland mitigation and early permitting. The state also has resolved some issues that had a more uncertain timeline.

The department said it is further along in design and, more importantly, in vetting the specifics of the design with affected communities.

Gregoire said Grays Harbor had been selected as the site to build the pontoons for the floating bridge.

"That's critical so we can get going in 2009," she said. "We can actually start construction on pontoons."

Hammond said the accelerated schedule also would save drivers money.

"Our estimate on delay saving for commuters and freight is $50 million a year," she said. "There's also a savings (to the state) on inflation of about $100 million a year."

Because of stepping up the schedule of completion and other efficiencies, the cost estimate also has been trimmed from $4.38 billion to between $3.7 billion and $3.9 billion.

The plan requires up to $2 billion to be collected from tolls and relies on $1.7 billion of state and federal money.

The 44-year-old bridge connecting Seattle with its eastern suburbs is in danger of sustaining significant damage, including collapse, during severe weather.

The previous decadelong schedule for completing the project was seen as a political liability for Gregoire, who faces a rematch against Republican Dino Rossi in the gubernatorial race this fall.

Rep. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has been a frequent and vocal critic of Democrats' priorities and management of the Department of Transportation and projects, including the Evergreen Point Bridge.

"They are moving in the right direction in terms of timing, but I still believe we need to build the right bridge," Ericksen said. "The governor's plan still calls for six lanes, when everything shows you need eight lanes to be able to handle the capacity."

Gregoire said the state would build a six-lane bridge but design it in a way that would not preclude expanding it to an eight-lane configuration in the future. In order to do that, the state must have room enough on land -- an element that remains under intense negotiation.

Ericksen said that's not good enough.

"You are dealing with a floating bridge, which is a complex engineering feat to begin with. To come back and say we are going to add Lego extensions onto it doesn't make sense to most people," he said. "For the additional cost of building the larger pontoons today, I think that would be pretty small compared to the additional expense and inconvenience of having to retrofit that bridge in the future."

House Republicans plan Tuesday to unveil a new transportation plan that provide $6 billion of new transportation spending that would not require new taxes.

Gregoire said her plan to rebuild the 520 Bridge is contingent on several factors. The Legislature must pass a bill that outlines the basic configuration of the bridge and lays the groundwork for setting tolls for the new project.

"It says we have no way to finance the thing other than tolling," Gregoire said.

Hammond said that after voters rejected Proposition 1, the massive transit and roads plan that would have provided $1 billion for 520, "we were left without a financial plan."

The new bridge would be built north of the current Evergreen Point Bridge and traffic would continue to flow on the old bridge through construction.

Traffic would be shifted onto the new bridge, with connections to get into the existing corridor on each end by 2014.

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