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 BetterBridge.org 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.