Features Jan 13, 2016 at 4:00 am

The Time Is Right to Fix the I-5 Disaster

A river of green runs through it. Seattle as it could be. Patano Studio Architecture


Chicago has long discussed capping the portion of I-90/94 that flows directly west of the Loop central business district. Several different people, including at least one capable developer, have proposed solutions. Nothing has come of it yet, but I think it'd be great if both Seattle and Chicago capped their central freeway canyons.
In Seattle, as in every major city, for every big project, some important person gets much richer and many inconsequential tax payers lose money, businesses, homes . . . Who are the rich people who would get richer from this project?

No newspaper or TV station has told us the names of the people who own property on the east side of the Viaduct and who will become much richer when it comes down. How about it, Stranger???
It would probably help to note that I-5 north of Freeway park is mostly a series of bridges on the side of a hill. Only the section south of Olive could really be described as a trench. Building another level on top of an existing bridge is a lot different than building a lid over a trench.
I love parks and walking and SLU but I'm not sold yet. Would capping I-5 potentially affect the ability to expand capacity if needed? Currently, we can't add more lanes unless we build vertically. Also, how should the city prioritize the "I-5 disaster" with its growing list of the other "disasters" (e.g. underfunded schools, eroding infrastructure, overpopulation, traffic, homelessness, gentrification, corruption, etc.)? Most of all, who will pay for it? We may not know the cost (although it will be billions) but we know that the benefits would go directly to anyone living near, owning, and/or developing property along that strip of highway. Those (we) are people who are already well-off as far as I'm concerned, and that money could help people who need it.
@1 Agreed. And in fact, Chicago has already completed a successful lid project. Millennium Park is a big lid over their sunken downtown rail yards.

Dude, the supertrain guy in Singles was into Kyra Sedgwick, not Bridget Fonda.

Thank god we've spent the billions needed to solve the homeless problem so we can now spend billions to create a nice park. Maybe we can replace I5 with bike lanes while we're at it.
Good eye, #2. Here's what the project is really all about.

"...a convention center, a hotel, and an arena folded into the park. In his proposal, there's room for parking, affordable housing, and nearly 300,000 feet of office space..."

This isn't about a park. This is about 3.5 million square feet of hotel and additional Convention Center property above and beyond the 300,000 square feet of office space. This is about a 20,000 person stadium with 500 parking spaces and 564 houses, doubtfully all or even half of which will be low income.

This isn't a green idea, or even a good idea. This is bread and circuses at best.
I love the quote from the traffic engineer in 1957 complaining about pedestrians impeding traffic. My guess is he still works for SDOT. Building this park would be awesome. I'd also settle for some f--- crosswalks.
Who cares if someone will make money off of this via rising property values? Making our city more beautiful and healthy is a good thing. Raising property values and adding properties in the process will give the city increased property tax revenue. I agree it shouldn't be paid for on the backs of the lower earners, which is why it's time to supplement our horribly regressive sales tax with an income tax.
@11, if that 1957 guy has 60+ years into the public employees retirement system, it would probably be cheaper to keep him on the job than to let him retire.
That is a great article. People rarely mention the effects of pollution on public health caused by I-5 when discussing a lid. This is more than just an issue of aesthtics and open space.
I question the statement that it would cost "billions". The cost I've heard is 18 million dollars per acre. Even if all 45 acres were built it is less than a billion dollars.
The federal and state governments ought to and can pay the lion share of the costs. Taxpayers in Seattle should not pay to fix a mess they didn't create.
@14... It would cost many billions of dollars! Probably in excess of 30 billion. Look at all of the other "major" projects that are happening or have happened here. The stupid Monorail was more than 10 billion and lord only knows what the stupid Tunnel is going to cost us when all is said and done (and all of the lawsuits have been paid)
@15 Sources for that? Millennium Park in Chicago was 24.5 acres of lid completed for ~$475 million (1998-2004). Not directly comparable, but still an order of magnitude (~10X) less than $30 billion.

If you're complaining that large infrastructure projects cost billions of dollars, I don't know what to tell you. Budget overruns, when they happen (like with the tunnel), are obviously bad. But these projects still have billions of dollars worth of aggregate public utility.
Seems like a bit of a splurge considering all the other transportation needs we have and no money with which to build them.

Making parks over the freeway? Really? When we wouldn't even vote to put in a park where a park SHOULD be. We should have had a Golden Gate Park right here, but nope. Now this? Seattle doesn't know when to quit with a bad idea.

