This 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.
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.
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.