Sunday, May 9, 2010

Say bye bye to those Arboretum ramps!

Just in case you missed one of the implications of the Governor’s announcement earlier this month concerning her revamp of the SR-520 project, allow me to hammer the point home for you: the existing Lake Washington Boulevard on and off ramps in the Arboretum will be demolished.

And they will not be replaced.

There will be no easy out-the-back-gate-of-Broadmoor access to 520, no trips through the Arboretum to a convenient access ramp. For Madison Parkers, the new way to get onto the floating bridge will simply be this: drive to Montlake and get in line.

The press hasn’t done a very thorough job, in my opinion, of spelling out this consequential aspect of the Governor’s latest 520 decision. But it’s a fact that the Governor came through big time for those who opposed the “wide and intrusive” Arboretum access ramps that were a feature of the Option A+ plan. The earlier Option A plan for the western approaches to SR-520 had already eliminated the existing Arboretum ramps, but the subsequent Option A+ compromise plan put new Arboretum ramps back into the mix. Now they’re out again.

So, beginning with the very first stage of the floating bridge replacement project, the westbound 520 exit to Lake Washington Boulevard will be closed. Under current construction plans, that’s expected to occur in the last quarter of 2012. And eventually, as construction moves forward in what’s anticipated to be a six-to-eight year construction project, the eastbound Lake Washington Boulevard ramp to 520 will also be demolished, along with the famous “ramps to nowhere.” Right now, that’s expected to happen sometime in late 2015.

This is a great image from Google Earth showing the Arboretum ramps which will be no more (the top is north, and the “ramps to nowhere” are marked with the largest red X and with the X immediately above that):

In announcing “the State’s preferred alternative” plan for 520 at a press conference at the UW’s Waterfront Activities Center, the Governor stated that “the State Department of Transportation heard the concerns of the neighborhoods and the City of Seattle” by creating a new design for the floating bridge and its western approaches that addresses those concerns. With regard to the elimination of the Lake Washington Boulevard ramps, the Governor said that “the purpose is to protect the Arboretum.” So score this as a one big win for the friends of the Arboretum.

For the many of us who have been using the Arboretum as a sort of gateway to and from the Eastside, however, the world will be changing in a less-comfortable way. And for those unhappy residents of Montlake: expect even more traffic to be heading in your direction. Of course, there will be that lovely new “Montlake Lid” to make things pleasant for everyone.

This is what the Montlake interchange and freeway lid look like in the proposed scheme, with the yellow routes showing 520 traffic flows from and to Lake Washington Boulevard (click to enlarge):

Some of the details are reportedly still being worked out, but basically traffic that now enters 520 in the Arboretum will under the new scenario be channeled to the intersection of E. Lake Washington Boulevard and Montlake Boulevard E., where it will (after negotiating at least one traffic light) enter a freeway entrance that loops around and under the Montlake Lid, heading eastbound. Traffic from Lake Washington Boulevard attempting to go west on 520 will apparently have to negotiate both a right turn at the same intersection with Montlake Boulevard and then make a left turn through another traffic light a block further north on that street. This is how the streets mentioned line up today:

There may be some relief for high-occupancy vehicles going eastbound on 520. They will apparently be allowed to enter the freeway by making a right turn on 24th Avenue E. from E. Lake Washington Boulevard (that’s where the bridge to the Museum of History and Industry currently crosses 520) and then they can enter the HOV lanes eastbound. Presumably the same would be true for the westbound HOV lane from 520, with an exit leading to the 24th Avenue intersection with Lake Washington Boulevard.

