A skeptical crowd is expected at Wednesday night’s forum on designs for half the future Highway 520 bridge landing in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. This part, formerly known as “Lake to Land,” now is officially named the West Approach Bridge North, because it will build the new lanes only for the westbound direction. The federal government recently awarded the Washington State Department of Transportation a $300 million low-interest loan. This allows DOT to construct a segment from the floating section on Lake Washington to the Montlake Boulevard Exit in 2014-16.
But payments on the federal loan are structured to “wrap around” the state’s initial 30-year bonds in a way that locks toll-paying drivers and the state into debt through 2051. This does not count any future state bonds that might be required to complete the eastbound lanes and the Portage Bay Bridge, which may or may not be bailed out by tolls on Interstate 90.
Now, about those designs, linked here. They include a 14-foot bike and pedestrian trail, connected to the Washington Park Arboretum, and trail belvederes where people can step out of bike traffic and savor the view. The “ramps to nowhere, from an earlier unbuilt project, will be removed. More traffic will land among residential houses at a southbound exit near the old Museum of History and Industry site, because a direct ramp into the Arboretum will be removed.
A deeper problem is the mega-project strategy itself. As Fran Conley of the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 has said, Lake to Land could afflict the Montlake neighborhood with traffic arriving on the new westbound bridge before the state can find money to finish the entire Seattle side. That means there could be five or 10 years of road operations without a park-like lid and noise-deflecting barriers on the sides and undersides. “If they go ahead and build this thing, we should get the noise mitigation immediately,” Conley said Wednesday. Pavement on old sections should be replaced with quieter surface, she said, and a 45-mph speed limit should be enacted.
The Montlaker Blog breaks down the highlights and lowlights here, and urges DOT to preserve a chicken coop. Here is the state project website. The forum is at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, at 2100 Boyer Avenue East, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Here’s a state diagram: