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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 2, 2009 at 5:02 PM

Seattle transportation infrastructure

The Seattle Times

Highway 520 bridge

Dreaming up a Highway 520 bridge nightmare

As a person born, raised and still living in Queen Anne, I am very familiar with both the corridor infrastructure and the tendencies of those who use it. With Mercer Street, Highway 520, and the tunnel to replace the viaduct on the launchpad, it is imperative we realize the interaction of these three pieces of infrastructure are keys to the most important transportation hub in the state.

This interaction must be scrutinized thoroughly. The following is one of many possible nightmare scenarios I hope are not being overlooked in our zeal to get things done. This scenario should not be viewed as a single, lone case. Rather, it should be seen as an example of what could arise as a result of the new proposed infrastructure.

Today, Southcenter during I-5 congestion, is an exit point for northbound traffic. Many vehicles heading to the waterfront, downtown, Highway 99, Aurora, Queen Anne, Fremont, Magnolia, Interbay, Ballard, Greenwood, and other destinations in the north exit I-5 at Southcenter and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, heading north to their final destinations.

If all three pieces of infrastructure are built as proposed, the new, smaller tunnel to replace the viaduct will back up worse than it currently does. Drivers will choose not to exit at Southcenter and, instead, continue down I-5.

This will increase traffic near the city. Vehicles will intend to exit at Mercer Street, which, because of the rebuild, will have been downsized to three lanes. The left-hand exit lane of I-5 North will quickly back up, creating stalls, which already occurs today.

Vehicles that started at Southcenter, rather than joining this long-waiting line at the revised Mercer Street exit, may choose to bypass this less vehicle-friendly exit and continue to the next logical one, the Lakeview (Roanoke) exit.

This would be a disaster.

The problem is these vehicles that were on the far left of I-5 have to do a very quick, multiple-lane change over to the far right of I-5 in order exit at Lakeview. This is the cusp of the Highway 522 entrance. Crisscrossing I-5 within a short distance is extremely dangerous.

It will also cause untold congestion and chaos as it interferers with thru-traffic. And, once the new arrivals see Lakeview is backed up and clogged, they will likely bypass Lakeview and continue on I-5 to the next exit, Lake Washington Boulevard/Montlake. But exiting here requires merging onto 520. This means, regardless of traffic, vehicles will have no choice to exit here or else they will be forced to cross the 520 bridge.

In other words, building new transportation infrastructure will turn 520 into a congestion nightmare. Can this happen? The steps follow a logical pattern.

It is imperative the state evaluate the interaction of the three-planned infrastructure revisions before any one is launched. It is very possible all three simply can’t be done. It is possible two cannot be done. Or even one cannot be done.

Before we pound the first nail, we need to know.

— Ted Nelson, Seattle

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