Friday, December 11, 2009

Rio–Antirrio Bridge

The Rio–Antirrio Bridge in Greece is considered my many as an engineering masterpiece. An accolade the hideous SR-520 replacement, "floating bridge on stilts" will never be. It's interesting to note how similar the design challenges are between the two. The Rio–Antirrio Bridge was completed in 2004 for Euros ($920,000,00). The pontoon bridge for lake Washington is estimated to cost twice that. I guess that makes it the ugliest bridge money can buy.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

About Time And On Budget

While I may not be politically in line with the new mayor of Seattle I think his transportation mantra of mobility of people and goods instead of vehicles is right on the mark. The recently forwarded option A+ for the SR-520 replacement is a failure by that metric. Here's an idea that does meet that goal and saves billions at the same time.

Make the Montlake exit Transit/HOV only from 7AM to 7PM. Build the exit just like the Totem Lake flyer stop. This will keep the footprint only eight lanes wide and eliminate the huge wasted space caused by the clover leaf. If you do away with the break down lane built into the rest of the corridor the exit and flyer stop need be no wider than the bridge deck. Dress up the new overpass with plantings keeping the boulevard feel of Montlake between 520 and the cut. This would eliminate the costly lid proposed in option A+. The ramps returning to 520 from the flyer stop would be down hill to aid buses getting back up to merge speed. Unloading level with Montlake would eliminate the stairs for transit riders making the stop ADA compliant. Reduced vehicle count on Montlake would make transit connections with the new light rail station at the UW a breeze. The UW has been successful over the last decade at reducing the number of vehicles accessing the campus while steadily increasing campus population and employment. Time to take a page from the Husky play book and realize that more cars are not the solution to traffic congestion.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scrap the 520 bridge?

If you're not going to build a real bridge (bridges don't float, they span) then I say yes. Scrap the bugger rather than build another pontoon invasion structure. Put the savings into building out East Link to Snohomish and rebuild the southern rail extention to Tukwila.

Realpolitiks Bellevue

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ACTT Workshop: Washington

The Federal Highway Administration conducts Accelerated Construction Technology Transfer study sessions. Back in March of 2004 the FHA hosted one of these in Seattle where it appears all of the "decisions" regarding the configuration of the 520 replacement bridge were made. Yes, even before much of anything was know of the soil conditions, one of the key WSDOT misinformation points, the construction industry decided a floating bridge structure was in their best interests. Design and construction of a real bridge would require outside experts and WSDOT knows how to build a 50 year pontoon bridge.

There are some really good points brought up. For example replacing (not eliminating) the Montlake Flyer stop with a true intermodal station at Husky Stadium. The idea being that this would eliminate (not reduce) the need for buses crossing 520 to go downtown. They also recommend consolidating all eastside flyer stops between I-405 and the water to one at Belleview way. Of course that would be a "hardship" for the dozens of people that access the flyer stops at Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point. Worse yet, it might eliminate State funding for lids over the freeway at those "Points".

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Unbuild Alternative

In all Environmental Impact Statements it is required that the "no build" alternative be studied as a baseline. How about including an unbuild alternative? That's exactly what they are doing to "save" Flint Michigan; a planned shrinkage by demolishing homes.

You don't have to travel to the rust belt to see this happening. A couple of weeks ago they demolished a perfectly good home just up the street from me in Bellevue, WA. It was unoccupied and sat in the middle of three other unoccupied homes. In Flint the curse is unemployment, poverty and substandard living. In Bridle Trails in seems few people actually work for a living, the BMWs and Mercedes are more and more no longer the current model year and clearly as evidenced by the hundreds of offers I've had to buy and bulldoze my home the living conditions are substandard.

Given the ever expanding scope and cost of the 520 replacement maybe we should examine the "unbuild alternative" and just buy out everyone in Bellevue and move them into high density housing around the new Link stations.

Favorite quote from Dan Kildee, the Genesee County treasurer:
It will be a delicate process to decide which to favor, Mr. Kildee acknowledged from the driver’s seat of his Grand Cherokee.

I'm sure it will all be fair and equitable. We all know the money makes more money when developers ante up for favorable zoning and other perks in a growing economy. Therefore, in a shrinking economy the poor should be the big winners, right? Something similar has been repeatedly proposed for Buffalo, NY's urban wasteland, otherwise known as "the East Side", but there's been little progress. That's not surprising given the priorities of Buffalo politicians (ie, an expose recently showed that $30,000 in anti poverty funds were used for officials' Blackberrys). I wish Flint better luck.

NPR says, Flint, Michigan Sheds Foreclosed Properties
And the New York Times, An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It

Monday, May 04, 2009

Enough to Make You Buy Vista?

A just published article by the Seattle Times, Bellevue eyes Sound Transit train tunnel; Microsoft wants surface route, Jim Stanton, Microsoft senior community-affairs director goes on record explaining why "the company" wants Sound Transit to spend the money on extending Link Light Rail to Redmond instead of burying it in Bellevue.

Transit staffers say tunneling through downtown would take a year longer than a surface route — if a financial plan can be patched together by 2010.

Microsoft believes the goal must be "getting the line built as quickly as possible," Jim Stanton, senior community-affairs director, told the transit governing board. "The success of East Link is directly tied to our ability to deliver regional mobility in a coordinated and cost-effective way."

Among other motivations, the company doesn't want the line to end in Overlake, drawing park-and-ride traffic toward its campus there. If tracks go farther to Redmond, employees from Sammamish, east Redmond and Woodinville can step aboard there, he said.

OK, maybe I'm not ready to ditch Linux quit yet but perhaps I'd consider an XBox Sounders jersey :-)

Another Cable Stay Bridge Proposal

Another cable stay bridge proposal for the SR-99 viaduct replacement. This time though it's not offshore oil derrik like floatation assisted piers spanning Eliott bay. In fact it's a proposal to build it above the existing viaduct while that structure remains in use. Supposedly this idea was vetted by WSDOT and "concealed" from the public. A well respected bridge building and mega project builder did submit a proposal to WSDOT. If true this would provide 6 lanes instead of four for a quarter of the cost. I'd note though that the proposed bridge sections only span a half mile while the proposed tunnel is two miles. On a cost per foot basis this make the two about even. It's not clear how much of the additional length is taken up with the supporting "approach" bridges and how much, if any is a surface alternative.

