Credit the state Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and others, including the feds and King County, for one of the miracles of 2004. Officially designated a Miracle of...

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Credit the state Department of Transportation, Sound Transit and others, including the feds and King County, for one of the miracles of 2004.

Officially designated a Miracle of the Year by the Bellevue Downtown Association, the access lanes and new configuration for Interstate 405 on the Eastside tell us some things can be done below cost and ahead of schedule.
Incredibly, redoing I-405 through Bellevue was completed a year ahead of schedule and almost $25 million under budget. Gripes from commuters that the lanes narrow into a funnel downtown don’t match the prodigious efforts Bellevue, the region, the federal funders and private contractors made to successfully complete one of the area’s mega-projects.

No elf, I — packages as brightly wrapped as this one don’t arrive mysteriously under the tree only at Christmas. Doomsayers were fingering the revamping of downtown Bellevue as the nightmare connecting to Main Street. Contractors made the final, innovative bridging at night, when most of the big work was done, and now dollars and commuters flow in and through the city’s downtown easier than before.

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This is no miracle but a concerted effort, one that can be a template for other regional fixes.

I point out Bellevue’s success to close a year of disappointments and triumphs that foreshadow the region into 2005, a cusp year that will make or break this region.

One local voice, who remains thoughtfully anonymous when others are taking the credit, said he sees the beginnings of a region forming. Alas, I thought: Without regional factions and infighting, I am out of business.

“But true regional thinking, it’s still a way off,” he said. Whew, I muttered. That was close.

In fact, we have a region beginning to jell. I don’t see it in transportation or the way transportation is governed, but I see it in a greater willingness to assemble the brigades of local government toward some point of focus.

That was true in one of the regional highlights of the year, the economic summit staged by the Puget Sound Regional Council. More than 1,000 folks showed up at Qwest Field, with politicians gravitating to the crowd. The fact that it happened, and it worked, could be the start of some honest discussion about regional priorities.

I like the decision by voters to reduce the size of King County Council. Redistricting is a tough business, but we need regional operators, not district deal-makers running the county. The most partisan and Seattle-centric of any regional body, it’s time for the council to function as stewards of the remaining unincorporated areas instead of urban fiefdoms.

Regional triumphs include the conclusive decision to build a third runway at Sea-Tac. That event, as long in process as a prison term for multiple-offense drug possession, took nearly two decades to complete. It is without precedent in crippling process, but it ended well with a region and a crucial airport that can still burst out of its parochial restraints.

But we must tally the failures. They include another year without definitive action on the Highway 520 floating bridge, the missing food service on the state ferry system and the impasse over jobs vs. serving the passengers, and finally, the vacuum of true regional leadership.

If there is a message to our government in the next year, it is: Send us no gimmicks. Send us no false budgets or promises, send us no rhetoric without substance. Don’t posture, don’t delay, don’t think the public doesn’t notice when you do.

Next week: Dave Barry’s Year in Review, 2004. Don’t miss it. James Vesely’s column will resume Jan. 9.

James F. Vesely’s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop