WSDOT is coming to the neighborhood on Thursday, September 11th with new plans for a shorter Montlake Lid — and high hopes of getting enough state funding next year to finish the SR-520 Replacement project through Seattle. Since the last design update in 2012, WSDOT has partnered with the City of Seattle to respond to critical public feedback asking for better pedestrian and bicycle access. Next week’s open house is the first unveiling of the collaborative effort.
So… a shorter lid? Yep. Previous plans from 2012 call for a 1400-foot-long landscaped lid over the future 520 from Montlake Blvd to Montlake’s eastern shoreline. This new plan calls for a much shorter 800-foot-long lid from a wee bit west of Montlake Blvd to 24th Ave East (the ex-MOHAI overpass). Goodbye eastern lid.
But wait, there’s more. A new bicycle-and-pedestrian-only bascule bridge over the Montlake Cut is now on the table, location yet to be determined. This follows a 2012 study concluding bike and pedestrian access on the Montlake Bridge is inadequate and even dangerous. The same study also concluded the vehicular capacity of the four-lane bridge is nowhere near its limit (it’s the inefficient intersections before and after the bridge that cause congestion, not the bridge itself), so there is no reason to build a second vehicular bridge. For now.
WSDOT will also present updated designs for a new Portage Bay Bridge, now including a 16-foot wide multi-use trail. Amazingly, it took “overwhelming” public comments in the year 2012 A.D. to finally convince WSDOT to allow people to walk and bike on what will be a rather large urban bridge. Important questions remain about how people will connect to the trail at either end.
Back to the “short lid.” WSDOT claims the plan improves neighborhood connectivity with better bike and pedestrian access compared to the 2012 “long lid” plan. Its shorter length doesn’t require mechanical ventilation and giant air shafts — and of course removing some 600 feet of concrete lid covering twelve lanes of highway would trim millions from the project’s unfunded need.
In lieu of the long lid’s eastern end, the short lid plan includes a “land bridge” over 520 with a trail connecting the Arboretum area to McCurdy Park and Hamlin Street. A land bridge is a lighter structure up to 70 feet wide that doesn’t support the weight of tall trees but is instead flanked by grassy mounds that block noise from the mega-highway below. It also has a much easier grade up and over for walkers and bikers. Check it out in the image at the top of this post.
Expect to see other improved connections to local streets and trails in the short lid plan at the public open house. One obvious question is: are such improvements made possible by reducing the length of the lid — or would they too be expected as common sense refinements to the long lid plan? Simply cutting back on hard-won mitigation during WSDOT’s “preferred alternative” process will likely not sit well. A shorter lid only makes sense if it affords new benefits that are unique to it.
SR 520 west side design open house — Thursday, September 11th, 4:30-7:30pm — Montlake Community Center