Although the roadway would be higher it's also much wider so I'm not sure that does much to open up the waterfront. The additional width appears in the proposal to extend inland. That may end up being a bumbershoot for the surface route (a feature of any viaduct option) and for part of a large waterfront park. There's a switch, build a freeway to put a roof over a park!

I'd love to see and hear more about this option. I fear though that any such proposal would be torpedoed by wealthy condo owners downtown who's views would be impacted.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dumb, Dumber Dumbest

WSDOT is continuing with it's dark of the night pontoon construction. As I noted earlier Govenor Gregoire's "plan" is that in the event the bridge starts to sink we'll raft up the replacement pontoons to keep it open. WSDOT phrases it like this:

Crews would construct and store pontoons until they were needed for a recovery effort. If the pontoons are not needed for emergency use, they would be used for the planned replacement of the SR 520 bridge.

Nobody seriously believes a "recovery effort" would ever be attempted and the problem with the second part of the statement, "they would be used for the planned replacement" is that there is no plan for the replacement. Well, the west side constituents have a plan alright; cripple the process so that only a substandard six lane bridge can ever be built.

Again from the WSDOT site:

Why is WSDOT building pontoons?

Pontoons are the foundation of a floating bridge and can take several years to construct. They are large, hollow concrete structures designed to support the weight of the road, plus the cars, trucks and buses that use the bridge daily.

Notice something missing? The new 520 bridge is supposed to be "rail capable" (which is sort of like two year old computers being "Vista capable"). The problem is the pontoons being constructed are inadaquate for the additional load that would be required for rail.

WSDOT freely admits that the dark of the night pontoon construction will sidestep the Environmental Impact Statement (that's the real reason for the "emergency recovery" cover story). Once again from the WSDOT site:

What is the project timeline?


- Begin advanced construction methods and engineering effort.
- Issue draft environmental impact statement (EIS).

- Issue final EIS.

And then farther down:

WSDOT plans to begin building pontoons at an existing facility in 2009, develop a new construction facility, and begin constructing pontoons at the new facility by 2011.

Damn the EIS, full speed ahead! The major pontoon construction site is slated for one of two privately held sites in Grays Harbor. Evidently the publicly owned Port land was "environmentally unsuitable". Concrete construction on this scale has never been done in this area but Grays Harbor needs a public works program so instead of using Port of Tacoma facilities that recently completed pontoons for the new half of the Hood Canal bridge or building them "on site" using the concrete plant in Kenmore the State plans to barge these up the coast and around Cape Flattery. No big, the new bridge is supposed to withstand 92mph wind gusts. Just think of this as "quality control".

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Teaching vs Bridge Building

The State has a budget and the legislature really does have to live within that budget. Let's look at K-12 education and see if there's some money here that ought better be spent on something like bridge construction.

Bellevue spends just over $4,000 per student. OK, figure 30 students would I take a salary of $120,000 per year to teach? Sounds good. Wait, that's for everything. Do I want 30 snot nose kids in my house. NO, not even if it's just nine months out of the year. Start to add in staff like nurses and library resources and $4k per student starts to sound like a bargin.

We're not spending too much on education. We're spending too much education money on things that don't educate the students. We're spending too much on administrative costs but the catch 22 is the administrators decide how the money gets spent. Well, that and the teachers union but I don't have the energy to get into that right now.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bridge Recipe Gives Me Gas

The article 520 bridge bill may be recipe for more delays in today's Seattle SomeTimes (H/T to Mikey) makes me want to belch. First off this isn't a propsal for the bridge. It's a hearing on HB 2211, an authorization to toll SR 520. Introduced by Rep. Clibborn (D Mercer Island) it prohibits tolling I-90. There is an alternative bill, HB 2319, introduced by Rep Hunter (D Medina) which would toll I-90 subject to certain conditions (congestion from traffic avoiding the tolls on 520 or failure to meet revenue projections with a toll on 520 only).

  • Spend a mere $4.6 billion on the corridor from Interstate 5 to Redmond.

    A mere $125,000 per foot. We could sell commemorative bricks for $250 a piece and not only pay for it but pave it. We only need to sell 21 million of them. That's only six bricks a piece for everyone in the greater Seattle area. Maybe this isn't a great plan but it's better than anything the legislature's come up with.

    House Speaker Frank Chopp (as in the Great Wall of Chopp as his viaduct replacement has been dubbed) wants a $2B tunnel under the Montlake Cut to connect with the UW. To be fair I don't see this option adding $2B to the project. In fact it shouldn't cost half that amount to build the tunnel and the Pacific Street interchange options are probably similar in price and ugly as sin. If the tunnel was transit only and tied into the Husky Stadium Link station I think it would be worth it.

    The call for the 520 roadway to run in shallow cut at the Washington Park Arboretum and cover the roadway with a Mercer Island style lid are my big objection. This precludes a standard interchange at Montlake and does away with the Metro flyer stop. I think the best solution for now is a west bound exit only and east bound on ramp only. Both of these would be HOV available to single occupancy vehicles from 7PM until 7AM (maybe 5AM to match existing HOV restrictions on I-405). The corridor should be laid out so that a tunnel can be added later. Perhaps space reserved for this could be a center roadway flyer stop in the interim. Project mitigation should be limited to making the new interchange no worse than what it is replacing in terms of visual impact and sound levels (that shouldn't be too hard). Any additional mitigation must come from Local Improvement District funding.

