Mercer Island’s Aubrey Davis has had big impact on regional transportation

Drivers approach the western portal of the Mercer Island Lid from the I-90 bridge on a winter evening. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Drivers approach the western portal of the Mercer Island Lid from the I-90 bridge on a winter evening. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
Islander Aubrey Davis is not a white-haired bureaucrat who tells stories about the past.
No, what you will learn during a conversation with Mr. Davis over a cup of hot chocolate at the new Starbucks on the North end is a man concerned not with the past, but the future.
An island resident for nearly 50 years, Davis has been a key figure in Mercer Island’s history.
Just two other individuals are mentioned more in the pages of the book, “Mercer Island Heritage,” the semi-official written record of the Island. The first is Ben Werner, a fellow city Councilman and mayor of Mercer Island who worked alongside Davis to rein in the scope and the impact of the I-90 project.
The other is Vitas Schmid, a German-born wagon-maker originally from Illinois, who filed a claim for Island land and built a cabin here in 1876.
The story of Schmid, who struggled to keep his claim in this unique and beautiful place, mirrors the story of Davis and the Islanders who took on the then-powerful Washington State Highway Commission in the 1970s.
Davis and others who took the state to task during the massive expansion of I-90 made a profound impact on the quality of life on Mercer Island and established its importance (and his influence) to the regional transportation network.
The 1976 Memorandum of Understanding with the state and others, hammered out in dozens of meetings and hearings, set the standard for public involvement in major civic projects throughout the region ever since.
In 1970, Davis formed a committee to protect the quality of life on the Island as the state set out to expand I-90 across the north end.
The committee and the lawsuit that followed charged that the State Department of Highways had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and improperly treated citizens whose property was within the project right of way.
Davis_AubreyThe lawsuit halted construction on the East Channel Bridge while the issues were sorted out. Davis knew that working with the other communities affected along the corridor would strengthen not only the position of Islanders but would improve the entire project.
These efforts led to the MOU with the state that gave communities affected by the interstate certain rights, and the standing to object or intervene.
The MOU is still an important document within the ongoing discussions about I-90: from the rights of Islanders to drive alone in the center (express) lanes and the placement of facilities for future transit lanes and stations as well.
Davis has a long and rich professional life.
Davis has been in a leadership role at Group Health Cooperative since he was a founding member in 1947, serving for three years as the CEO. Appointed by Sen. Brock Adams, he headed the Northwest region office of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
He has served on boards and commissions regarding public works throughout his adult life: the Mercer Island City Council, serving as mayor for a four-year term; King County Metro; the Puget Sound Regional Council and many other working advisory groups regarding transportation issues.
In his current role on the board of the Puget Sound Regional Council, Davis keeps looking ahead. Keeping the momentum going on improving our regional transportation is paramount.
Yes, these new transit projects are underway, he said. But there is no time to waste.
“It is not time to sit back,” Davis said. “There is a crisis of funding for future transportation now. Projects underway now have come from sources that are drying up.”
With fewer miles being driven and more efficient vehicles on the road, the gas tax which provided a good surrogate for user fees, is now less effective than before. Tolling and other pricing methods for using roadways are unavoidable, he added. It is the next item on the list.
Now 92, Mr. Davis remains a full and active member in the discussion of growth and change for our region. He aims to keep focused on keeping Islanders and Puget Sound moving forward.
Mary L. Grady is the editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at

Transportation: Western Washington’s No. 1 challenge

This view of I-90 looks east from Mercer Island toward Bellevue and the I-405 interchange. Photo by Chad Coleman.

