With a $123 million plan in place this week, Seattle will try to finish the Lander Street overpass by the end of 2019.
After a quarter-century of discussion, Seattle’s Lander Street overpass finally has a funding plan this week, and a goal to open the four-lane crossing by the end of 2019.
The $123 million structure will soar over freight and passenger railroad tracks in the Sodo area, and include a barrier-separated, 14-foot trail for bicycles and pedestrians.
The site ranks among the nation’s most dangerous freight-rail crossings, said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who authored a national transportation grant program for freight and Port of Seattle infrastructure. The Lander overpass won $45 million from it.
A train horn interrupted her outdoor speech there as well as by three others, during a formal announcement Wednesday.
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“Here is a train that blocks trucks from getting to the Port,” Cantwell noted. “Currently, 100 trains [daily] pass through the South Lander Street crossing. This project will allow more trains to move, while reducing truck traffic, carbon emissions and congestion.”
BNSF Railway, which owns the regional tracks, doesn’t face any formal limit on its cargo volumes. It’s free to block Sodo virtually all day.
But if trucks from Eastern Washington or elsewhere are blocked en route to the Port, or to railway loading yards, that bogs down the trade network and the region’s competitiveness, Cantwell said later.
A final funding piece fell into place this week, when the Port of Seattle Commission voted 4-0 to increase its $5 million contribution to $15 million, from its annual property tax revenues. This fills a $10 million gap, as the federal grant was $10 million short of what the city asked.
Commissioner John Creighton said the Port realized this summer it needed to chip in more dollars to launch construction soon, so the federal grant offer wouldn’t expire.
Meanwhile, the city recently shifted its focus from a proposed Sodo sports arena just to the north of Lander Street to a KeyArena rebuild by the Oak View Group, to attract a future pro hockey team or new Sonics basketball team.
Did that move create an incentive for the Port — which strongly opposed the Sodo arena proposed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen — to toss in more millions?
“Obviously, that’s in the background. It’s not a determining factor,” Creighton said. “Both the Sodo arena proposal and KeyArena will impact the Port.”
That is because the Port also has interests in keeping Mercer Street passable for cruise-ship passengers, and for deliveries reaching Interbay and Fishermen’s Terminal, he said.
Mayor Ed Murray insisted arena politics played no role in the funding, and spoke about how he first got involved with Lander Street plans as a state legislator in 2003.
Besides gaining Port money, the city trimmed its cost estimate from $140 million to $123 million. One savings came from reducing support columns, from four pilings to two huge 10-foot diameter pilings under each bridge joint, said Jessica Murphy, project manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation.
The project is being advertised Wednesday to prospective bidders, to break ground this winter, Murphy said.
During construction, there will be detours and some full closures of Lander Street, she said.
Some walk-bike activists criticize the city for designing a trail on only the north edge of the bridge, forcing half its users to make an extra crossing or two of Lander.
Andres Salomon, a former mayoral candidate, said the bridge should provide three lanes, to keep speeds low and allow space for dual walkways. Seattle Bike Blog calls the design “street-safety malpractice,” comparable to the one-sidewalk Denny Way/I-5 overpass built in the 1960s.
Looking ahead, the overpass won’t be completed in time to serve as a safety valve for buses and traffic during Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition in 2019. Nonetheless, it’s a critical link shortly after, when the downtown tower boom, convention-center expansion, and removal of downtown Highway 99 exits make surface travel more volatile. For instance, bus routes 50 and 21 reaching the light-rail Sodo Station will no longer be at the whim of train arrivals.
The big structure will block Occidental Avenue South, a favorite passage for sports fans, so Occidental will dead-end on either side of Lander.
And fences will be built to keep people from walking or bicycling over the tracks, similar to how people are channeled over the rails next to Safeco Field.
The overpass budget includes a $20 million share of the 2015 Move Seattle property tax levy, among city, railroad and state sources. The Port’s money and advocacy includes freight-related tweaks in other locations, such as Spokane Street and East Marginal Way South.