A firm paid $251,000 to help the city of Seattle find solutions to the impending mess created by the state’s plan for a new 520 bridge—with twice the vehicle capacity that lands in the congested Montlake neighborhood—presented an executive summary of its report to the Seattle City Council today.
In describing the need to hire outside consultants, the firm Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates wrote, “the Seattle City Council concluded that none of the major design options assembled and evaluated in the [state study for the current 520 bridge plan] adequately meets the needs, priorities, goals, and objectives the City Council has established for the project.” Among priorities set forth in January, the council wanted the bridge’s height reduced from 30 feet, a good transit connection to the future light-rail station at Husky Stadium, and to maximize the opportunity for dedicated transit lanes.
However, the report seems to provide recommendations that range from minor tweaks to far-fetched dreams. What’s good: The consultants recommend a traffic management plan to mitigate impact on the Arboretum, a pedestrian and bicycle path through Montlake, shrinking the highway interchange, and human-scale lighting. However, those issues were already largely in the city’s court—and they don’t fundamentally mitigate the traffic tsunami entering and exiting a congested area at rush hours or improve the state's non-plan for transit. What’s disappointing: Consultants wrote, “It is recommended that the Council request the Governor and Legislature work together to establish a statute that requires mandatory action to either raise the occupancy standard or increase the toll on HOV’s." (I think that means making vehicles in carpool lanes carry lots of people, like a bus.) Unfortunately, the thinking from the governor yesterday was a plan to veto legislation that would allow studying ways to incorporate light rail and carpools onto the same bridge. She also vetoed a plan to limit the bridge's height. So it's difficult to see the governor working with the city on better transit.
To help improve a bus connection to the future light-rail station, the consultants recommend creating HOV lanes over a second Montlake bridge (“This addition is a complex undertaking as it envisions using currently available right of way,” the consultants acknowledge). Regardless of how it's done, this is the city's problem.
I haven’t had a chance to examine all of the proposals in detail (the entire thing is in this .pdf), and maybe I’ll come around. (There's also a public hearing at City Hall on April 8 at 5:30 p.m.) But as of this moment, I don’t share City Council President Richard Conlin’s optimism that the issues of a bigger freeway's impacts can be well addressed largely by adjusting the city's plans or by collaborating with the governor. Conlin told the PI yesterday before this report came out, "We think we're in pretty good shape about getting the things done that we need." So far, it looks like if Seattle wants it, we'll do it our self. But there's not a lot we can do about the state's plan.