This view of I-90 looks east from Mercer Island toward Bellevue and the I-405 interchange. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Mary L. Grady
Reporter Newspapers
What is happening here?
To even the least jaded of commuters, the transportation system in the central Puget Sound region is a jumble of acronyms and staggering numbers.
It is confusing on any scale. Why do we need to pay more to ride a Sound Transit bus rather than Metro? We see WSDOT signs along I-405 and SR-167, yet wonder who sets and collects those HOT lane tolls.
Congestion is no longer something faced by those driving in and out of Seattle — it has crept east and south to neighborhoods and towns, both big and small. Whether we realize it or not, the flaws and foibles of the region’s transportation networks have ingrained themselves into our daily lives.
Uncertainty and longer commute times have taught us many things. It is important to pay attention to changes brought about by freeway shut-downs for major construction — we log on to computers or listen to the radio before we set out for work.
Somehow, these lifeless ribbons of concrete and steel are no longer just part of the landscape; they make news.
When the I-90 bridge sank in 1990, Puget Sounders woke up to the fact that the concrete and steel we took for granted were indeed vulnerable. The 6.8 Nisqually earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001, was another wake-up call. Weather reports that formerly included temperatures from SeaTac now report the wind speeds on the increasingly fragile SR-520 bridge.
The timing is perhaps fortuitous. The teetering stack of increasing congestion, rising fuel prices and the paradoxical factor of huge SUVs and 53-foot-long commercial trucks have brought us to the tipping point. The global economic meltdown that began late last year gave urgency to the situation.
We knew it was serious when commuters left their cars behind and crammed onto buses. Ironically, these threats to our treasured mobility have reached critical mass at the same time that major transportation projects in the works for years are coming to fruition.
So, how did we get here?
In the late 1970s, housing prices exploded within the urban centers of the Puget Sound region. People moved east and south along the interstate corridors, trading longer commute times for affordable housing.
The interstate highway system in place here, along with our love affair with cars, had people driving long distances for work and play. Gasoline was plentiful and affordable. Cars became second homes with creature comforts.
But it was not to last.
Our awareness of the fragility of our highway system stared us in the face during the stormy night when part of the I-90 bridge sank.
Now, the crisis has become personal as we fill the tank with $3 gas, wait for a half hour to merge 300 feet, or inch our way into the mall parking lot during the holidays. We have long wanted a solution, but we thought it didn’t really have much to do with us. It seemed someone else should pay.
At the polls, we face ballot measures with figures that look like the national debt. How could it possibly cost $100 million to fix a highway, or add a bus lane?
And just what is the difference between Sound Transit and Metro, anyway, and what about WSDOT? Why are we continuing to spend money on roads when driving less is key to slowing climate change? And we are worried. Will I have to pay every time I drive my car? Or worse, will I not get to go where I want, when I want?
Yet, there is hope. Some of those millions have been spent so that you can pay a few bucks in those HOT lanes and get where you are going faster. Getting to Mariners games from the Eastside is a piece of cake on the bus.
That new interchange, express bus route or transit center nearby offers relief in both time and lower gas bills.
And last summer, many proved that they were ready to embrace light rail as 45,000 people rode the Sound Transit Central Link on its inaugural run. Getting to the airport will be easier just in time for the holidays.
We hope to help you sort out what is happening with roads and transit — not only regionally, but in your neighborhood. We will identify the players, talk about the money and what the future holds.
We hope to continue the conversation with you, and our law and policy makers via the Web, our radio partner, KIRO, and of course, in print.
Whether it is getting to work, to the doctor, school or the mountains to enjoy the mountains, we are all in this together.
Mary Grady is editor of the Mercer Island Reporter. She can be reached at

Eastside light rail: What will it bring?


By Joshua Adam Hicks
Reporter Newspapers
Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1 last November, setting the stage for bringing Link Light Rail to the Eastside.
Planning is now under way for East Link, an 18-mile extension of the system that would connect downtown Seattle with Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond.
Along with light rail comes transit-oriented development, which means increased density for targeted areas like the Bel-Red corridor and Overlake.
The cities of Bellevue and Redmond are working with Sound Transit to coordinate plans for their areas.
“Light rail around the country has proven to be a real catalyst for development,” said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray.
Sound Transit opened the light-rail routing discussions in December, asking the public where and how its tracks should be laid.
The agency’s board of directors chose a set of preferred alternatives in May, but the committee isn’t expected to make a final decision on alignments until after an environmental impact study is completed in 2010.
Mercer Island makes for perhaps the easiest call, with only one proposed line running along Interstate 90 and stopping once at a station between 77th and 80th Avenues.
The other cities are a different story.