    Collecting tolls on 520 is something that needs to happen not only for funding but for Traffic Demand Management. As the article points out the feds will kick in free money right now if the State will implement it. I think diversion traffic to I-90 to "beat the toll" will quickly change peoples minds about tolling I-90. That's the intent of the late session bill HB 2319 introduced by Rep. Hunter and Eddy. Money from tolls on I-90 have to be used on that corridor according to E2SHB 1773 passed by the legislature last session. The reduction in the diversion traffic is the reason tolling I-90 makes such a big difference to revenue generated by the tolls on 520.

    I really loved this thought from Rep. Clibburn:

    And if the Montlake problem isn't solved, Clibborn said, DOT could install the new pontoons on the lake, and fasten those to the Seattle stub of the existing bridge — to deal with the safety risk of the old bridge sinking.

    Sort of like how we all built tree forts when we were kids. Take what ever you have lying around, lash it all together and see what you come up with. Somehow I don't think this sort of construction "planning" would fly with her if it was a bridge to Mercer Island. The dark of the night pontoon construct is really just a tactic to assure that the bridge can never support anything more than six substandard lanes. No room to add additional transit in the future, no breakdown lane and reduced speed limits because the narrow lanes don't meet the minimum federal standards.
  • Friday, March 27, 2009

    Free Money or Freeways?

    A similar letter similar to the one below to our other representative in the 48th district, Debra Eddy:

    Rep. Eddy,

    I'm sure you're well aware of the Tacoma News Tribune Article concerning the Senate transportation budget that came out on Wednesday:

    The tone of this article makes it feel as though Senator Haugen is being boastful in declaring she "elminated almost all railroad projects from the 2009-11 budget." The article goes on to say, "Washington will have to apply for federal funds that have been made available as part of the federal transportation stimulus package... She said there is more than $8 billion set aside for rail nationwide." Can anyone seriously believe stimulus money will flow to Washington without funding at the State level? Rail is much more than passenger service. Washington needs to get its wheat to it's ports to put bread on the table. Senator Haugen seems to have a "let them eat cake" attitude.

    The federal money is ostensibly for passenger rail improvements. However, our rail lines are shared right of way with the vast majority of traffic being freight. Therefore freight operations will be the biggest benefactor of the priority projects like the Point Defiance bypass. As the TNT article points out, these rail lines south of Lakewood provide a more direct route for freight trains into the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle. It will also directly benefit military operations at Fort Lewis. While increased passenger rail service may be a luxury we can't afford right now I fear a lack of matching funds will all but eliminate any chance of securing our States fair share of of that $8 billion from the federal government. This is like failing to fund an employer matching retirement account.

    Passenger service is the sexy visible part of the Presidents HSR initiative but the heavy lifting will continue to be done by our freight railroads. Amtrak Cascades service has a dismal 65% on time rating. Signaling improvements, new track and modernized train control systems can improve this to 95% in short order if we take advantage of the stimulus money. Integral to this upgrade are huge benefits to the freight trains which operate on this right of way. Currently shipping by rail from Seattle to the midwest is anywhere from 7-12 days and you don't know when you load your goods onto the rail car where in that 5 day window it will arrive. It is this uncertainty, which is why so much freight moves by truck instead of rail. Improved transit time and reliability results in shifting more of our truck traffic to rail. This benefits not only the environment (lower GHG emisions) it saves on the excessive wear truck traffic causes to our roads and makes us more competitive in a global economy.

    To put a familiar face on this; Boeing relies on rail to ship fuselages from it's Witchita plant to Renton. Think what a five day delay must cost Boeing in delivery penalties, unproductive workers waiting on parts and then overtime to try and recover their schedule.It would be fiscally irresponsible to not aggresively seek as much of the stimulus money for the Cascades cooridor as possible.

    I applaud your efforts to toll both SR520 and I90 (which should be directed to fund R8A). I also believe the same idea must be applied to the deep bore tunnel proposal on SR99. Tolls should be equal to those on SR520 including pre-tolling of the viaduct. Use the money freed up to restore funding for the Rail and Marine division of WSDOT. If drivers are not willing to pay tolls to finance the deep bore tunnel then the only sensible solution in these economic times is a seismic retrofit of the existing structure.

    Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns and for all of the work you are doing in Olympia.

    Thursday, March 26, 2009

    Budget Bingo

    Below is a copy of a letter I sent to Ross Hunter, my legislative representative in the 48th.

    Rep. Hunter,

    I am writing in response to a Tacoma News Tribune Article concerning the Senate transportation budget that came out on Wednesday:

    Senate plan pays for all I-5 carpool lanes through Tacoma

    I feel as though Senator Haugen is almost boastful in declaring she "elminated almost all railroad projects from the 2009-11 budget." The article goes on to say, "Washington will have to apply for federal funds that have been made available as part of the federal transportation stimulus package... She said there is more than $8 billion set aside for rail nationwide."

    While passenger rail service may be a luxury we can't afford right now I fear that a lack of matching funds will all but eliminate any chance of securing our States fair share of of that $8 billion from the federal government. This is like failing to fund an employer matching retirement account. The State funding of expensive discretionary roads today bankrupts our transportation infrastructure of the future.

    The federal money is ostensibly for passenger rail improvements. However, since our rail line from Oregon to British Columbia is shared right of way with freight it is the freight operations which will be the biggest benefactor of the priority projects like the Point Defiance bypass. As the article points out these rail lines south of Lakewood provide a more direct route for freight trains into the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle.It will also directly benefit military operations at Fort Lewis providing a redundancy to the lines that are often closed due to slides along the route that follows the Puget Sound.

    Currently Amtrak Cascades service has a 65% on time rating. Signaling improvements and modernized train control systems can improve this to 95% almost immediately if funding is available. The greatest cost which would be funded by the stimulus money is to upgrade the freight trains which share the tracks. Currently shipping by rail from Seattle to the midwest is anywhere from 7-12 days and you don't know when you load your goods onto the rail car when in that 5 day window it will arrive. Boeing relies on this rail system to ship fusalages from it's Witchita plant to Renton. Think what a five day delay must cost Boeing in contract penalties, unproductive workers waiting on parts and then overtime to try and recover their schedule.

