On Monday, October 24, the Seattle City Council approved legislation authorizing Mayor McGinn to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) that will protect the City’s interests on the SR 520 bridge replacement project. The City Council initiated this agreement to follow up on our comment letters to WSDOT during the environmental review process. WSDOT agreed to most of our recommendations, and this MOU is the formal mechanism that creates the implementation plan. Mayor McGinn supported the legislation and the agreement. The full text of the agreement and authorizing legislation can be found at Council Bill 117303.
The MOU creates a formal agreement between the City and WSDOT to work collaboratively to address the issues of making the design, construction, and operation of the Westside portion of the SR 520 bridge project work for Seattle, our environment, and our neighborhoods. It ensures that the City will participate in critical west side decisions and that neighborhood traffic management and tree protection will be a priority. The City and our state and regional partners have been working hard to improve the design and safety of this critical corridor. This MOU ensures that the City will continue to be involved as the final design and construction decisions are made and implemented.
The MOU also defines the commitments that the State is making to implement the recommendations made by the City Council during the EIS process. It outlines the activities that WSDOT and the City will undertake, individually and jointly, as part of the project. The joint projects include design review, connecting the new cross-lake bicycle and pedestrian trail to city facilities, developing triggers and a decision-making process for whether a second Montlake Bridge will be constructed, and developing a neighborhood traffic management plan.
The MOU protects the City by:
- Securing a formal commitment from WSDOT on key project design elements and to build all of the Westside elements of the project.
- Establishing the intent of the City and State to meet timelines for project completion.
- Acknowledging the joint City/WSDOT effort to establish a further MOU relating to whether and when to construct a second Montlake bridge.
- Clarifying the mitigation commitments from WSDOT that are required as part of the environmental process, and those that WSDOT has agreed to implement to meet the City’s goals and objectives for the project.
- Ensuring that the City maintains a meaningful role throughout the Project design review process.
- Ensuring that the City is at the table during the construction process to protect the interests of our neighborhoods.
- Ensuring that the City will be consulted if changes are considered in the future.
Earlier this summer, WSDOT completed the environmental process for the program, issuing the Final Environmental Impact Statement. In July, the federal government issued the Record of Decision giving federal approval to the I-5 to Medina project. WSDOT awarded a design-build contract for the new SR 520 floating bridge in August, and construction is expected to begin on Lake Washington in 2012. Construction on the first part of the project, from I-405 to Lake Washington is under way on the Eastside, and the new pontoons are under construction in Grays Harbor.
The final stage of project development requires securing full funding for the project. The legislature is expected to take up a transportation funding plan in 2012 or 2013 that will complete the funding package.
It has been a long, fourteen year road to get from the first review of replacement options for the SR 520 Bridge to this MOU that sets in place the method for making the final decisions on the Westside portion of the project. The City Council has worked through that time period to address the safety issues around the bridge, while at the same time protecting our neighborhoods and the environment, providing the opportunity for better transit and bicycle/pedestrian facilities for the future, and working with WSDOT to modify and improve the design. There are no perfect designs for a transportation facility like this, but the final project realizes the large majority of the City’s objectives, and this MOU makes it possible to make even more positive refinements as the project moves into construction.