Connecting Neighborhoods by Lidding I-5

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One of the largest and  most visible structures in Seattle is I-5. Construction of the Interstate from Mexico to Canada destroyed many neighborhoods and neighborhood connections. From the day the freeway opened you could see it, hear it and smell it, but it was hard to get over, under or around. To this day it is the single biggest barrier between many of our most densely populated neighborhoods. To minimize its negative effects the best solution is to put a lid over I-5.

We’ve already experienced the benefit of lidding a small portion at Freeway Park and the Convention Center. You don’t even notice the freeway from the center of Freeway Park. The Seattle area already has other freeway lids that are well proven to improve the quality of life for residents. Aubrey Davis Park (aka the Mercer Island lid) is a wonderful park with great ball fields, picnic areas and bike paths and the Sam Smith Park over I-90 in the Mount Baker neighborhoods are good examples. Recently three beautiful landscaped lids connecting Hunts Point, Yarrow Bay and Medina at the east end of the new SR-520 floating bridge opened.

Two things are happening that are motivating neighborhoods to call for lidding the freeway: The Convention Center is planning a four-square block addition next to I-5 on Pine Street, due north of the Paramount Theater; and, Light Rail stations will be opening on the east side of I-5 from the University District north to Northgate over the next decade.

Why not use lids to connect these neighborhoods?  Lids are a practical way to create “new land” that could meet so many needs. We could use them to build new parks, schools, affordable housing, office buildings, retail, pedestrian paths, and to reconnect roads.

The Convention Center expansion will be a catalyst to reinvigorate the neighborhoods on both sides of I-5 by bringing tens of thousands of visitors to the area annually. A variety of new services and businesses will be created to appeal to them. Wouldn’t it be better for conventioneers to get to the Pike-Pine Corridor through a park than a freeway overpass?

The Convention Center expansion will also create hundreds of service jobs. It will be challenging for these employees to find affordable housing in Seattle. It would be ideal to provide workers with affordable housing nearby, built over I-5.

Similarly, with so many new families moving to Downtown, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and First Hill, Seattle Public Schools will likely need to find a site for one or more new schools. A school on a lid over I-5 between Pine Street and Olive Way would be central to all these neighborhoods.

Recognizing the need for students to get to and from the forthcoming light rail station, the City is already planning to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-5 from the Northgate Light Rail station to the North Seattle College campus. During the Move Seattle campaign last fall I heard repeated calls from the Wallingford neighborhood to improve connections to the University District Light Rail Station. A lid near 45th Avenue with a safe pedestrian path would help more people use light rail.

On Wednesday, December 16, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and I co-hosted a Council “Lunch & Learn” to hear about the possibilities of reconnecting Downtown to Capitol Hill.  Leaders from the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council (PPUNC) and the Northwest Urbanist  provided an analysis on the costs of various types of lids, and possible uses for a lid between Pike and Pine Streets and Pine Street and Olive Way.  They also shared examples of freeway lids across the country.

We learned that Dallas has a great example of what can be done in Klyde Warren Park. Like the Pike-Olive opportunity above I-5, the park is two square blocks in size. It’s well-activated, connects neighborhoods and is used by people of every generation.

Lids also appear to be more and more affordable. Typically ranging in cost between $200-$600 per square foot to construct, lids are cheaper than the cost of most parcels of land in Downtown or the Pike-Pine Corridor.

PPUNC explained we’re still at the back-of-the-envelope stage of determining how much a neighborhood connection above I-5 would cost. A thorough analysis of the engineering requirements must be completed and WashDOT, the owner of the air-rights above the freeway, must be supportive.

I support lidding more of I-5.  Seattle has often met the challenge of a growing City by developing innovative ideas.

With the organizing and support of our neighborhoods and strong leadership from public officials to seize this moment I’m optimistic about the outcome of this opportunity.