Thirteen years of studying and designing a replacement for the Highway 520 bridge is enough, write these guest columnists. Any more delay, as suggested by Seattle interests, would cost taxpayers more time and money, squander the opportunity that exists now to get a better deal and create jobs and risks the bridge's collapse in an...
THE year was 1997. Bill Clinton was just starting his second term as president. A new form of communication called e-mail was beginning to catch on. And an unknown author in Great Britain first introduced the world to a young boy named Harry Potter.
It feels like an eternity ago.
Here at home, work began on the Highway 520 bridge and corridor replacement project. As recently reported in The Seattle Times, over the past 13 years, state taxpayers have spent $221 million on planning, environmental studies and engineering for the project.
According to the state Department of Transportation, there have been more than 500 briefings, community events, committee meetings, public scoping meetings, open houses, community design workshops, mediation summits, stakeholder meetings and work-group sessions.
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Even in Seattle, 13 years of process is enough.
Surprisingly, some want to stretch this out even further and revisit pieces of the project that the Legislature decided on years ago. One group wants to replace lanes for buses and carpools of three or more people with space for a light-rail route that hasn’t even been designed.
The current plan is already very transit friendly. Forty-five new buses will be added to the 520 corridor. The addition of carpool/transit lanes will improve transit reliability and reduce pollution. Voters recently approved funds for another 100,000 hours of bus-rapid-transit service on 520.
The new bridge will accommodate light rail in the future, but voters decided 15 months ago that they want light rail to first cross Lake Washington via Interstate 90. That work is under way as well.
Delaying the project to study all of this again doesn’t make sense. The state attorney general says another round of process would add as much as two years to the project. That equates to millions of dollars, and it’s precious time that we cannot afford to waste.
This is a public-safety issue. The bridge is at risk of failure in the next big earthquake. Even a heavy winter storm could flood the pontoons and cause the unthinkable to happen.
Portions of the project are shovel-ready. Pontoon construction is set to begin and key parts of the east side of the bridge are ready to go. And a decision on the west-side design was made last fall that balances capacity, transit, community and economic considerations.
We recognize that not everyone on the west side of the project has bought in, and it’s important to work out some of these technical details within the current configuration.
In the meantime, starting construction now is the smart thing to do. Safety and congestion relief are paramount, and if we begin now we’ll meet Gov. Chris Gregoire’s timetable to have the new bridge open by 2014. Starting construction will also provide thousands of good jobs when we need them most. Plus, the bidding climate for construction projects is the best in a generation — we should jump at this opportunity to save taxpayer money.
Finally, this is a regional facility that benefits the entire state. The bridge is a veritable lifeline between two of Washington’s largest economic centers. Replacing this bridge is a crucial step toward getting people out of traffic and accelerating our economic recovery.
A broad coalition of business, labor, neighborhoods and community councils, educational institutions, local governments and transit agencies on both the west and east sides of the lake have all called for work to move forward in an expeditious manner.
We, too, believe that sufficient time has been dedicated to the process. Let’s get going, and put people back to work building this vitally important project.
Don Davison is mayor of Bellevue. Lee Newgent is executive secretary of the Seattle Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. Phil Bussey is president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.