Urban Politics #285: A New Year & the New SR 520 Design

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



I am beginning my new term in office by chairing a new committee: Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture. It has a long title and a broad sweep of issues to contend with. This year my first committee meeting reviewed a Finance and Administration Plan for implementing last year’s approved new Housing Levy. My Committee will receive at least two more briefings and a Committee vote for approving the plan and sending it onto the Full Council by the end of February or mid-March. Future Urban Politics will detail the issues raised in this process.

I am fortunate in that all my current staff, and they have been with me since 1998, will remain on board: Lisa Herbold, Newell Aldrich and Frank Video. They all do policy work. Lisa primarily covers the issues concerning Housing, Human Services and Health, Frank covers Culture and special projects, and Newell handles many of the other issues that are outside my Committee, such as Transportation and Utilities. All of them cover additional issues that fall into the other City Council Committees and that are raised by constituents.


Last Thursday January 28th, the City Council sent a diplomatic letter to the Governor and the Chairs of the transportation committees in both the State Senate and House requesting that the city be given an additional 120 days to come up with some design improvements to the proposed SR 520 interchange in Seattle including a way “to maximize the opportunity for dedicated transit lanes” on the bridge itself and to reduce its height. In exchange the Council signs off on the State proceeding to construct SR 520 on the east side so that the overall project schedule will not be compromised and the replacement bridge can be opened in 2014.

Click here to view a pdf of the Council’s letter.

Although I agree the goals of the letter and I appreciate the successful effort that Council President Richard Conlin received in gaining the cooperation of the Governor in being amenable to the letter’s message, I did not sign off on it.

After discussions with the state legislators from the 43rd District, which represents the bulk of Seattle’s communities affected by the new SR 520 design, I heard that they preferred to use the Legislature’s process to resolve the bridge’s design and transit configuration. Since their influence on this process will be greatly diminished after the legislature’s session is over in March, I felt it was best to allow them maximum flexibility in pursuing our mutual interests in promoting dedicated transit lanes on the bridge and to reduce the environmental damage in and around the Arboretum and surrounding neighborhoods from the new interchange.

Meanwhile a community group, Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, consisting of members from the neighborhoods of Madison Park.. North Capitol Hill..Montlake.. Laurelhurst..Roanoke Park/Portage Bay and the Boating community are holding a press conference on Monday morning (see http://www.sustainable520.org/ ) to announce their proposal for designing a better SR 520 bridge and interchange. Elected officials, including myself, have been invited to attend.

I believe that the design and function the new SR 520 Bridge will set the stage for future development not only in Seattle but in this region. We have a choice to either accept more autos entering the city or more transit. The bridge is at capacity now, so how do we accommodate future travel demands over Lake Washington for all kinds of vehicles? The ultimate solution is to increase the number of people who can travel efficiently and conveniently across this narrow corridor. This challenge is at the core of our urban transit debate. I look forward to reaching a solution that will work for many generations to come.











Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

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