This is a boondoggle and a diversion from spending money on real transportation that gets people out of their cars. This is dumb, too expensive for what we'd get.
1) how does putting a lid on it prevent pollution? The co2 has to go somewhere. 2). Would anything be done to I-5 to fix the bottleneck or alleviate traffic, or are we just putting an expensive band-aid over an eyesore so you don't have to see it? 3) traffic is already a disaster downtown. Does this do anything to increase the flow of traffic? If you can fix those issues with this design, I'm all ears. Nothing in this article says it will other than the wish that people will all be switching to light rail and busses. We are decades away from a viable light rail system that moves mass quantities of people throughout the city. We have a skeleton system at best right now. I commute 30 miles to work each day, and as it is now, even with the horrible traffic I can still get to work 30 minutes sooner than if I used mass transit. I look forward to the day when mass transit gets me downtown to my destination in a 35-40 minutes, although I will probably br retired when that day finally comes.
Looks pretty- so how is this helpful? I would argue that we'd be better served spending these $millions/billions shitting or getting off the pot on actual rapid transit. If you want to reconnect these neighborhoods a couple walking bridges will serve just fine. Building parks within cities is about as far from 'Green' as a thing can be, so yeah, I really have no idea what purpose this would serve and since we have more pressing needs, lets maybe just focus on pretty much anything else.
First thing I asked upon moving here from Dallas was, Why no lid? I'm stunned a place like Dallas could pull this off (the new park is awesome, the old freeway valley it covered was awful) while Seattle is still living with this ugly trench.
Several people told me a lid and park were on the drawing boards here in the 90's, but after 9-11 the Feds killed the idea because of security concerns about access to a federal building adjacent to I-5. That makes no sense to me. Isn't it easier to get close to the building if the road runs right by it? But after hearing that story a few times I assume that's what happened. Maybe now it's been long enough that calmer heads could take another look.

1) This wouldn't reduce greenhouse gasses (though there would probably be an infinitesimally small benefit from the plants growing on top). It would, however, reduce the spread of volatile organic compounds (nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, etc) that have a direct adverse affect on human health.

2 & 3) It's far too early to predict traffic impact, since there are no specific designs for reconfiguring the road. That's what the current round of funding would help explore.
its a nice idea, but the cake is baked, particularly along lake union. I-5 needs to increase capacity, if anything.

@5: your comment is precisely what was said about the commons plan, which WAS realistic, and a tragic missed opportunity. I don't see any open air drug markets up at the new SLU park adjacent to the MOHAI. do you?
If you want support for a lid, find a way to expand I-5 as part of the project. One of the big drivers of emissions is the fact that where I-5 goes beneath the convention center is a chokepoint, creating traffic jams every single day. Cars create a LOT more pollution in stop and go traffic. Adding a lane each way through the city while also creating a cover for the freeway would solve both problems even more effectively than just a lid. And it would get more support from Seattleites sick of sitting in traffic.
@26: its not the convention center that's the problem. northbound, its the loss of lanes on 5 when 90 merges, and at Seneca and the awkward express lane entry. southbound, again, loss of lanes at mercer, then the merging from left (mercer on-ramp), and then the clusterfuck when the 90 access lanes break off while you lose a lane for the james exit.

it's a puzzle that the engineers put together very cleverly given the topography, but there was probably a 1/3 the traffic volume there is today.

1 lane won't cut it. we need permanent north AND south express lanes, transit-only lanes, and dedicated, continuous HOV lanes. by the time you get all that, a lid will stack 1-5 up 2 stories above the street.
@2 - While I agree with you it's a disgusting situation that the rich get richer, let's not cut off our nose to spite our face. Yes, we can benefit from these projects in spite of the fact that it's making somebody else wealthy. It would make our lives richer.
@19, You're right. I don't think it will prevent a bottleneck. And our mass transportation is disgusting. It takes as long to go through town on mass transit as it does to come in from out of town.

I think the lid is a good idea to enhance life here in Seattle. It won't prevent bottleneck and it won't prevent carbon pollution. It will reduce visual and noise pollution that takes a daily toll and decreases the livability of Seattle. And it will give us an opportunity to re-route (maybe recapture) the carbon pollution away from all of the homes and office that line both sides of the freeway.

So the solution is to improve mass transportation. Stop the ridiculous war on cars and accept that we must focus our limited capacity on efficiencies. For example: bicycles take greater resources than create in (transportation) benefit. Sure a few hearty young folks that can bicycle uphill and in the dark cold rain find bicycles appealing, but most people cannot use bikes as a real means of transportation.

