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Prospectus Blog State Route 520 Bridge Funding Requires Leadership

The estimated cost now is as high as $4.4 billion to replace the dangerously earthquake-prone Evergreen Point Floating Bridge on State Route 520, which crosses Lake Washington to connect the populous and job-rich Eastside with Seattle. But only $560 million is in hand; and the rest is decidedly iffy, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. (UPDATE: The state DOT’s 520 page lists $1.25 billion in identified funding, including $700 million in tolls). The P-I editorializes we need to get the full funding package pulled together ASAP.

…we’re told that the Evergreen Point Bridge will be rebuilt, pronto, even though we’re $3.5 billion short on the project’s budget. We currently have just under 20 percent of the bridge’s $4.4 billion secured….This “build now, figure out how to settle the bill later” approach is reckless. We’re not advocating the endless dithering for which our city and state have become unfortunately famous. What we’re asking our legislators and transportation officials to do is to firm up the numbers for necessary, urgent projects such as the 520 bridge.

Getting the money requires knowing the real final cost, which in turn requires settling important components of the project. The ingredients most necessary are leadership and planning. There is no decision yet on what kind of transit will go on it, no final decision on the number of lanes. The current discussion centers on a six-lane replacement for the existing four-lane structure. Six lanes are an utter necessity, anything less offers insufficient capacity. An additional wild card – perhaps carrying substantial added costs beyond the current estimate – is environmental mitigation. This includes forcefully-voiced concerns from neighborhood residents on both ends of the bridge corridor. What is the endgame price tag for mitigation really going to be? The sooner we know, the better.
In the meantime, WSDOT has posted to YouTube a video simulation of the bridge falling apart in an earthquake. (Click on preceeding link or the embed below).

The P-I reports WSDOT’s harrowing simulation is part of an attempt by the department to reach a broader swath of the public on the importance of rebuilding the bridge.
Message received. But with no solid plan yet on its configuration or funding, the likelihood of further delay and cost inflation grow. We need a single point of authority, namely an empowered Central Puget Sound regional transportation commission, to settle the configuration questions legally and in a timely manner, and put together a full public-private funding plan for the bridge. The fall 2007 regional roads and transit ballot measure would include just $1.1 billion toward the $3.5 billion now thought needed to complete the bridge replacement; this as part of the larger $16 billion package. If that proposal does win voter approval, there will still be a backlog of about $46 billion in Central Puget Sound road and transit project needs. A clearly stated comprehensive plan to prioritize those projects and pay for them in a series of public funding votes, and through private partnerships and tolls, will be essential. If the fall ballot measure fails, the need for such planning and leadership will be even more pressing.
Piecemeal, scattershot planning undercuts public trust. Without that trust, the necessary taxpayer support of expanded roads and transit cannot be expected to materialize.
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