Editor’s Note: Inspiration of this piece came from Gavin Verhey. It’s also dedicated to him: Good luck on the new job.
In the northwestern part of the United States there resides a tiny town of Seattle, Washington. Some of you may be heard of it, it’s about 10ish or so miles north of Renton, Washington; Renton, of course, being home to Wizards of the Coast.
This metropolitan area has over 3,000,000 souls living here, as well as large lake that separates the area. There are two bridges that cross the lake: Interstate 90 and Highway 520 (lovingly called the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, or just the 520 Bridge). With the population growth in the area, there has been discussion for a while about expanding one of the bridges. It makes sense, the 520 Bridge has two lanes of traffic each way, no carpool, and only supports 65,000 cars a day while currently carrying 115,000.
Oh, and there’s this little tech company called “Microsoft” that’s one the east end of the bridge (the west end is Seattle). Daily traffic creates a huge bottle neck at the ends of the bridges, there it connects with Interstate 5 and Interstate 405. It’s normal to expect at least 40 minutes of travel time to go this almost a mile and a half bridge. It’s inefficient and it causes too many problems.
After years of deciding what to do with it, the state government has ripped off the Band-Aid and they’re doing construction. “Full bore, let’s get this baby working again,” type of attitude.
It was a broken outdated system that couldn’t be used to its fullest. That’s great right? In fact, for around the past year and a half they’re working on the east side of the bridge, expanding the highway to get the bridge ready for expansion itself. They’re closing the bridge during weekends (another one is expected this weekend). Sure, it’s inconvenient now, but in a few years we’ll see the fruit of their labor. Right?
To help pay for this they’re enacting tolls, something that hasn’t been around here in 30 years. I know that other parts of the country are used to it, but with the growth of new people, most of the commuters (including myself) haven’t had to pay a toll to cross the bridge people. It’s a varying toll based on the time of day (peak hours are obviously higher). Commuters have been starting to plan alternate routes into Seattle in order to avoid paying the tolls, which will increase the traffic in those areas. And no matter what anyone protests, these tolls are going to happen. Sometime. Some day. Whenever.
Look, I imagine a project like this takes hundreds of people to make thousands decisions that will effect millions of people. This is effecting me since I work right next to the 520 Bridge and use it several times a week. And I know that thousands of people make their livelihood based on this bridge and if they can access it. They’re going to have opinions like the rest of us.
However, nothing in this project is done lightly. Like with any huge undertaking out there, the people that it’s impacting are going to question every little thing. Why? Because it’s impacting them, why wouldn’t they want to know more? After all, everything done with this project can be answered by looking at the big picture. Why don’t we do that now:
Wait a minute. You mean you haven’t finished DESIGNING it?
I know it’s a bridge that crosses a body of water, but surely you have an idea of how people are going to access it, right? Trees are being ripped down and new asphalt is being poured on the east side of the bridge right before the current bridge. But you’re telling me you haven’t finished designing the west end yet? You’re reworking something and have no idea what it will be in the end?
This has been a huge sticking point with the bridge construction. There’s a point where you get off the bridge as it crosses a sliver of land. Of course, within this sliver of a land there is the University of Washington oh, and the east side of Seattle. The designers, with pressure from the Governor (who doesn’t reside in Seattle) and the Sierra Club (so the rumor goes), have decided that several off-ramps that help direct the flow of that 115,000 people must consolidate into one off-ramp exit.
The image is taken directly from the most recent WSDOT presentation, though I added the Red lines to show the current two off-ramps. The red line on the right also represents another on-ramp as well. But that’s not the only problem that hasn’t been fully addressed: what about the increased load of traffic when it reaches I-5? What about the people who live to the south of the bridge at this exit when they have to fight for the same space as everyone else going north, but have no easy way to go south? Why are buses getting their own lane on the off-ramp?
There are still too many questions that we, the people being effected by it, have and we’re not getting any answers. This is frustrating us because we want to know. By how the bridge is going to be laid out, we need to decide if we’re going to be moving over to Seattle instead, or look for another job while not having to cross the bridge, or if instead of going to an event in Seattle try and find something on the Eastside. This is more than just an inconvenience, this is our lives. And it may seem petty to people who don’t live here, but it’s important to us.
The whole 520 Bridge project is a mess (Actually, mess is a much nicer term than what I was going to say, but I felt it would’ve taken away from the piece).
And they haven’t even funded for the continuation of the 520 Bridge on the west side. They’ve got part of the necessary funding, but until they do, they have to stop at what part they’ve got funding for leaving us with a half built bridge with a promise that the rest will be built in the future. It’s the hope of people actually traveling the bridge to pay the tolls to pay for the part that’s not paid for. Building the future with the future money they hope to get in the future.
We have to trust that all of this works. Once they’ve started this, there’s no going back. We’re all in this together whether we like it or not. We can make suggestions, and wonder aloud why if they’re building this for the future and wanting more people to cross it why is there no light rail system that I would totally take if that was an option.
Sorry. Self serving interest. I hope you can understand that.
If we, as a concerned public, have any issues we can look up and see the big picture.
All we know is that it’s a bridge that crosses a body of water. The details of that bridge, however, remain sketchy.