From the point of view of the State’s elected officials, it’s a done deal: the SR-520 floating bridge and its approaches will be replaced using the “preferred alternative” plan approved last year by the Governor. Although construction on the new bridge itself will not begin until next year, pontoon construction is already getting underway in Aberdeen, and construction is scheduled to begin next month on an SR-520 expansion project that will create a six-lane highway from Medina to Bellevue to better connect the new six-lane floating bridge to the Eastside. And even though the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project has yet to be finalized, the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is already conducting over-water fieldwork and on-land test drilling in preparation for construction of the new bridge.
In spite of all this “full speed ahead” activity on the part of State officialdom, however, the opponents of the “preferred alternative” have definitely not given up the fight. In fact, with their other options becoming increasingly limited, the foes of the new bridge are girding themselves for the possibility of taking their case to court. “We would still love to avoid a lawsuit,” says Fran Conley, leader of the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, “but it looks like we are heading that way.”
Conley states that there are several potential legal challenges that the opponents may pursue, including ones based upon the State’s supposed failure to adequately measure the traffic impact of the new bridge on the surrounding communities, the effect of construction on the environment, and the impact of the new bridge on open spaces and on water spaces. She says that both State and Federal laws govern these issues, none of which has been adequately addressed by the draft EIS.
Additionally, she notes, the draft EIS does not provide an analysis of two important factors: 1) the effect of having tolls on the floating bridge, and 2) the possibility of using the two additional traffic lanes (5 & 6) for busses only or for busses and eventual light rail only. Both these things, she says, need to be studied.
In its literature, the group’s case against the “preferred alternative” plan is succinctly argued: “The state plans to spend money it doesn’t have to expand 520 in a way that doesn’t solve traffic problems and blights our historic communities.” That’s a pretty comprehensive condemnation of a project that appears well underway, with construction bids for the floating bridge portion due to WSDOT by June 8.
The State, for its part, stresses theses positive aspects of the project: the replacement of a seismically unsafe floating bridge with one that can withstand both earthquakes and windstorms, the addition of a transit/HOV lane in each direction (as well as a bicycle/pedestrian path) across the new bridge, wider and safer traffic lanes, and the capacity of the new bridge to accommodate light rail at some point in the future.
We have given a significant amount of coverage on this blog to the issues surrounding the “preferred alternative” plan for the new bridge. Our previous postings have highlighted these salient facts: 1) the Arboretum on and off ramps to 520 will be eliminated, 2) the new bridge will be much higher, wider, and imposing than the existing bridge, and 3) funds do not currently exist to pay for the planned western approaches to the bridge.
The purpose of this posting, however, is not to rehash any of those issues or to provide a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of the bridge project. Rather, we are alerting our readership to the fact that both the opponents and proponents have upcoming information sessions where you can judge for yourselves whether this construction project is going to be, on the whole, a good thing or something less than that.
The State has been sponsoring “outreach sessions” to address citizen concerns and answer questions about the project. The next such session will be held today, March 30, 5 to 7 pm, at Voxx Coffee in Eastlake (2245 Eastlake Ave. E.). Information from WSDOT about the SR-520 bridge replacement project is available here.
The Coalition for a Sustainable 520, meanwhile, will be holding a meeting at Park Place Deli (4122 E. Madison St.) on Saturday, April 2 at 9 am to inform Madison Parkers about their concerns surrounding the bridge project. Information about the Coalition’s positions is available here. The Madison Park Community Council, which is a member of the Coalition, is a co-sponsor of the session. On Monday, April 4, Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the City Council's Transportation Committee, will be on hand at the regular meeting of the Madison Park Community Council (7 pm at the Bathhouse) to discuss the 520 situation. The meeting is open to the public.