Highway 520 design in federal court on Tuesday

Jul 9, 2012

Even as its construction is well underway, design plans for the new 520 bridge across Lake Washington continue to spark controversy.

A federal judge will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a lawsuit against the replacement project by the State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

Neighborhood groups on the Seattle side of the bridge want to see its expansion put on hold.

A group called the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 accuses the federal highway administration of skimping on required environmental and fiscal impact statements for the new bridge and of forging ahead with the design wanted by the state.

“Because when you come right down to it, the final document has only one alternative. And that’s a six-lane highway,” says Fran Conley, who coordinates the coalition of neighborhood councils and boating advocates on the Seattle side of the project. 

For several years, they have advocated for a smaller replacement bridge that would have less impact on the sensitive areas around the Arboretum and Portage Bay.

“These are areas where people kayak and swim and boat and walk and bird watch, every day of the year,” Conley says.

And now that the tolls have gone in on the old bridge, the free-flowing traffic and data that have come with them are proving that the state didn’t need to rush with the six-lane design, she says.

“Why didn’t they study, for instance, a four-lane highway with tolls, which is working well now and is expected to work for the next twenty years or so? ”

The group also says because the state is at least $2 Billion dollars short of funding for the current design, money should be put into safety upgrades, rather than expansion.

The State Department of Transportation declined an interview on the lawsuit while the case is active, but issued a statement:

“We believe that the environmental review process was very thorough and legally sufficient, ” it says.

Meantime, work continues on parts of the project that are not subject to the lawsuit, including building pontoons in Aberdeen and adding a carpool lane and other improvements on the eastside of the 520 corridor.

A decision from the federal judge is likely by the end of this summer.