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Group makes case for lidding I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown with greenspace, housing

“Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.”

Proponents of lidding I-5 at the base of Capitol Hill are getting serious: They have a logo.

As part of its ongoing efforts to inject community priorities into the massive $1.4 billion Washington State Convention Center expansion, members of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council have been pushing forward the idea of lidding I-5. PPUNC and a group of designers are now preparing to make their first public pitch before City Council members during a Wednesday afternoon “lunch and learn” at City Hall.

PPUNC chair and Capitol Hill architect John Feit sketched out a handful of lid ideas for the meeting, which range from *simply* reconnecting the street grid at Minor and Terry, to a 7-acre park over I-5 between Olive Way and Pike, to a mix of park space and development. The new publicly owned property could also open the opportunity for building public housing, Feit said, perhaps even for some of the hundreds of service industry workers the WSCC plans to employ.

Leveraging “public benefits” required of the developers as part of the convention center expansion will be key to getting PPUNC’s proposal off the ground. The benefits typically include improvements to the streetscape like canopies, planting, and lighting.

While the Pine Street Group has dismissed suggestions that a lid could be part of the public benefits provides as part of the project, Feit is hoping the developers would be open to funding a crucial feasibility study to establish real lid proposals.

“I think its reasonable to get the Convention Center to pay for that,” he said, estimating a study could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. “Their convention center would be much nicer if it was next to some ground instead of an interstate highway.”

Convention Center developers may still have a role to play in placing the first piece of the I-5 lid. As a part of the public benefits process, PPUNC is exploring the idea of having developers extend the Plymouth Pillars Park off-leash area to cover up a smaller corner of the I-5 canyon.

Placing a price tag on I-5 lidding all depends on the plan. Northwest Urbanist publisher and architect Scott Bonjukian, who will be joining Feit on Wednesday, wrote a series of posts that outline cost estimates, analyze the site, and review existing lid projects in other cities:

As discussed later on, I recommend lidding approximately 8.4 acres, resulting in a rough cost estimate of $168 to $210 million. That can be rounded up to $250 million to account for rebuilding retaining walls and overpasses, traffic system modifications, and improvements to Freeway Park.

Paired with the massive benefits of freeway lids, and relative to the enormous megaprojects going on Seattle right now, a price tag of $250 million is an incredible bargain.

The planned convention center expansion will fill the space along the north side of Pine just across I-5 from Capitol Hill where King County Metro’s soon to be defunct Convention Place Station is located today. Plans are currently in the works to phase buses out of the existing transit tunnel.

Last month, the WSCC announced it reached a deal with the County to buy the 4 acres for $147 million. But that transaction, too, could come with strings attached after the Seattle Times called for more scrutiny of the proposed deal’s impact on transportation costs:

Expanding the center is a worthy project with long-term benefits for the region. The utility of Convention Place is also diminishing because it will be bypassed by light rail in the current tunnel scheme. But the Metropolitan King County Council — which is expected to finalize the deal in early 2016 — must proceed with care and thoroughly explain how the public would benefit and transportation would be affected.

LMN Architects presented some of its most recent design concepts which included a massive cardboard model of the center and its surrounding blocks. The project will soon move to the Seattle Design Commission, where developers will likely divulge more details beyond the proposed designs.

PPUNC park isn’t quite as ambitious as the conceptual “linear park” that was put forward by Patano Studio Architecture, but the plans did help revive the I-5 lid conversation.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez and outgoing Council member Tom Rasmussen are expected to attend Wedesday’s meeting. According to Feit, future District 1 Council member Sally Bagshaw, who will represent downtown, supports the idea but won’t be able to make the meeting.

City Council members will hear from I-5 lid proponents Wednesday at 12 PM inside City Hall’s Council chambers, 600 4th Avenue.

PPUNC Lid Presentation

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23 thoughts on “Group makes case for lidding I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown with greenspace, housing

  1. I remember reading in an article (Seattle Times, I think, for what that’s worth) that part of the reason traffic will never improve along I-5 was because the portion that currently has the lid on it would prevent it from being easily (read: more inexpensively) widened or altered to allow for expansion, etc. Lidding the whole thing through downtown would essentially never permit the freeway to be widened or modified again – not for any reasonable sum of money.

    And remember, I-5 is a major North-South through route for thousands of people – who would have to take the road regardless of the traffic. That traffic load will always be there no matter what the area or Seattle itself does to alleviate traffic flow – but a lid will definitely not help – even if it does look nice and provide some nice green space.

    • I always heard that traffic is so bad because the original developers never thought a significant number of people would actually want to drive THROUGH downtown Seattle and skip it completely. Hence all the exits under the lid.

