Washington governor signs Seattle viaduct tunnel, floating bridge bills

| 5/21/2009

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law two bills that are intended to ease traffic congestion and make travel safer in the Seattle area.

The first bill authorizes the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. The second bill allows the state to charge tolls on the state Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington in King County to pay for a replacement bridge.

The governor touted the benefits of approving both bills.

“Together, these projects will improve our immediate transportation needs as well as build a statewide transportation system to move us into the 21st century,” Gregoire said in a released statement.

Previously SB5768, one new law authorizes replacement of the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct with a stacked four-lane, deep-bore tunnel under First Avenue.

The half-century old viaduct is part of state Route 99. It is used by about 100,000 vehicles each day. It was damaged by an earthquake in 2001.

The route is regarded as a major thoroughfare for commerce, with truck traffic carrying goods in and out of the Port of Seattle. Also of note, a provision in the bill permits the use of compression brakes in the deep-bore tunnel.

The plan commits as much as $2.4 billion in state money to the project and adds an additional $400 million, possibly from tolls.

Seattle property owners are responsible for cost overruns in excess of $2.8 billion related to replacing the existing Viaduct with the tunnel. The city of Seattle also is required to pay for all utility relocation costs.

Construction on the $4.3 billion project is slated to begin in 2011.

Another bill signed by the governor – HB2211 – approves a plan to toll truckers and others crossing the state Route 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge to pay for a replacement. The 45-year-old structure, which carries about 118,000 vehicles each day, is vulnerable to earthquakes and major windstorms.

Tolls will be collected before construction of a $4.65 billion replacement bridge. The state Transportation Commission will decide how much to charge depending on the time of the day and congestion.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Howard Hart of Spokane, WA, said he doesn’t have a problem with charging tolls to pay for the replacement bridge.

“I’m not opposed to it because it’s strictly a user fee. The people using that project are paying for it, not everybody else,” Hart told Land Line.

Hart also said it’s important to make sure that the tolls go away once the new bridge is paid off.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.