    I applaud your effort to toll both I90 and SR520. It seems there is also a need to see if people are willing to pay to drive through a $3 billion dollar tunnel under Seattle or if it's only viable when it's a "freebie". Tolls should be equal to those on SR520 and should start by tolling the viaduct. If they are willing to pay tolls then use the money freed up to restore funding for the Rail and Marine division of WSDOT. If not then the only sensible solution for these economic times is a seismic retrofit of the existing structure.

    Washington needs to get its wheat to it's ports to put bread on the table. Senator Haugen's seems to have a "let them eat cake" attitude.

    Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns and for the fine work you are doing in Olympia.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009

    New Math, 6+(2)=$8B

    In the Seattle Times editorial, Building a bridge between Highway 520 combatants, Joni Balter makes it sound like a 6+(2) alternative has produced a compromise both "sides" (east vs west) can live with. In part she says "It is absurd to build a bridge with the same limited capacity as the existing one... The reasonable compromise is the six-plus plan that has garnered support from almost all sides." Putting aside the fact they're still $tuck on $inking bridge technology from the 1920's this design goal sounds reasonable.

    Just a couple of problems. First it seems like the "plan" is to continue with dark of the night construction of the pontoons before design, funding or any EIS is in place. This is on course to build a raft that won't support anything heavier than two additional bicycle lanes. Second, there's no plan in place that would allow anything but bicycles to actually connect with anything on the west side.

    If there really is an agreement to accept the 6+(2) design doesn't it make sense that the bridge actually be able to support the addition of light rail (the most stressful case). Otherwise this is nothing but the eastside being hoodwinked into believing this bridge will ever have anything but gridlock from the time it opens to the time it sinks.

    When is building a bridge not building a bridge? Answer, when you're the Washington State Legislature. RCW 47.01.408 is the equivalent of telling a contractor to go ahead with pouring the foundation of your house before you decide how big it's going to be or where the doors go. The funny (funny as in fishy not funny ha ha) is that the other provisions of this statute, tolling before construction and using bridge money only for the actual bridge are being totally ignored. I guess when you make the law you don't have to follow the law.

    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    A Compromise, Float the Piers

    An article in the Seattle Weekly, Don’t Close the Book on Elliott Bay Bridge provides an interesting alternative that has the advantage of a floating bridge (actually better since it doesn't want to pull it's self apart) but still allows a double deck roadway. Building this first in fresh water without currents and tidal action would be a great debut use of the technology. Washington was innovative when it built the first floating bridge across Lake Washington back in 1940. It's time to restore that "can do" sense of innovation instead of saying it'll never fly.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Why Is the 520 Bridge So Expensive?

    There's a webpage on the Seattle Channel about the 520 bridge. It's full of gross errors regarding the length of the bridge, depth of the water, etc. which I've address previously (they must have used the WSDOT 520 page as their source). I just loved this little blurb though:

    University of Washington officials are considering asking state leaders for compensation for the disruption construction would cost their campus. They say fans may stay home from football and basketball games to avoid traffic issues.

    What? It could have an adverse impact during construction on football games! Who needs the damn bridge anyway. But wait, there's more:

    Did you know?
    The state of Washington is home to many of the largest floating bridges in the world:
    * SR 520 Evergreen Point Bridge
    * I-90 Lacey V. Murrow Bridge - ... it sank ...
    * I-90 Homer M. Hadley Bridge
    * SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge - ... the bridge sank

    To quote the famous line from "Python and the Holy Grail", Not Dead Yet!

    Friday, February 06, 2009

    TDM: Is Seattle Behind the Curve

    Compared to Vancouver and Portland (especially Portland) it seems Seattle is more show than go.

    TDM Encyclopedia

    But hey, we've got Bike to Work Day. Better than a kick in the pants; no wait, maybe a kick in the pants is what we need.

    Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    WSDOT Reply About SR 520 Suspension Bridge

    The first post to this blog was an email to WSDOT lead project engineers. Surprise! I got an answer. Unfortunately it only confirms my fear that nobody has seriously considered anything but another floating bridge. Here is the response I received and my reply:

    February 3, 2009

    Dear Bernie,

    Thank you for writing the SR 520 Corridor Program regarding a suspension bridge alternative.

    Early on during project planning, WSDOT considered a range of options for crossing Lake Washington, including replacing the SR 520 floating bridge with a suspension or truss bridge. WSDOT eliminated these bridge designs from consideration for several reasons, most notably lake conditions, cost, and size.

    The physical characteristics of Lake Washington create challenges for supporting a suspension or truss bridge. These challenges include depth and a soft lake bed. The lake is very deep, at approximately 200 feet under most of the bridge. In addition, soft soils below the lake crossing make it extremely expensive and difficult to construct the large towers required to support a suspension or truss bridge.

    Another cost prohibitive factor of building a suspension bridge across Lake Washington is the length. The bridge would have to span over 7,500 feet, making it the longest suspension bridge in the world. Today, the longest existing suspension bridge is the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, spanning 6,527 feet. The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge took 10 years to build at a cost of $3.6 billion. The likely cost of a Lake Washington suspension or truss bridge would exceed $4 billion – the likely cost of the entire SR 520 corridor from Seattle to Bellevue Way.

    Finally, the sheer size of the structure would have considerable impacts to views in the area. The towers supporting the main span would need to be about 900 feet tall, approximately 50% taller than the Space Needle. In addition, the two anchor piers required at the ends of the spans would be massive concrete supports.

    The safer SR 520 bridges will be designed and built to:

    • Have a 75-year design life;

    • Withstand a 1000-year event earthquake; and

    • Weather windstorms up to 92 miles per hour.

    Please visit the project Web site for the latest news and information on the program.

    Thank you again for your interest.


    Julie Meredith, P.E.

    Program Director

    SR 520 Corridor Program

    Dear Julie,

    You have confused main span and bridge length in your analysis. The main span of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is 6,500 feet. The length of the bridge which includes the approaches on each side of the main towers is 12,831 ft overall. An engineering marvel to be sure!

