As plans finalize for the widening of State Route 520 from Seattle east over Lake Washington to Medina and plans firm up to replace the not-as-sturdy-as-it-should-be Alaskan Way Viaduct with a bored tunnel, there will still be plenty of discussion centered around these projects (when is enough talk enough?). There are smaller projects to take some of the discussion limelight too, such as plans to move rail tracks near Tacoma that have two smaller cities upset, light rail expansion ideas and even tolling issues.
It took 13 years of, well, discussion to settle on the final "preferred plan" for the SR 520 rebuild, which includes a new six-lane floating bridge—also the world's longest. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire likes the plan, but there are many in Seattle—including Mayor Mike McGinn—who say it doesn't go far enough in promoting light rail movement east.
Gregoire says it is enough: “We have a bridge that will serve the mobility needs of our region today with new carpool and transit lanes and will be ready for light rail in the future.”
The eight years spent trying to decide whether or not to replace the earthquake-damaged State Route 99 (viaduct) with an elevated roadway, at-grade highway or bored tunnel seems relatively quick in comparison. But discussion isn't quite over, as final environmental analysis of all the project's options will be out later this year.
The preferred tunnel route for the Alaskan Way Viaduct courtesy of WSDOT
While a smaller deal, talk is heating up in an effort to reroute trains traveling from Portland to Seattle in Pierce County (the home of Tacoma, just south of Seattle).
The Washington State Dept. of Transportation's plan to build a Point Defiance Bypass that shaves six minutes off the train's run by moving the trains into urban areas has been met with opposition by the cities of Lakewood and DuPont. City officials in those municipalities don't want the fast-moving trains at the same grade as vehicles and pedestrians. State officials say that money forces it to be so. Discussion has ensued.
But don't fret; with those two larger issues and one smaller issue already on the table, there is room for plenty more transportation-based squabbling. Seattle and Bellevue are already talking about where is the best place to construct a light rail connector between the two cities. Don't worry, there are options and there are people falling on all sides of the debate.
And there will be more thoughts on light rail issues, such as exactly where to put the new University of Washington's U-LINK station. You see, UW officials want something different than the DOT. Discussion has ensued there too.
If that isn't enough, tolling is now becoming a common thread of discussion in the area as a way to pay for all these fine improvements. But where do you put the tolling? How much should the tolling be and should it be based on miles driven or just penalize the folks who use the new parts of the transportation infrastructure? Speaking of tolling, maybe we should up those and reduce the already high gas tax? You guessed it, more discussion.
As long as there is work to improve the connectivity of the greater Seattle area, there will be squabbling on how to get it done. Whether 13 years or eight years worth of discussion, hopefully all that talk leads to a better outcome. Hopefully.