Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stay of execution for Arboretum ramps

Still doomed, but temporarily reprieved

The original plan for the western approach to the new 520 floating bridge called for the the westbound exit to Lake Washington Boulevard to be demolished later this year and for the eastbound entrance (along with the infamous "ramps to nowhere") to be demolished at the end of construction in 2015.  Now that timetable has been revised. The removal of the Arboretum ramps, neither of which will be replaced, has been delayed.

As a result of our request, the Washington State Department of Transportation has now clarified the ramp situation, noting that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 520 project "contains a construction timeline that shows westbound Lake Washington Boulevard ramps closed to traffic and removed in 2014 and eastbound Lake Washington Boulevard ramps closed and removed in 2015."

The Final EIS was issued last June, and we admit that we missed that hidden nugget of information about the delay the removal of the Westbound ramp until 2014.  That's a two-year reprieve--a pretty big deal for many commuters, and something we have not seen reported by the media. But that's not even the whole story. According to WSDOT, "funding and legislative developments since publication of the Final EIS will likely change the schedule for closing and removing the ramps."

The reason for this is that the Final EIS "assumed full funding of all project elements," WSDOT reports.  However, as has been fully reported in the media, the State has no funding at present for anything other than the new floating bridge and the Eastside approaches. "Engrossed House Bill 2814 requires that the Legislature authorize tolling on I-90 and/or other funding sufficient to complete construction of the SR 520 Program before construction can begin west of the floating bridge and landings work," says WSDOT spokesperson Jeff Switzer.  "The requirements expire June 30, 2014. This means that we cannot start the next construction phase before July 1, 2014, unless other funding conditions are met. If we cannot meet these funding conditions, it is unlikely that we will be able to close and remove the Lake Washington Boulevard ramps as early as 2014."

SR 520 Arboretum ramps slated for removal, including the "ramps to nowhere" 

Switzer further notes that WSDOT has applied for a federal loan to cover the costs of completing the "SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Project," and if the federal money comes through the State will be able to "fund the next phase of construction west of the floating bridge, which would likely begin after July 2014 when the requirements of EHB 2814 expire. We will be able to develop an updated timeline for Lake Washington Boulevard ramp closing and subsequent removal if and when we receive the [federal] loan and/or other additional funding for project elements from I-5 to the floating bridge."

So there you have it.  The Arboretum will still ultimately become free of freeways, but not for many years to come.

[Upper photo courtesy of WSDOT.]

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