Tuesday, February 23, 2010

520: It's all about process

The bottom line on this evening’s “Environmental Hearing and Public Open House” on SR 520, which was held at the Naval Reserve Building on Lake Union, is that about 150 citizens were given the opportunity to spend some quality time walking around in a very large room while looking at a series of professionally presented displays showing various aspects of the upcoming bridge project. If those attendees had expected to have any kind of meaningful give and take with State officials about the design of 520, they must have been gravely disappointed. For the event was certainly more open house than hearing.
Yes, it’s true that about 15 hardy souls—those were willing to wait around for at least an hour for the honor—did get the chance to stand up and deliver their views. But the time limit of three minutes per speaker necessarily truncated this input, and the format did not provide for any response from State officials to what they were hearing from their tax-paying employers. This made the whole thing seem very pro forma to at least some of us.

By my count there must have been about twenty or so employees of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) present; and while I found them on the whole to be both pleasant and forthcoming, I also had the strong sense that many of them had gritted their teeth—at least figuratively—in order to suffer the affair. It’s all just part of the game, after all, mandated by some federal act of 1966 and some later State add-on requirements. For WSDOT, everything is moving forward as planned. It’s a process, and the public “hearing” just brings the State one step closer to the conclusion.

Or perhaps I am just too cynical.

Anyway, the event was interesting as a piece of political theatre. The public officials played their parts, as did the attendees. In the parking lot, prior to the hearing, Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) members Jim Hagan and Ken Myrabo set up a 40-foot pole with balloons attached at the top in order to provide a visual demonstration of how high the new bridge would rise above the level of Lake Washington (i.e. very high):

One of the most interesting “visualizations” presented by WSDOT was this set of before and after pictures showing the existing and new bridges as seen from the park at E. Lynn Street (thanks to MPCC member Jim Quigg for pointing these out to me). This is before:

And this is after (click to enlarge):

Some opponents refer to the new floating bridge as “that Alaskan Way Viaduct on the Lake.” You be the judge. For those interested, there are many more “visualizations” on the WSDOT website, here.

In case you missed them, there were a couple of interesting developments on the 520 front today: 1) Microsoft weighed in this morning with a full-page ad in the Seattle Times stating “It’s Time for Action on the 520 Bridge: Let’s Move!” and 2) Mayor McGinn announced that the City of Seattle has hired a consulting firm to “review how better to structure the 520 bridge on the Seattle side” as well as look at opportunities for putting light rail on 520.
Eastside-employer corporate money on the pro side. Seattle city taxpayer money on the anti. It's getting interesting.

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