    An Evergreen Point suspension bridge would be very comparable the 8,000' Firth of Forth Roadway bridge in Scottland (main span 3,300') . This was constructed at the same time as the Evergreen Point Bridge but with a 120 year design life. The SR 520 crossing is much much closer in scope to the Tacoma Narrows than the Akashi Kaikyo. Even doubling the cost of that project we come in very close to the current estimates for another concrete raft and have an iconic structure that will last well into the next century.

    Check again on the tower height. The WSDOT website says they would need to be 600', not 900'. That would put it right in line with other suspension bridges of that size. However, all of those bridges span shipping lanes and have twice the clearance the Coast Guard has approved for Lake Washington.

    Look at the charts for Lake Washinton. The eastern tower would be in approximately 100' of water. On the western end there is an area which is 200' deep but it's not clear if this is where one of the towers would need to be located. Even if it is we solved that problem seventy years ago:

    From the WSDOT website
    The Engineering Challenge in 1938

    The Tacoma Narrows is a difficult place to build a bridge. The water is over 200 feet deep. Swift, treacherous tides moving at over 8.5 miles per hour (12.5 feet per second) sweep through the channel four times a day.

    There is no option uglier than paving the lake. Which bridge graces more picture postcards, Golden Gate or SR 520? The new roadway on stilts design I saw for keeping waves from breaking over the sides is even uglier, especially when viewed from lake level. Besides being a visual blight the two floating bridges cut up the lake detracting not only from the view but recreation. The current plans to provide mast clearance only at the eastern end will add two miles to the trip for sailboats moored at Leshi to get to Lake Union and the locks.

    Bernie Hayden
    Bellevue, WA

    Bellevue City Council Eastside LINK Hearing

    I attended the Bellevue City Council Eastside LINK hearing this evening. Boy did it run long, about 3 hours long. The vast majority of the comment was on segment B which runs through south Bellevue. "Votes" ran 10:1 against the Bellevue Way corridor and in favor of the BNSF route. I spoke in favor of keeping trains on train tracks. The Mayor even jotted down a note when I said that so if I hear it in a campaign speech I'm going to pull up the tapes of the meeting and file a copyright suit ;-) An official representative of the Bellevue Convention Center spoke earlier in the meeting and addressed concerns with one of the tunnel routes. I also made the point that the Seattle Convention Center already has a direction connection to the airport and that going forward Bellevue may have as much economic interest in linking to the City of Seatac as the City of Seattle. I also made the push for rail on the eastside serve the eastside and not be Seattle-centric as the current extend out from the existing LINK line in the International District is. That had been brought up earlier and was "seconded" by one of the speakers that followed. Hopefully that helped make that point sink in.

    Boy did my speech suck. I think what I said was OK but the presentation sucked and there were points I didn't make or didn't make effectively. My tone of voice was squeaky and jilted. It was like I was suffering from stage fright. I didn't have prepared remarks but extemporaneous speaking is what I do best. Speaking at the end of a large group it was important that I not rehash what had been said so writing something in advance (oratory) would not have been the right answer but I should have had a notepad and made an outline before I went to the mic. Live and learn. On the plus side I did (again) finish well within my time limit. The whiners that go on and on saying "in conclusion" only after their red light's been on for a minute and the Mayor has to "chastise" them lose points in my book.

    Monday, February 02, 2009

    Now Read This

    ESHB 3096 Clibborn, McIntire (C 270 L 08)
    Financing the State Route Number 520 Bridge Replacement
    Project - Establishes certain requirements for the design of the
    replacement to the State Route 520(SR 520) bridge. Allows the
    Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to seek
    approval from the Legislature for the collection of tolls on the existing
    and replacement SR 520 Bridge following the submission of the
    tolling implementation report required by the act. Requires the
    WSDOT to work with the Federal Highways Administration to
    determine the actions necessary to toll the Interstate 90 Floating
    Bridge. Establishes the State Route 520 Tolling Implementation
    Committee to evaluate a variety of issues related to the tolling of the
    SR 520 Bridge. Allows for the deferral of sales and use tax related to
    the construction of the facility until five years after the opening of the

    SHB 3224 Loomis, Hunter, Sells (C 127 L 08)
    Reviewing and Conducting Studies on Providing Commuter Rail
    Services - Directs Sound Transit to work in conjunction with the
    Puget Sound Regional Council to analyze, and report to the
    Legislature on whether commuter rail service between Eastern
    Snohomish County and Eastern King County can be a meaningful
    component of the region's future transportation system.

    Concerning the Imposition of Tolls

    As I read this summary of a bill past in 2008 tolls on the Evergreen Point floating bridge could not be used to fund the building of a new bridge. If you tear down your house it's considered new construction and treated very differently than improvements, preservation or maintenance.

    Of course it's all a shell game since funding comes from the general fund and not from some "lock box" account for individual projects. At best this bill can mandate a minimum level of spending on a certain area in which the tolls are collected but that's unlikely to be much more than maintenance costs. Then again it provides no guidance as to what time frame the money must be spent so it could be never.

    E2SHB 1773 Clibborn, Jarrett (C 122 L 08)
    Concerning the Imposition of Tolls - Designates the Legislature as
    the only entity with the authority to impose tolls on an eligible toll
    facility, unless that authority is otherwise delegated. Requires all
    revenue from an eligible toll facility to be used only to improve,
    preserve, maintain, manage or operate the eligible toll facility on or
    in which it is collected. Creates guidelines and requirements that the
    Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) must follow
    in determining toll rates. Requires any other entities seeking to
    impose tolls to first seek approval from the Legislature for tolls on
    state routes and from the WSTC for tolls or changes in tolls that
    impact state routes. Requires the Washington State Department of
    Transportation to use and administer toll collection systems that are
    simple, unified, interoperable, and avoid the use of toll booths and to
    set standards for all toll facilities in the state.

    Friday, January 30, 2009

    What Have You Done For Me Lately?

