Over the past few months, SR 520 has been undergoing some changes – most
notably, the future construction of a new six-lane floating bridge, and the instigation of toll booths along the current bridge.
As the floating bridge construction is close to its starting date, challenges and set-backs have been plaguing the bridge. The designers of the new 520 bridge are being sued by an environmentalist group called Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520.
They are charging the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration with unrealistic and unsustainable cost expectations.
According to the Coalition, the Department of Transportation has enough money to construct the floating bridge and the east section, but falls about $2 million short on the Seattle landing section.
Fran Conley, coordinator of the Coalition, says, “We are not opposed to a six-lane bridge, but we are opposed to start something the state can’t finish.”
According to Conley, the main complaint of the environmentalist group is the counter-productivity of the proposed Montlake Lid, which is forecasted to carry hundreds of buses every day, thus ruining its purpose as a ‘green refuge’.
Plans for this bridge have already been changed several times to relieve complaints of neighborhoods – a section through Portage Island has been landscaped to be ascetically pleasing and has had its speed limit decreased to 45 miles per hour. The floating bridge section was reduced from being 30 feet high to 20. Spokesman for the project Suanne Pelley says, “We’re confident we’ve been thorough and complete.”
The complete cost for this project is $4.65 billion. It has been under debate since 1997, and over $263 million has already been spent in design, engineering, and public process. In order for this to be realistically achieved, taxes would need to be raised or a toll installed on I90, which is currently against the law.
The effect of the imminent bridge tolling is another problem currently faced by SR 520. A financial study recently released indicated that the bridge would lose half of the traffic that currently crosses Lake Washington, due to tolls.
By next year, traffic would decrease 52,000 vehicles per day as people who would usually drive the tolled highway revert to the nearby I90 or to public transit.
According to the predictions made by the study, it would be over twenty years before the bridge traffic rebounded to the figures it is reaching right now – over 100,000 vehicles every day.
The ramifications this study will have on funding for the project remains to be seen – the state has been planning on bonds supported by the toll money bringing in over $1 million, which would go towards the funding for the project.
The original start date for tolling on the current 520 bridge was last April; however, the state missed this deadline and is now aiming for December. The tolls will range between costless and $3.50 depending on the traffic.
Construction for the 520 floating bridge is scheduled to begin later this year and be completed in 2014, but construction of the Seattle landing remains unfunded.
With an environmentalist group’s lawsuit and a study showing the dramatic decrease in traffic because of tolling, it remains to be seen if the new SR 520 bridge can find the funding it needs for the project to continue.