    • Thank you for your comment. You are correct — I-5 is an essential traffic corridor, but equally essential is improving the quality of life for our residents with more open space, housing choices, and connectivity between neighborhoods. You are at least partially correct about future lids impacting the freeway (to what extent, I do no know, as the current lids do that already); however, the clear signal that the public and our leaders are sending is that congestion is best relieved by investments in transit and walkable communities, not in greater freeway capacity. Addressing demand for automotive use by having choices is a wiser way to relieve congestion than building more capacity.

      • Lid or no lid, I-5 will never be widened through downtown. There is absolutely no political will to demolish more blocks of downtown Seattle to widen a freeway.

        So while a lid may impact the ability to widen I-5 from an engineering standpoint, it will never happen anyway.

      • Exactly. I’m not sure if it would be feasible to widen I5 through there, even if there was a political will to do so. This is a good thing…we can’t build our way out of traffic congestion, except via transit options like light rail.

    • Widening highways usually does very little to alleviate traffic congestion. Soon after they’re widened, they’re just as congested as before. Real transportation alternatives that are subsidized to the same degree as single occupancy vehicles will actually alleviates traffic.

      I-5, while heavily used by single occupancy vehicles in its current format is horribly inefficient for the enormous right-of-way that it occupies.

    • We’re not widening or altering I-5 to let even more single-occupancy cars whiz through our city. If you want to widen a freeway, add a few more lanes or decks to I-405. Build I-605. Let all the trucks bypass Seattle through the suburbs.

    • You can’t widen i5 for more reasons than a lid, you can’t widen because it’s surrounded by million dollar properties you’d have to bulldoze. And that’s setting aside that we know, for sure, that widening roads does not decrease congestion because traffic expands to the size of the road.

  2. This is one of the most important things we could do for Seattle for future generations. Reconnecting the street grid, having more development and green space, and establishing additional pedestrian, bike, and transit connections between the Denny Triangle, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill would be game-changing.

  3. Forget talk of widening I-5 and start talking about reliable and efficient mass transit from Olympia to Everett, from Puyallup to Redmond. Sounder service is not enough.

    Leave I-5 to trucking and those passing through W WA.

    Once we’ve satisfied our mass transit options and have existing streets, bridges and sidewalks in good repair then we should start talking about lidding I-5.

    • I think that’s a false choice…solving transit connections and sidewalks in Pierce and Snohomish county has nothing to do with this. If a lid happens it’s going to be the people of Seattle that have to get it done.

      • People are stating I-5 is a bottleneck because it is. Solve the issues that are currently creating one. Then it frees up the ability to keep it in its current state thus allowing it to be lidded. But first we have more pressing issues to spend money we don’t have on.

        People in this state like to put their eggs in one basket (I’m talking to you waterfront tunnel). Its sad our city is crumbling around us but people are focused on a lid.

      • people in this city like to come up with grand ideas with little to no thought as to how they’ll be paid for and what the implications are for future rents/home ownership costs in the city.

        i love the idea of a lid over i5 and would like to see it happen. but before i throw my support behind it i want more clarity on how all stages of the project will be funded and by who.

        but also agree with you @timmy73, we need to figure out, even at a local level, our mass transit needs. i’d rather see time and effort invested in an interurban rail line, more bus routes, etc. let’s fix our structure before worrying about putting curtains on the windows.

  4. Since King County is handing this property over for significantly under market value, the least the convention center could do is fund the study. (I know the Convention Center is a “public benefit” but who benefits – hotels and nearby business)

    • no, we certainly won’t benefit from additional tourism and conventioneers paying taxes on hotels, meals, etc as they attend larger conventions held in our city. no, never! the new expansion is just for hotel owners.

      and as many people have noted in the comments on these posts, the expansion is being funded by public dollars; so it’s not convention center dollars that would pay for the study, it would be ours.

  5. I support this as long as it doesn’t become the new homeless encampment. The parks in downtown are just gross from the homeless encampment, drugs, rats and peoples general disregard for public spaces. It’s like people don’t take pride in their city.

    • For what this would cost, you could almost house every homeless person.

      But yay, more bike lanes for people who aren’t homeless and want to bike to amazon for work.

  6. This project reminds me of when New York City decided to lid the rails heading north from Grand Central Station. Park Avenue was created creating extremely valuable real estate. The entire project was funded with the sale of the newly created space for development. I love the idea—bob

  7. While I love the idea of lidding I-5, it doesn’t seem like the entire freeway is at/below grade on the western side. Won’t this result in a massive wall at least part of the way?