    In the "what have you done for me lately?" department this article, "Sounder commuter rail facing growing pains" raises some question over the fiscal responsibility of rail as public transit. The article is from 2006. Since then the southern Sounder route has continued to do well but the route from Everett continues to flounder. How much longer does it make sense to hemorrhage money into this when funding for transit is in short supply? When one of the major obstacles to increasing transit usage is over crowded buses should Sound Transit continue to shell out four times the cost per rider for the relatively few that use an under utilized rail line?

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Trolling for Tolls

    According to an article in the Seattle Times the Feds [are] OK with I-90 tolls to help pay for new 520 bridge. What's even more interesting is the last statement, "The federal letter said excess toll money could be used to pay for transit, if it's used for the Lake Washington corridor."

    Apparently the Feds are all about giving out cash to implement electronic tolling and using variable fares to manage traffic. So, even though the SR520 bridge project is no where near shovel ready the State can bring home a nice slab of pork if they start tolling now rather than after construction as has always been the case in Washington.

    So, my question is why not expand this to convert the I-5 Express Lanes (an oxymoron if you ever look at the traffic reports during rush hour). More money for more buses that could actual operate at the speed limit funded by drivers that choose to use the Lexus Lanes. The fat cats using the Lexus Lanes get to work faster and probably write it all off on their federal income tax anyway, right? A win win for everybody. Go HOT Expresso Lanes!

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    GNP Railway

    At the ERN! meeting this evening I learned of a new player in the game, GNP and it's head honcho Tom Payne. This article in the Seattle P.I., Eastside Rail & Trail a Great Plan is one of the first hits turned up by a Google search.

    Another good read from the Seattle Times: Entrepreneur wheels, deals for Eastside rail

    The Everett Herald has this to say: Who's on board with proposal for new commuter train?

    Back in Sept the Seattle Transit Blog had this to say: BNSF selects GNP/Ballard to serve Snohomish County shippers

    Alec Fisken iswas a Port Commissioner. Alec says: ... and add a separate trail

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    For Whom the Bridge Tolls

    Here's a little light reading to follow up on:

    Imposition of Tolls (E2SHB 1773)

    This legislation establishes the statewide framework for imposing tolls. The bill has passed the Senate and is expected to receive concurrence in the House.

    Financing the 520 Bridge Replacement Project (ESHB 3096)

    The "520 Bridge Bill" passed the Senate and is expected to receive concurrence in the House. The 520 Bridge Bill establishes an SR 520 finance plan. The SR 520 finance plan must include certain assumptions, including savings from early construction of certain on-site project elements, early construction of a single string of pontoons, and preconstruction tolling. An SR 520 tolling implementation committee (Committee) is formed, consisting of three members, one each from the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Department, and the State Transportation Commission.

    The committee must evaluate various issues relating to the SR 520 bridge replacement project, including traffic diversion to other state and local roads, tolling technology, partnership opportunities, and also must survey citizens about the project. The committee must confer with mayors and city councils from cities located along the SR 520, SR 522 & Interstate 90 corridors. A report is due from the committee to the Governor and Legislature by January 2009. The Department may seek approval from the Legislature to begin tolling on the existing SR 520 bridge and its replacement only after the committee has submitted its report.

    Eliminating Regional Transportation Investment Districts (RTID) (SB 6771)

    This bill had a striking amendment in the House Transportation Committee. The striking amendment establishes a study to determine the merits of continuing or changing the structure of an RTID. AWC is skeptical the bill will pass the House. If it does pass, it is unlikely the Senate will accept the proposed striking amendment.

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    We Have a Plan.... (sort of)

    Crosscut may not be "news as we know it" but it does provide some color to an all to often bleak picture of the news. This article from Doug McDonald is one of many they've provided on regional transit. One thing that caught my eye was this WSDOT picture of Highway 520 westbound through Bellevue on a Wednesday evening. If this isn't a poster child for how bassackward Metro and ST transit thinking is on "the reverse commute" I don't know what is. Just remember, the most important funding priority is downtown Seattle to Bellevue Transit Center via I90... keep repeating, the most important funding priority is downtown Seattle to Bellevue Transit Center via I90... cost is no object.

    Microsoft Transit Solutions

    Doing a Google search what I was hoping to find was information on Microsoft corporate positions on local transit initiatives. What I expected to find was information on Microsoft's own transit fleet of tour buses to Prius'. What I did find was most disconcerting, Microsoft Worldwide Government Home :-0

    Friday, January 23, 2009

    If I Were King of the World

    If I were king of the world, or maybe just the Washington transportation Czar, I would:

    1. Immediately convert the I5 Express Lanes to HOT lanes (might need to be King to do this on a Federal highway) and adjust fares so that traffic was always moving at the speed limit. If necessary convert to bidirectional BRT only.
    2. Build out one tunnel of the Central Link immediately and put the savings toward completing a connection with Northgate and improvements to the west end of the 520 corridor.
    3. Reconfigure all bus routes to a trunk and feeder system.
    4. Uncouple the various phases of the 520 bridge replacement

      • Build a "signature bridge" (most likely cable stay) to replace the Portage Bay viaduct.
      • Immediately eliminate all Arboretum on and off ramps and make Montlake transit only. Replace as soon as possible with a transit tunnel from 520 to Huskey Station and terminate all cross lake bus routes here as soon as the Central Link is operational.
      • Leave one GP lane of 520 connected with I5 northbound and leave southbound I5 to 520 in place. The other 520 GP lane would connect with the 10th Ave southbound and traffic northbound on 10th would be able to merge onto 520 (eliminate on street parking on 10th Ave).
      • Extend 520 to Eastlake Union via tunnel for Seattle Center traffic (eliminate 520 to I5 southbound connection).

