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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

February 20, 2009 at 3:40 PM

Viaduct and 520 bridge repairs

Garbage in, garbage out

Just to get the new bridge to handle today’s traffic volume, we have to practically reinvent the wheel? What does this say about tomorrow?

Is it not better to do nothing than to strangle our transportation corridor with two inefficient pieces of critical infrastructure for the next 40 years?

I will ask a simpler question.

There is a proposal to build a new 520 bridge, adding HOV and bus lanes to lessen today’s traffic. It uses tolls to push people to drive at different times, take different routes, stay at home, use public transportation and find work closer to home all for the purpose of congestion relief. It adds variable tolling for the same purpose.

I ask, if we need to do this today, what are our prospects for 20, 30 and 40 years down the road? If this question puts a knot in your tummy, read on.

To us citizens, this is the only pertinent question concerning both the 520 bridge and the proposed downsized viaduct tunnel. Does each meet the transportation needs of the corridor for the life of each? Also, the following must be, and has not, been part of the normal debate:

1) Projected population and vehicle-usage growth over the life of the bridge and viaduct;

2) More vehicles on the bridge and viaduct if miles per gallon increase to 60;

3) Effects of low-cost fuel on car numbers;

4) Long-term transportation effects, should a 9/11 type of event occur on a bus, train or bridge;

5) Effects of global warming on both transportation and population size (Will people move to Seattle if their area of the nation becomes too hot?); and

6) The effect of a downsized viaduct on Highway 520, projected over the next 40 years.

You simply cannot do what the Washington Transportation Commission did and take a snapshot of congestion relief, in one time period, and then apply the result to all time periods. When you do its garbage in and garbage out.

The Tolling Implementation Committee report appears to have glossed over the effects of population growth. This is a huge mistake. This is horrendous methodology. Garbage in, garbage out.

We need bridges built to easily adapt to any traffic dynamics. Instead, it appears, all the commission’s time was spent getting a new bridge design that could handle existing traffic in this time period.

The 520 Tolling Commission report states that “variable tolling” works elsewhere in the country. Seattle is unique. The fact is that variable tolling simply may be nothing more than a “flash in the pan.” I would feel a lot more comfortable if the commission had outlined under what conditions it is not effective? Garbage in, garbage out.

Forget all the studies, all the testing, all the interviews, all the research. There is only one test that is essential. Does either blueprint look like it can pass the test of time?

— Ted Nelson, Seattle

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