So, Yes to a lid over i-5. And yes to insert rational thinking in solving our transportation issues. Coordinated mass transit consistent of rail and bus. Maintenance of our current roadway and walkway infrastructure for vehicles (i.e., cars, trucks, buses). AND a lid over i-5 to improve our city.
I'm skeptical about making the whole thing a park. I would like to see more connecting roads and more buildings to reknit together the divided city, rather than replacing an admittedly noisy car sewer with a prettier barrier that still leaves neighborhoods divided. However, I realize that the fact most of I-5 is on bridges through downtown makes this hard, and obviously a lid could not support more than mid-rise buildings (because tall buildings require a huge anchor below ground, where the cars would still be).
@19 - back when this particular lid design was first proposed it included filtration systems for the car exhaust. Necessary, at the very least, to keep the tunnel itself from becoming a carbon monoxide gas chamber.
Between Denny and Pike it's a no-brainer. Deep trench, only a couple ramps. It's mind-boggling why it wasn't done decades ago.
The cap is a great idea. We should do it right after we add 8 additional lanes to I-5 and rehabilitate the ones we already have. Right after we spend money on that would be a good time to see if there's any money left for a cap.
Great idea! Here's a critique on the opening paragraph, however: "through the soulless glass canyon of the convention center and then along the concrete walls of Freeway Park". There are many cultural gems hidden inside of the convention center, commissioned art, themed exhibits open to the public. Furthermore, as a public space it is remarkable for providing a number of special views of the city. Finally, Lawrence Halprin's Freeway Park deserves credit as a preamble to the whole concept of the urban bridge of disconnected neighborhoods, and as a facilitator of creative movement through the city, not as a mere collection of concrete walls.
As someone who works in the "Facebook Tower" (but not for FB), I would like to note for the record that FB only occupies 4-5 floors of one building. The majority of the rest are Group Health. (I don't work for GH either.) So really it's the Group Health Towers. ahem.

Also, from the perspective of a person who works in a 20-story building at the corner of Olive & I-5, a lid+green-space would be AMAZING. Currently there is nowhere to realistically go outside the building that is in any way pleasant. "Cascade Park" is blocks away, and dismal. A green space covering the river of ugly that is I-5 would be very, very welcome. Talk about a quality of life boost for downtown. I approve.

I hear all the issues with traffic flow, and I also back solutions to those as well. I'm no traffic engineer, but we should sort those out, there are many.
But let's not forget that our traffic issues are largely down to the very rapid population boom in the last 10 years in a street system built in the 1960s; and lacking a mature transit system, people have little choice but to drive. Ergo, gridlock. (Let's not forget that people also have shitty driving skills, and block intersections all the damn time making everything worse for everyone.)

Whatever we can do to fix both problems, I am in favor of.
And a 1000% property tax levy to fund it, right Matt?
Just tear it out and replace it with surface streets. San Francisco managed without the Embarcadero Freeway; Seattle can live without an interstate running straight through it.
Cars make cities shittier. The make cities louder, dirtier, deadlier, more expensive, more unhealthy, and generally worse. We do not have a single dollar figure we can put on this cost, and it doesn't fall specifically on one company's or one government entity's budget, so we just pretend it doesn't exist.

But it's undeniable. Parking places are basically unproductive dead zones we REQUIRE be engineered into buildings, making those buildings more expensive per square foot. Pollution costs money, because health costs money and environmental cleanup of our water costs money. Injuries, property damage, and death cost money. The real estate next to I5 has its value suppressed by the shitstream wiped across the city, and nobody really pays for that lost value either.

But we do. We all do. If you put a dollar figure on all the SHIT that cars bring to the city, and the number of those dollars that would be ADDED if we were to bury that giant waste of space under concrete and park, then this thing would mostly pay for itself.

But we can't, because we let cars externalize all their real costs onto the world, and act as though those costs are zero dollars. Even though they aren't.

Carbon Tax every mile of I5 commensurate with the damage it does and we could bury it in gold bars by 2020.
null bull, without parking spaces where do you expect to put the cars while not in motion? We cause even more pollution by making people hunt for parking and sit in traffic snarls. Without cars, how do you expect people to get into town to work? Shop? Enjoy nightlife? Will the bus pick each and every person up within a few blocks of their homes and drop them near their destination? How many busses will that be, exactly? Full buses of course because a bus produces more CO2 than a car. If people don't come to town, what happens to the office towers and the retail? You see, cars aren't shitty, they keep people moving so they can participate in our economy. Without our economy, we might as well shit in the street, cuz the toilets won't even work. In fact, our entire life is based on Carbon. Not only are our bodies made of it, but every necessity we each have in this country is the result of centuries of progressive carbon transfer. From trees, oil, coal, into the air.... It's all very natural. As natural as the air we breathe. BTW, each breath we exhale CO2. Our own bodies are creating carbon pollution. When we die, we create CO2, not to mention methane and several other gases. When we shit we create methane.

So, when we go back to being a very small human population living in caves (without fire), then we may be moral. Until then we have not choice but to move forward. Determine how we can continue civilization, technology, healthcare, economy, food production and distributions, etc WITHOUT creating more pollution. That's were clean energy comes in. And yes, we are working on it. And yes, cars will be part of the future, no matter what anybody says.

We have all externalized costs on each other and the environment since the dawn of humanity. There's no getting around that fact.
null bull, this country would collapse without cars. The economy would collapse. Let's be realistic.
so taxpayers should build this then hand the keys to developers and we need to get started by giving you 500,000$,got any other brilliant ideas

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