There’s a strong possibility you’ve never heard of the R.H. Thomson Expressway, even if you have grown quite familiar with Pacific Northwest transportation infrastructure. You see, that project was cancelled by Washington State in 1971, but not before multiple freeway ramps were built.
Part of what doomed the planned Interstate 5 bypass over 40 years ago was a contentious desire to build freeway through the Washington Park Arboretum. While the public protested the construction, crews still built freeway ramps to the planned road on both the west and east ends of the plan. But the project never materialized beyond those ramps, some of which that are still standing to this day.
Those final Ramps to Nowhere, as folks in Seattle like to dub them, are finally coming out. Of course, they are coming out to make room for another major Seattle transportation project.
As part of the State Route 520 rebuild, which includes a remake of the world’s longest floating bridge across Lake Washington, crews need to remove two ramps in the arboretum for a new 1.2-mile-long approach bridge, nearly as long as the new floating bridge. The ramps on the west end of the proposed R.H. Thomson Expressway were torn out years ago.
To get the new approach bridge started, crews from Flatiron West Inc. will demolish the abandoned ramps—they have remained a popular summer hangout and diver oasis at their location near the water—in order to build the new approach to carry three westbound lanes of traffic from the new floating bridge to Montlake and connect the new bicycle-pedestrian path from the floating bridge to Seattle.
Lynn Peterson, the Washington State Secretary of Transportation, spoke at an event to kick off construction of the State Route 520 West Approach Bridge North project, saying this piece is “integral.”
As the floating bridge construction continues in full tilt, with 66 of the 77 massive pontoons already constructed and the rest scheduled for completion by next spring, state officials plan to open the new floating portion to drivers in spring 2016.
The $199.5 million West Approach Bridge North is scheduled to open in summer 2017. Even with the entire State Route 520 project underfunded by over $1 billion, don’t expect the latest construction to lead nowhere. Not this time.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.