BetterBridge.org issues Memorandum on SR 520
The following is going out to a wide distribution of communities and elected officials. WSDOT is continuing to study the Pacific Street Interchange as described in this recent update: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/EmailUpdate.htm. We are sincerely grateful for all of the support and encouragement we have received and continue to receive on this epic journey to consensus on the future of SR 520.
Rob Wilkinson Jonathan Dubman
Oct. 27, 2005
Community leaders encourage full participation in developing SR 520 plan:
After years of conflict and indecision on the future of the SR 520 corridor, for the past eight months, a strong spirit of collaboration and trust has developed between WSDOT, the City of Seattle , transit agencies, affected communities and other jurisdictions. The University of Washington has been a part of this dialogue from the beginning. The UW’s apparent unwillingness to further participate in developing the Pacific Interchange/Union Bay Bridge option creates roadblocks in this time-critical process. BetterBridge.org views the UW reaction, based on an internal presentation as premature. BetterBridge.org is disappointed, but remains optimistic that the UW will come to see the value of this collaboration.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement will be completed in May and the concerns that the UW has expressed will be quantified. UW participation in the refinement of all alternatives under consideration would undoubtedly yield a better project. Seattle City Council Resolution 30777 strongly supports the study of this promising new alternative for SR 520.
UW concerns can be mitigated
The UW recently raised two concerns regarding the Pacific Interchange/Union Bay Bridge proposal: “the use of University property” and the need to “reduce traffic congestion.” As to the former, the Union Bay Bridge and widened Montlake Blvd. would occupy State property that is largely used today by the UW for surface parking. Surface parking can be replaced with structured parking in the same area as part of the bridge replacement project. A widened Montlake Blvd. appears to fit within current setbacks, does not reduce buildable land, and in fact helps to accommodate future growth.
As for the second concern, traffic volumes increase with the Pacific Interchange option because it is the only proposal that allows the majority of traffic accessing SR 520 via Montlake Blvd. to bypass the bottleneck of the Montlake Bridge . It should be noted that the WSDOT traffic figures used by the UW are estimates for the year 2030, after 25 more years of growth and over a million new residents in the metropolitan region. Omitted from the UW’s critique is the fact that traffic congestion with the Pacific Interchange would be dramatically reduced from what it is today. Most importantly, the UW’s future growth could be accommodated. By contrast, without the relocated interchange, Montlake Blvd. will earn a grade of “F” for traffic operations both at Pacific Street and Roanoke Street , as occurs now – a fact well known to anyone who drives on Montlake Blvd.
BetterBridge.org takes great pride in the Arboretum as an important regional asset that demands very careful stewardship and is working to defend the Arboretum against any unnecessary impacts. All alternatives that are currently under study for the project include ramps to Lake Washington Blvd and a far wider SR 520 over Foster Island and nearby wetlands. The Pacific Interchange option eliminates the need for “braided” HOV ramps 70 feet in the air associated with the other 6 lane alternatives while shading a sliver of Marsh Island . On balance, the Union Bay Bridge option has impacts on the Arboretum that are comparable to the other SR520 options under consideration. Unlike the other SR 520 options, the Pacific Interchange option also creates a seamless trail system and new parkland adjacent to the Arboretum, where interchange ramps are located today.
Citizens in the region who will pay for billions of dollars in transportation systems expect smart, direct and reliable connections between transit service on SR520 and the proposed Link Light Rail Station at the University of Washington . Only the Pacific Interchange and Union Bay Bridge yields these direct bimodal connections. Transit patrons from the Eastside will be able to either stay on SR 520 to their downtown destination, or cross the new Union Bay Bridge to UW, where there would be a fast and easy transfer to light rail for destinations including Northgate, Capitol Hill, downtown Seattle or the Airport.
WSDOT’s studies thus far show that of all the options that are being considered for SR 520, the Pacific Interchange option offers by far the greatest improvement in regional and local mobility. Relieving the Montlake Bridge Bottleneck vastly reduces traffic congestion – a UW concern - in the local street network. Emergency vehicles will be able to reliably access the UW Medical Center. Less congestion would allow bus service to be restored southbound on Montlake Blvd. connecting University Village , NE Seattle and the new Link Light Rail Station.
Park and Trail Improvements
With the Pacific Interchange option, pedestrians enjoy a direct connection between the Burke-Gilman trail and the bicycle path to be constructed along SR 520 to the Eastside. The area around the Montlake/Pacific interchange can be vastly enhanced, separating pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicles, and extending the landscape plan of the UW over the enlarged interchange. Montlake Blvd. where the SR 520 interchange is located today can be restored as a parkway in the Olmsted Brothers tradition.
The Pacific Interchange option reduces the number of lanes required across Portage Bay to 6 lanes from the 9 lanes required by the other 6 lane alternatives, and moves the Arboretum access ramps further away from Arboretum property. In contrast, the “base 6 lane” alternative has been broadly condemned by impacted neighborhoods for a wide footprint, perpetual local traffic congestion and a disconnected regional transit system.
BetterBridge.org encourages UW, WSDOT, the City of Seattle, resource agencies, transit agencies and regional and state leaders to work together at all levels to
· refine all alternatives under consideration before and after the draft EIS is released
· ensure we proceed consistently with the guiding principles established by City of Seattle Resolution 30777
· seek not only to minimize negative impacts but also to maximize opportunities afforded by this project, such an enhancements to the gateway of the UW at Montlake Blvd. , the creation of new gateways, and additions to the Arboretum where SR 520 access ramps stand today
· fund a suitable replacement of any impacted UW parking in the vicinity of Montlake/Pacific that meets UW needs for sporting and fundraising events and access to medical facilities
· locate and fund the acquisition of suitable replacement sites to compensate the UW for any loss of opportunity there may be for campus development as a result of SR 520 construction
· consider innovative tolling strategies to manage traffic, appropriately balance local and regional mobility and fund the Arboretum Master Plan