    5. Start rail service on the old BNSF route

      • Immediately from Wilburton to Woodinville.
      • Repair track as required and extend service to Snohommish
      • Replace the right of way lost by the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel
      • Extend the service to Tukwilla Station

    6. Start laying track on the East Link from East to West

      • Start in Redmond (option E2)
      • Connect with BNSF right of way southeast of the 405/520 interchange
      • Connect Redmond to Woodinville along the BNSF spur
      • Decommission tracks through Totem Lake and convert to bike trail
      • Use single track across I90 (no need for trains to pass on this stretch with an adequate signal and control system) allowing for rail and two way BRT across this corridor.

    7. Replace the Evergreen Point floating bridge with a suspension bridge. Four GP lanes on the upper roadway plus two HOT lanes. The lower deck would have light rail and BRT. Light rail would complete a loop from downtown across 520 to Bellevue and back across I90. Trains would always run clockwise on the loop. Passing tracks at stations would allow a mix of local and express service but rely heavily on the trunk feeder concept and connections with the BNSF line. At least once an hour a train leaving Bellevue would go direct to Seatac returning to the loop to continue in the standard direction.

    SR520 Ramblings

    A few days ago I posted a link to the Seattle Times story detailing the $813 million dollar grant from the FTA to Sound Transit to help fund the extension of the Link Light Rail from downtown thru Capitol Hill to Huskey Stadium (ironic how the biggest transportation projects seem geared toward getting people to football games). I didn't realize that they were literally going thru, as in underneath Capital Hill. Sounds expensive, and it is but going over Capital Hill isn't really an option because of the grade and the tunnel has one other benefit in crossing under rather than over the Montlake Cut. Since The Cut is a navigable water way the only other options are to build a high level bridge (at least 70' clearance) or to have an opening bridge like the one just outside the Locks. Such a route would be possible by following Freeway Bridge and then coming back along Boat Street and Pacific. It would be cheaper but far less elegant and wouldn't serve Capital Hill at all. C'est la vie, the money is all but spent; let's hope wisely.

    So, what does all this have to do with SR520. Well the Link (pardon the pun) lies buried in the station at Huskey Stadium. Buried as in 100' underground. That's not only below lake level, that's below sea level. Yikes! Anyway, a major concern with all of the options for the SR520 corridor is how the Montlake Exit, excuse me... interchage, will function and particularly how will it work with transit.

    There's some bad news and then there's some more bad news. First is that all the plans seriously being considered eliminate the Montlake Flyer Stop. According the the Draft High Capacity Transit Plan, "people south of the Montlake Cut will generally have their access times to SR 520 HCT and downtown Seattle transit service increased." What do you expect for $4 billion. They neglect to mention that unlike now where "any bus in a storm" will do to get you from the eastside to the UW, without the Flyer Stop only routes that go to Huskey Stadium, I mean Station, will work. Add to that the plan to reduce the number of routes across the lake once Link Light Rail is operational from Bellevue to the International District and it's starting to look more and more as though they really want you to just drive there.

    Drive, did I say drive? Surely any plan that has as one of it's stated goals to promote the use of public transit wouldn't encourage the use of private vehicles to get to the UW. Well, several of the options that are at the forefront propose to do just that. The most hideous is a high level bridge (remember, navigable waterway, minimum mast clearance 70') which would add a whole new interchange out in the lake in the vicinity of Foster Island and cross Union Bay on a diagonal to Pacific at "The Triangle". Just what that area needs, more traffic.

    Another option is to tunnel from SR520 under the Montlake Cut. By itself this wouldn't seem very cost effective but if they make it Transit only and tie in directly to the Link station then it would be money well spent. The tunneling machines will already be on site and a continuation of a tunnel northward would provide bus service now via the route planned for the future extension of the Link system to Northgate. Maybe, not in my lifetime, it would Link the eastside by rail to Seattle.

    In a previous post I mentioned that cost for the Eastside Link were undoubtedly going to be driven up by local neighborhoods demand for new parks created by lids over the right of way. Well, that's here in spades for the SR520 project. Huge new parks would be created on top of the concrete causeway.

    A far better idea would be to adopt the "Signature Bridge" approach proposed by Go to their website and take a look at some of the sketches proposed for Portage Bay. Unlike a real bridge across Lake Washington a suspension, or more likely a cable stay bridge to replace the viaduct portion of 520 over Portage Bay has a chance of being built.

    The real glaring omission in all of the proposals is that none of them touch on the ridiculous way SR520 merges with I-5 southbound causing most traffic to cross five lanes in less than a mile to exit at Mercer. That's the first thing that needs to be fixed. It is partially address for transit in a provision for reversible approaches to the Express Lanes. This would actually be a fantastic solution for BRT if the Express Lanes were changed to bidirectional transit only. But that would encourage people to use transit instead of drive single occupancy cars... silly me.

    Thursday, January 22, 2009

    Redmond ST Public Hearing On Eastside Link

    Wednesday January 21st I attended the Sound Transit Open House in Redmond and signed up to speak during the pubic hearing portion. I was second on the dockett (a couple of people bailed). The first speaker made a strong pitch for one of the ideas I am partial to which is reversing the construction schedule and build from east to west. One point he brought out was that cost overruns typically affect the finishing of a project. Meaning overruns on the build across the lake and through Bellevue would most likely doom any possibility of the Bellevue to Redmond portion being built on schedule if at all.

    Most of the comments were from condo owners on Old Redmond Road opposing the E1 and E4 options. They were generally in favor of option E2 which follows SR520 along the northern edge of Marymoor Park and then doubles back along the old BNSF right of way through downtown Redmond. This option is the least expensive proposal, provides the most connectivity and presents the least undesirable impact.

