The 36th Street Bridge project in Redmond is not a hunk of federal stimulus that benefits only Microsoft. To the contrary, say guest columnists John Marchione and Bob Drewel, this public/private partnership will help reduce congestion in the whole area and help our economy and environment.
Rarely a day goes by without us parents telling our kids to “do your homework.” Unfortunately, sometimes we forget to take our own advice.
Recent reports imply that the 36th Street Bridge project is a federal handout primarily to benefit a local corporation — and that the region didn’t do its homework before embracing it.
The reports couldn’t be more wrong. This wonderful project, which would be a bridge over Highway 520 just beyond the 148th Avenue exit, is highly beneficial on multiple fronts. It reduces congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions, helps our region meet growth and housing obligations, and addresses the needs of hundreds of employers within a major regional job center.
The attention on this project has focused heavily on Microsoft, so let’s take that issue head-on. Microsoft will end up paying half the cost of a public bridge facility (including new lanes across the 520 freeway, sidewalks, bike lanes, storm drainage and traffic signals) that serves more than 600 firms and 5,000-plus homes.
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Let’s look at the facts:
The 36th Street Bridge provides an integral connection to the Overlake area of Redmond, which hosts 44,000 jobs — more than any employment center in our four-county region outside of Seattle. Look around Overlake, and you will find more than 600 information-technology and high-tech firms calling this area home, including Microsoft, Nintendo, Honeywell, Siemens, DigiPen, not to mention a broad array of service firms, retail stores and restaurants. Take another look and you will see a dense mixed-use area expected to accommodate 5,000 more homes in the next two decades.
With all of this clustered in a small area, congestion can be intense. Traffic counts show a total of nearly 100,000 vehicles per day either crossing over the 40th Street Bridge over 520, or crawling along 148th Avenue. That puts enormous pressure on the current 520 interchanges and on 520 itself, to the point where they are failing.
Simply put, without this bridge, Redmond cannot — repeat, cannot — accommodate the employment and housing the city is expected to absorb for the benefit of our region and our state.
We plan for the long term. Traffic forecasts indicate that the new bridge will be used by the entire community, with 42 percent of trips originating at Microsoft, and 58 percent originating at other places in the area by 2030.
What the 36th Street Bridge does is breathe vital life into the Overlake area’s ability to accept the growth planned for it — including the Overlake Urban Village, which will consist of high-density housing, mixed-use retail, and commercial space in a compact and walkable area. It will shorten trips, and enhance safety, for freight haulers, for transit, for vehicles and pedestrians.
One final fact: This project is the result of a rigorous and competitive process. The bridge scored a perfect 100 points in a technical ranking of regional projects judged by the Puget Sound Regional Council in a transparent process that evaluated the merits of several hundred projects vying for $79 million in federal transportation stimulus funds.
Take those facts into account, and ask yourself this question: Does it make sense to build a well-vetted, much-needed, public facility with one-half of the funds coming from one private employer whose contribution helps hundreds of employers and thousands of residents? The answer is a resounding “yes.”
We are proud to say that, when it comes to the 36th Street Bridge, we in the central Puget Sound have done our homework. We’ve helped to fund a project that moves the ball forward significantly for transportation, for our economy and for our environment. The project will create jobs in the near term and serve the people of the region for many decades. That is something we as a region, and as a state, should be celebrating.
John Marchione, left, is mayor of the city of Redmond. Bob Drewel is the executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council.