When all is said and done, assuming the “preferred plan” is the final plan, the Arboretum will not be a jumping off point for traffic to or from the Eastside. And a lot of the traffic that currently goes through the Arboretum before or after a 520 trip will no longer find Lake Washington Boulevard the most direct or convenient route. Anyone watching the E. Madison Street/E. Lake Washington Boulevard intersection during rush hour knows the extent to which traffic from downtown, First Hill, and Capitol Hill currently makes use of Madison Street and the Arboretum as a means of getting to and from 520. When the 520 ramps are reconfigured, however, all of this Madison traffic will benefit from turning left onto 23rd Avenue E. at the top of the hill, rather than coming down into Madison Valley for an approach to 520 through the Arboretum.
Madison Parkers, however, as well as drivers from Denny-Blaine, Madrona, and Leschi who currently use Lake Washington Boulevard to enter or exit 520 in the Arboretum may still find that route is the shortest way to get to the Montlake entrances. But using the Arboretum for this purpose may not be possible, or it may be severely restricted. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) notes on its site that it will be working with the City of Seattle “to develop a traffic management plan for the Arboretum.” The goal? Limiting auto traffic through the Park.

So the Arboretum really came out ahead in the Governor’s new plan, while Madison Park, Madrona, Leschi , and—most spectacularly—Montlake were badly inconvenienced. Give credit to the Coalition for a Sustainable 520, the Arboretum Foundation, and the City of Seattle for the success of the Arboretum’s efforts. They all wanted the Option A+ Arboretum ramps drastically scaled back, and the Governor effectively said “Fine, no ramps at all.” The Coalition issued a statement today deploring the Governor's new plan, stating that it will channel all of the Arboretum traffic (which it estimates at 15,000 cars per day) onto 23rd Avenue E. and into Montlake. "The neighborhoods got shafted," says Coalition head Fran Conley, adding that the Governor's failure to plan for all of this new traffic in Montlake is "infuriating."

Note, however, that the timing for all of these 520 changes—including those affecting the Arboretum—is still very much in doubt. One big problem is that the money's not there. Unless another $2 billion or so of revenues is found, there will be no re-engineering of the western approaches to the new floating bridge (which does have funding). Also, delays in funding could mean that the construction schedule is pushed back. Another factor to consider is the willingness of the opponents to continue their fight in both the political and legal arenas, with changes to the Governor’s “preferred plan” a distinct possibility. In other words, this ain’t a done deal.

Nevertheless, I think we can still kiss those Arboretum ramps goodbye.
[Graphics courtesy of SDOT, Google, and Google Earth. Photos by Tagas. For more information on the Montlake Interchange, click here.]


  1. Oh, my. That'd put a dent in my lifestyle (frequent visitor)... I am just glad I didn't end up purchasing the house in Madison that I so dearly wanted in 2008. I'd have had to sell now at a loss.

  2. I doubt that the impact on Madison Park house prices will be significant, but there certainly will be implications for Montlake!

  3. I'm not sure how you can have it both ways? Limit the traffic through the Arboretum AND eliminate a major flow of traffic on the bridge.

    It only takes an extra minute if you continue on Lake Washington Blvd past the current eastbound onramp and queue up for the montlake onramp, and assuming that the extra lanes on the bridge, the dedicated HOV lane etc all work, it shouldn't be such a big block up like the current Montlake onramp where traffic from 4 directions AND HOV traffic all funnels into 2 lanes.

    It seems the city has two choices. A traffic plan that has people take Lake Washington through the Arboretum past the current on ramps that are to be demolished OR provide a decent way to get from Lake Washington to 24th Ave. Right now Boyer Ave E is not really suitable since street parking effectively makes it a 1 way street with 2 way traffic.

  4. Elinor KriegsmannMay 10, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Can we start a visible protest to get media coverage and reach our representatives. How do we gather folks from the communities impacted by this decision to let them know: 1) Employment will be impacted from delays in trying to get onto 520; 2) Real estate south of 520 will be devalued because the main arterial northbound (Lake Wash Blvd) will be severely restricted; 3) Businesses such as restaurants will lose revenue because of access problems. The beauty of the Arboretum exists already even with the traffic. Causing great inconvenience to thousands of residents and traffic jams in Montlake will not make the Arboretum more appealing.

  5. The current plan will hurt Madison Park and should be stopped.

  6. Totally agree.... Horrible plan....

  7. I think they should make the road from Madison to 520E much wider so it will have a place for bikers to bike safely. I have seen too many bikes injured or holding up car traffic. Not sure why can't we have a bike trail through the arboretum to make everyone's lives easier.


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