    My question is how does this route compare to the ERN proposal to bypass Totem Lake and connect Bellevue to Woodinville via SR520 and the Redmond/Woodinville spur? The idea of taking the rail line all the way to the end of SR520 and then coming back through Redmond along the old rail line has a number of benefits and appears to be the most cost effective. (note, on the official ST plans there is no longer an E3 option; how stupid must that one have been ;-)

    For my testimony I decided my main emphasis would be expressing my reservations about sinking billions of dollars into a bridge that by all real world experience is nearing the end of it's useful life. I also echoed the sentiment of the first speaker who lobbied for the construction of the Eastside Link from east to west rather than the proposed west to east schedule. Reversing the construction provides capacity on the eastside exactly where it is needed the most and can be done faster and for less money. I spoke with one of the ST representative during the open house portion of the meeting about this subject. It's obvious they have a bias to xtending their existing line irregardless of what benefits eastside residents the most. One argument was that it was essential to have the line connected with the maintenance facility in Seattle. Evidently the planned "maintenance" facilities on the eastside will be incapable of performing major repairs. I didn't think of it at the time but the answer that would have stopped them in their tracks is to use DMUs instead of electrifying the route at the outset. Cheaper, quicker to implement and nullifies the need for connection to the Seattle maintenance facility.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    At first blush the Eastside Link light rail extension is a project that would directly help me, a Bellevue resident. But the expense of adding light rail to the I90 bridge and acquiring right of way on the eastside far outstrip any benefits. The plan for rail across the bridge significantly decreases it's capacity for vehicle traffic and can only accelerate the decay of the bridge. Legal wrangling amongst well funded lobbies on the eastside which want/don't want the corridor near them and pet projects (like the I90 lid) would doom the project to endless delays and escalating costs dwarfing even Boston's Big Dig.

    The topper is that even though I live less than 4 miles from the proposed termination at the Bellevue Transit Center this area is so congested that no matter what the time of day it would be faster, cheaper and more convenient to use the existing bus service from South Kirkland Park & Ride when going downtown.

    The rational alternative is to take advantage of the rail right of way recently acquired from BNSF by the County and the Port. Known as the Woodinville Subdivision it runs from Renton up the I405 corridor to Kirkland continuing through Woodinville to Snohomish with a spur from Woodinville to Redmond. Even though it doesn't intersect the existing Link Light Rail pushing through a connection from Renton to the existing Link station on HWY 99 would have to be orders of magnitude cheaper than a connection from the International District to Bellevue. True the existing tracks do not go directly to the doorstep of the Microsoft Campus. However, there is a proposal to deviate from the existing BNSF corridor and follow the existing State owned right of way along SR520 past Microsoft and reconnect with the BNSF spur from Redmond to Woodinville. This idea has merit not only because of the direct connection to Microsoft and downtown Redmond but it would also eliminate a number of at grade crossings through the Totem Lake area. Even without this addition a stop at the I405/SR520 interchange (near the South Kirkland P&R) provides a central hub for bus connectivity to downtown Seattle, Belleuve and Microsoft (which already provides it's own shuttle service). The key is that the BNSF route connects a far greater number of existing P&R lots along I405 including Woodinville which serves as the terminus for all buses taking the northern route around Lake Washington.

    The Eastside railroad is the spine sowing the seed for light rail as the ribs which together provide the skeleton to flesh out the system. Short haul high density service is what light rail does best. In fact the current order of construction proposed by Sound Transit is completely backward. Instead of building the most expensive, and by itself useless portion of the line from the International District to South Bellevue the staging should be to complete the segment from Redmond to the Bellevue Transit Station first! Sound Transit's current proposal for the Eastside Link no matter what their desire is a street car named rapid transit.

    Construction of the Eastside Railroad provides much better connectivity for the vast majority of residents now rather than a decade from now and at a much lower cost than the Eastside Link Sound Transit has proposed. This rail corridor provides an alternate for the most overburdened portions of I405 and relief to the congested and often deadly SR522 route. Moving forward the existing rail right of ways can be connected with a north/south line in Everett. That's transportation with a vision! The Eastside Link, I just don't see it.
    The previous post questioned WSDOT 's myoptic view that only a floating bridge could be used to cross Lake Washington. A google search turned up this gem of a response (keep in mind the deepest part of Lake Washington is 214'):

    Why is WSDOT building a floating bridge over Lake Washington as opposed to a conventional suspension bridge? A conventional suspension bridge over Lake Washington would not work for several reasons:
    Suspension bridges need to travel in a fairly straight line. Because SR 520 is a curved corridor, a suspension bridge would not be possible.
    Lake Washington is between 200 and 400 feet, and the bridge’s support towers would have to be approximately 630 feet in height, nearly the height of the Space Needle, to support the bridge. These massive towers would be out of character with the surroundings because it would create more noise and block views.
    Conventional fixed bridges, such as the new bridge over the Tacoma Narrows, are expensive to build in deeper waters with soft beds, such as Lake Washington.

    Suspension Bridge Over Lake Washington?

    Maureen Sullivan & Julie Meredith,

    I've lived in the Seattle Tacoma area since the mid 60's and for as long as I can remember local lore has it that floating bridges were built across Lake Washington because the depth and length of span make any alternate construction technique impossible. I think it's been repeated so many times that people living here except this without question as a God given truth.

    The average depth of the lake is only 110 feet, less than the Tacoma Narrows. And, while the length of the Evergreen Point bridge is longer that the Tacoma Narrows it wouldn't even make the top 20 list for longest suspension bridges in the world. Ironically, the 20th longest bridge at 8,000' spanning the Firth of Forth in Scottland was constructed at the same time as the Evergreen Point Bridge.

    The other argument floated for this construction technique is that it's cheaper. This may be true in the short term but our long experiment dating back to the original I90 span (1940-1990 R.I.P.) certainly has proven otherwise. With estimates for replacement at $1.5 to $3.4 billion one has to question even this fundamental truth. The new Tacoma Narrows bridge came in on budget and ahead of schedule at $744 million.

    The Evergreen Point Bridge at 46 years of age is the Grand Dame of our fleet (her sisters have all sunk). Somehow the Homer Hadley bridge stressed beyond it's design limits by light rail is supposed to last 100 years yet experience has proven 50 is as long as anyone can hope for a concrete structure floating in the water to last. Why can't we move past the old wives tale of a floating bridge being the only possible method of construction and build a bridge that will span

    Bernie Hayden
    Bellevue, WA