Blog Into the Deep End: Microsoft Wades Into 520 Waters

A winter storm pounds the SR 520 Bridge, driving waves over the roadway.
Photo Source: Washington State Department of Transportation
In what has been reported by The Seattle P-I as “an unusually high-profile political move,” Microsoft Corp., yesterday told regional leaders that it’s time to take action on replacing the 520 bridge over Lake Washington. With a full-page advertisement placed in The Seattle Times, the software giant dove into local political waters, creating waves almost as choppy as the real ones sometimes whipped up alongside the 47-year-old bridge. From the advertisement:

While there are still some final design issues that need to be resolved with the City of Seattle, we should not let last-minute objections undermine the hard-won agreements already in place for the rest of the project. Doing so would cause yet more delay, increase the cost to taxpayers, and put this vital transportation and economic corridor at risk.

As reported in the P-I, at a news conference on Tuesday, Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith said the time for discussion was over and that a plan called A+ (Washington State’s plan that calls for a six-lane structure that includes HOV lanes) “is the kind of plan that should move forward.” Microsoft’s public call for action comes on the heels of an early February move by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and several state lawmakers to get traction for a rebuilt 520 bridge that, according to the P-I, “would dedicate lanes to only buses and light rail.” Such a plan would likely present a problem for the Redmond-based Microsoft, which says 5,000 of its employees — 4,200 using the company’s proprietary Connector shuttle — cross the bridge each day.
Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute’s Bruce Agnew (who has written extensively about solutions to the region’s transportation challenges, including this Seattle Times op-ed highlighting the innovative Connector bus), told the P-I in a separate story yesterday that “McGinn’s proposal would undo 20 years of regional planning and investment in company van pools and HOV lanes as a way to reduce the number of cars on the road.” More Agnew:

“The Microsoft Connector is fabulously successful,” Agnew said. “It supplements Metro bus service and it’s a green option for thousands of Microsoft employees. So the mayor’s policy is that we’re not going to allow the Connector in bus lanes because it’s not a real bus? I’m glad Microsoft is speaking out.”

It’s taken over one decade to reach “an agreed-upon design and funding plan for a new bridge,” according to Microsoft’s full-page advertisement. And though some officials are concerned about the company’s call to action — Washington state senator Ed Murray was quoted in the P-I saying the announcement equated to a “punch in the face” — Cascadia Center’s Agnew says Microsoft should let its voice be known. “Microsoft is speaking up when other regional leaders should be,” he said.