Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The movement to keep SR-520 from being overbuilt will miss the coverage provided by the Seattle-P-I. An article in that grand newspaper's last issue today offers a chance to comment on the need for WSDOT and Sound Transit, in their joint supplemental EIS, to include the transit-optimized four-lane alternative, which so far has been excluded. Here is a link for you to file your own comment, and below is mine.

The SR-520 Green Alternative Coalition is calling for the transit-optimized four-lane alternative to be in the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. WSDOT and Sound Transit (joint leads on the EIS) are excluding the transit-optimized four-lane alternative from the supplemental EIS, and Governor Gregoire (who WSDOT works for) and Mayor Nickels (who chairs Sound Transit) are going along with suppression of this alternative, which is the most climate-friendly, and likely the only one the state can afford.

Because the transit-optimized four-lane alternative has wider lanes and shoulders and better lane and ramp geometry than the current bridge, it would accommodate more traffic, but not so much as causes the six-lane alternatives to seriously worsen our region's contribution to global warming. And WSDOT estimates that the six-lane alternatives all have costs that are beyond any reasonable financing package.

This alternative is the only one that will not reduce transit share. SR-520 has one of the best transit shares of any highway in the country, but all six-lane alternatives would greatly worsen it, reducing the proportion of those crossing the bridge who are in buses or van pools.

The mediation process has incorporated into the six-lane alternatives many environmental and neighborhood enhancements that should be in the transit-optimized four-lane alternative, making it far more effective than the barebones, caricatured four-lane alternative that WSDOT posed and rejected in the draft EIS.

Climate issues have been raised about the proposed tunnel for the Alaska Way Viaduct project, even though it actually reduces the number of highway lanes from six to four. Climate issues are far more significant for SR-520, where the only alternatives now in the supplemental EIS would increase the number of highway lanes from four to six, and add shoulders that could be converted for a total of eight lanes of traffic.

EPA's estimate is that 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide come from the transportation sector. The percentage contribution of the transportation sector is higher in the Northwest and especially the Puget Sound region because the contribution of the electric power industry to greenhouse gas emissions is so much less here. The proportion of this region's greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the transportation sector is growing faster than for any other sector. Single occupancy driving is easily the largest part of this huge and growing contribution of our region to global warming.

The Friends of the Earth web site at http://www.foe.org/economic_stimulus/climate-impacts.html has links to the following studies showing how highway expansion increases greenhouse gas: Jan./Feb. 2003 article in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management; Feb. 2007 study by SPEC; 2005 study by Environmental Defense; and Oct. 2007 study by Seattle's own Sightline Institute, also available at http://www.sightline.org/research/energy/res_pubs/climate-analysis-gge-new-lanes-10-07 The Sightline study estimates an addition of 100,000 tons of CO2 over a period of fifty years from each mile of new highway lane.

One cannot take the governor's or the mayor's commitment on climate change issues seriously when the agencies they lead are doing a supplemental EIS that examines only the SR-520 alternatives that would add two lanes to the currently four-lane SR-520 bridge, while suppressing the most climate-friendly alternative, and likely the only one that the state can afford. The transit-optimized four-lane alternative must be fully and fairly considered in the supplemental EIS.

Chris Leman, cleman@oo.net
SR-520 Green Alternative Coalition
(206) 322-5463

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