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.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I-90 Took 40 years from idea to completion

What Happened

Planning for upgrading SR 90 to I-90 began in 1957 when population forecasts indicated that fast suburban growth would quickly overwhelm the capacity of SR 90 to service the needs of those commuting to jobs in Seattle. The land-acquisition process for the highway expansion began in the 1960s, with the bulk of it occurring in Seattle, not the growing suburbs. By 1970, there was increasing public concern in Seattle over the environmental impacts and equity of the project. Officials in the suburbs largely favored the project because of the decreased travel time to Seattle. Seattle saw the project as favoring suburbanites at the expense of its own neighborhoods and was concerned with the scale of relocations required in Seattle and the repeated disruption of mature neighborhoods. These concerns led to a court case that resulted in a 1971 Federal Appeals Court injunction prohibiting further I-90 land acquisition and construction. The court ordered the preparation of a relocation-assistance plan and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.

Six years of impasse followed. Concerns among the affected municipalities were focused on the final scale and alignment of I-90. The impasse inspired the creation of unique groups to find areas of agreement among the municipalities, hear community concerns, and offer design recommendations. In 1972, FHWA convened a board of review to arbitrate disputes between the city of Seattle and WSDOT. It consisted of members appointed by the city of Seattle and WSDOT. At the suggestions of WSDOT, Citizen Advisory Committees were created for Seattle and the suburban communities. Composed of community representatives appointed by their respective city councils, the role of the committees was to hear community concerns and to provide local input to WSDOT. Representatives for the Judkins Park, South Atlantic Street, and Mount Baker neighborhoods sat on the Citizen Advisory Committee for Seattle.

In 1974, a groups was created to develop an overall solution to the I-90 impasse. The Governor appointed a 10-member, I-90 Commission consisting of State, county, and local officials from all the affected municipalities. Although the I-90 Commission failed to agree on the alignment or the capacity of I-90, the airing of community concerns ultimately led to the design of acceptable mitigation measures.

The idea of lids was discussed throughout the project, but there was no agreement on their use, even among community members. Originally, the Judkins Park and South Atlantic Street neighborhoods did not want a park over the lid, fearing that the space would attract crime. Later, the neighborhoods wanted a part. Also, the community groups at one time had not wanted an access ramp from I-90 into the community, but changed their position after the highway was redesigned.

The issue of noise and safety impacts of I-90 on an adjacent, common, local elementary school was also a critical concern for the three neighborhoods. The I-90 alignment require the acquisition of a smaller sliver of land (less than 1 acre) from the Coleman Elementary School playground. The neighborhoods, however, voiced concerns for the safety of school children because during construction they would have to cross a temporary, pedestrian-bridge structure over the active freeway to get to school. The long-term, daytime noise impact on the school children was also a strong concern of parents and educators.

When the draft EIS was completed in 1976, extensive negative comments were received, and serious differences of opinion emerged among the major local participants on the I-90 Commission, including Seattle, two suburban communities, and King County. The Governor appointed a two-person mediation team to identify areas of agreement among the parties--an approach that finally bore fruit.

In 1977, the affected municipalities signed a memorandum of agreement reducing the proposed configuration of the freeway from 12 to 8 lanes. The agreed-upon configurations of the lid over the freeway in the Judkins Park and South Atlantic Street neighborhoods was fixed at a length of 2,100 feet across the width of the highway. In addition to providing physical access across the freeway, the lid would serve as mitigation to reduce noise and aesthetic impacts from the proximity of the freeway and enhance the landscape of the affected neighborhoods. In 1979, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the EIS was adequate and lifted the injunction prohibiting I-90 construction. Work began that year.

Project Chronology

1940 U.S. 10 is completed as a four-lane road connecting Seattle, WA, to Mercer Island and Bellevue.

1947 The general alignment of U.S. 10 is selected for future upgrade to Interstate standards.

1955 Designation of U.S. 10 is changed to SR 90.

1957 Washington State Department of Highways (WSDOT) initiates engineering studies for I-90.

1960s R. H. Thomson Expressway is proposed, going through parts of Judkins Park and South Atlantic Street neighborhoods. Right-of-way (ROW) acquisition commences.

1963 The project alignment is selected for I-90 with a 10-lane project design. ROW acquisition commences.

1966 With revised traffic projections, design capacity for I-90 increases to 12 lanes.

1970 Construction is halted in response to public concern over environmental issues and lane arrangements for the entire facility.

1971 The U.S. Court of Appeals orders an injunction against further construction and land acquisition in the project corridor. The court also orders the preparation of a relocation-assistance plan and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

1972 R. H. Thomson Expressway is deleted from the regional transportation plan.

The Federal Highway Administration convenes a Board of Review to arbitrate Seattle's issues, with the nine members selected by the Mayor and approved by WSDOT and Seattle's City Council. 1974 Governor appoints a 10-member commission consisting of State, county, and local officials to develop a solution to the construction impasse. The Governor and Mayor of Seattle propose a revised lane configuration of the project.

1976 Serious disagreement persists on the draft EIS among the jurisdictions involved--city of Seattle, two suburban communities, and King County. To address the impasse, the Governor appoints a two-person mediation team to find areas of agreement among the parties. Seven months later, the parties sign a memorandum of agreement stipulating an eight-lane arrangement with two center lanes designated for transit and high-occupancy vehicles as well as other mitigation, including the Seattle lid.

1979 The court rules that the EIS is adequate and the injunction is lifted. Construction of I-90 begins.

1987 Construction begins on the roadways of the Seattle lid.

1991 The new elementary school is completed.

1992 Construction of the Seattle lid is completed.

1993 I-90 is officially opened. (The project is constructed with the original SR 90 open to traffic throughout the I-90 construction process.)

1996 Landscaping work on the lid is largely completed

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