Half-funded 520 section through Montlake will get half-constructed starting this summer

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 8.06.56 PMThis summer, crews will begin work on replacing a dangerously decrepit section of the SR-520 bridge that connects Montlake Boulevard to the floating bridge over Lake Washington. The problem: since the state legislature failed to pass a transportation funding package, only half of the mile-long roadway has the budget it needs, meaning only the westbound lanes are slated to get built. Construction of the lanes, known as the West Approach Bridge North, will begin in July and are expected to be completed by Fall 2016 — with or without funding and construction of the eastbound lanes.

Some in the legislature, including Capitol Hill’s Sen. Jamie Pedersen, had delayed the Washington Department of Transportation from starting construction until funding for the eastbound lanes could be secured, but that block expires June 30th.

“We’re going ahead with this and there’s nothing to suggest we’ll get the funding to finish it,” Pedersen told CHS. “We know that period of construction … will be hard on surrounding people. Lets not start that without having the whole plan for how long its going to last.”

WSDOT spokesperson Roger Thompson said ultimately the project needed to start given the long-known structural issues with the bridge.

“If we had a severe earthquake tomorrow, those structures could fail,” he said.


Rendering of the West Approach Bridge North Project

The $300 million federally funded westbound section will have three lanes and include a 14-ft wide pedestrian and bike path that will eventually connect to a path all the way across Lake Washington.

Pedersen isn’t optimistic about closing the $1.5 billon shortfall on Seattle-side development, suggesting the most promising solution is a political one.

“We’re going to try to get the Democrats back in control of the state Senate. It doesn’t look like we’ll get a transportation package done with Republicans in control, and until we do that, it’s hard to see how we get 520,” he said.

Starting in July, crews will also begin the permanent removal the “bridges to nowhere” and off-ramps that lead into Lake Washington Boulevard. The construction will not require the state to use any private property in the nearby Montlake area, but the now-vacated Museum of History and Industry building will be demolished to make way for a storm-water treatment site. The MOHAI moved to South Lake Union in 2012.

Key landmarks: A. New stormwater treatment facility B. Relocated Montlake freeway transit stop C. New 24th Avenue East off-ramp and shared-use path D. Two westbound lanes to Montlake Boulevard

Key landmarks:
A. New stormwater treatment facility
B. Relocated Montlake freeway transit stop
C. New 24th Avenue East off-ramp and shared-use path
D. Two westbound lanes to Montlake Boulevard

Also included in the this round of construction will be a new Arboretum trail and a public park north of SR 520.

The portion of the new 520 closest to Capitol Hill — the section that spans Portage Bay and connects to I-5 — also remains unfunded, with major design elements still to be worked out. Some of the design issues that still need to be resolved include whether the bridge should be a cheaper concrete bridge or more expensive, more attractive, cable-stayed bridge. The placement highway lids and bike/pedestrian lanes has also yet to be determined.

During the last legislative session, Pedersen added language to a supplemental budget item that requires WSDOT to work with the city to answer those remaining design questions. Pedersen said that design work should be finished by the end of the year.

In the meantime, work on the rest of the $4.13 billion bridge continues — over budget but mostly on schedule. Construction of the West Connection Bridge — a 1,300-foot, interim connector between the new and old roadway just off the shores of Madison Park– began in July 2013. Construction of the floating bridge and Medina approaches are fully funded and expected to be complete in 2016.

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14 thoughts on “Half-funded 520 section through Montlake will get half-constructed starting this summer

  1. Am I supposed to be happy that the Democrats may come in and increase regressive gas taxes in order to expand freeways?

    Multiple big projects were started without fully secured funding: the CRC, 520, and the deep bore tunnel (where the state has explicitly declined to fund cost overruns).

    I think it would be a good idea to face the fact that some of these plans may need to be abandoned or revised, similarly to the R.H. Thomson Expressway and its ramps to nowhere. The CRC has been cancelled and now it is time to take some hits in the Seattle region. It would be smarter and cheaper to do it now than later.

    • What would be your suggestion about replacing the section described as “dangerously decrepit”? Just let it fall down and hope nobody dies?

      • No, why would anyone want to do that? Replace it with a 4-lane span which connects with the existing freeway on both ends.

      • It sounded like you were suggesting this was one of those projects which should be abandoned or revised. I agree w/ you, might as well do it now, it’ll only be more expensive later.

    • So-called “regressive gas taxes” are not supposed to be taxes, but user fees – the more of the resource (roads) you use, the more you pay. Seems like a pretty logical funding mechanism to me – how would you like to fund the roads? Not everyone drives a car you know.

      • Hi, thank you for asking. I think user fees are great in the context of an overall fair tax system. However Washington state already has a very regressive tax system, so I would not support the gas tax being increased. (“Regressive” meaning that people with lower incomes pay a much higher share of their income in taxes than upper income people.)

      • Well what tax do you support increasing? I agree that we could stand a more progressive tax system, but the gas “tax” was historically designed as a user fee for road use; and road use is the wrong thing to socialize and subsidize – because it also constitutes a subsidy for auto dependence, environmental damage and sprawl. If we want to help people in the lower income brackets, it would be better to make sure they have adequate food, housing, health care, education and child care. And of course we have the ongoing debate on raising the minimum wage, which would probably have similar effects to a more progressive tax system.

        As far as I’m concerned, the phrase “regressive gas tax” is basically auto industry propaganda to skew our perceptions about how roads are supposed to be financed.

  2. I’d rather they stop as the drawing depicts, and not build any more.
    The expensive lidded version removes the Montlake Flyer bus stops, and should not be built.

    Here is hoping for more years of republican gridlock.

    • Yeah, I’m generally pretty pro-tax – but I’m against spending a bunch of money to make this bridge wider, when traffic volumes have been steady for the last 10 years. I would be ok with replacing the decrepit section with a bridge of equal width, plus a bike/pedestrian path.

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