A myriad of options become available once light rail jumps into Bellevue off of I-90.
The board’s preferred alternative for south Bellevue would run on elevated tracks along the east side of Bellevue Way Southeast, before touching down near the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride. It would then travel at-grade to 112th Avenue Southeast and continue downtown.
Residents from neighborhoods adjacent to Bellevue Way have opposed this plan in favor of a line that would run along the abandoned Burlington Northern Sante Fe tracks near 118th Avenue Southeast.
Efforts are still under way to get Sound Transit to choose a modified route along that right of way, although those plans have met with opposition from nearby condo-dwellers.
The Sound Transit board approved two options for downtown Bellevue: one that uses a tunnel and another that runs at-grade. Both the city and the Bellevue Downtown Association are opposed to the surface alternative.
“It would be a nightmare to lose any part of Bellevue Way during construction,” said Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger.
The board’s preferred tunnel option would travel beneath 108th Avenue Northeast, stop at the Bellevue Transit Center, and then turn up Northeast 12th Street toward a station near the hospital district.
The surface route would run along Main Street before heading one way in each direction along 110th Avenue Northeast and 108th Avenue Northeast with a stop at the Bellevue Transit Center. It would then turn onto Northeast 12th Street and stop again in the hospital district.
Sound Transit estimates that the tunnel option would cost an additional $500 million – money not covered as part of the ballot measure that voters approved in November.
It’s up to the city of Bellevue to find the means for financing the underground alternative. Degginger says the city is confident it can find cost savings in the proposed Sound Transit routes, for instance by running surface rather than elevated tracks along the Bel-Red corridor.
Degginger also suggested that Sound Transit’s cost estimates for building a tunnel are high. Nonetheless, the city is working to identify potential funding sources for the underground alternative.

The Sound Transit Board chose a preferred route from downtown Bellevue to Overlake Transit Center that serves the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village and the Microsoft campus.
The tracks would run elevated and at-grade to the north of Bel-Red Road, mainly along a newly expanded Northeast 16th Street that Bellevue plans to build.
The route then turns up 136th Place Northeast and connects with SR 520 before crossing to the north side of Northeast 24th Street and then hooking into a station at 152nd Place Northeast.
From there the tracks would run along 520 to reach Overlake Transit Center.
Sound Transit is already making plans to extend East Link to downtown Redmond, although it would take another voter-approved initiative to bring that concept to fruition.
The board has identified a preferred alternative in the event that this happens. The route would run along the south side of 520, touching the edge of Marymoor Park, before turning onto the BNSF right of way for a stop at the Redmond Town Center.
From there the tracks would travel to 161st Avenue Northeast and then stop.
The original plan called for the route to move up 161st Avenue, but there was opposition to that idea because of the number of homes and business that would be displaced.

Board representation
Degginger has suggested that Bellevue should have a representative on the seven-member Sound Transit Board.
“It’s been a huge handicap not having a Bellevue representative,” he said. “So much of East Link runs through Bellevue.”
King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison has seconded that notion, mentioning it several times during her primary campaign.
Redmond Mayor John Marchione, one of three Eastside representatives on the board, says the committee works fine the way it is.
“If a representative comes from Bellevue only to represent the city, that would be disappointing,” he said. “It needs to reflect what the global light-rail system looks like.”
The other Eastside board members include Mary-Alyce Burleigh of Kirkland and Fred Butler of Issaquah.
Joshua Adam Hicks is a writer for the Bellevue Reporter. He can be reached at

Vanpools offer attractive and cost-effective option to commuters


By Michael Ennis
Vanpooling is a little known public transit option that turns out to be the most efficient, flexible and effective in reducing traffic congestion.
How much do you pay to commute to work? If you drive, as most of us do, then it is probably close to the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) average of .16 cents per mile. If you ride public transit, then you probably pay less.
An average commute from Tacoma to Seattle would cost a driver about $2,688 per year. The same trip on a bus would cost about $1,440 per year. Taking the Sounder Commuter Rail would cost almost $2,000 per year.
Most commuters prefer their car and accept the higher cost of driving because of the freedom of mobility, speed and flexibility it affords. This freedom possesses both tangible and intangible benefits which are a greater value than the monetary savings of taking public transit. Indeed, more than 90 percent of people in the region choose to drive a car, despite the eighth worse traffic congestion in the country.
For some people, public transit works best in the dense urban areas of downtown Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue, where the share of daily commuters using public transit is highest.
Research shows that the biggest influence on ridership is density. Transit ridership is less than 1 percent of all commuters in areas with less than 10,000 people per square mile. Transit ridership rises to 3 percent with densities between 10,000 and 25,000 people per square mile; and 8 percent when the density is above 25,000 people per square mile.
Vanpools---Michael-EnnisWhile transit use in the Puget Sound region is slightly higher than the national average, the density of Seattle is only about 7,000 people per square mile and Bellevue is about 3,200 people per square mile.
This concept becomes clear with the region’s plan for light rail, connecting the less dense suburbs of Federal Way, Tukwila, Lynnwood and across the I-90 bridge to Bellevue. Despite spending more than thirty years and $40 billion, officials estimate it would serve only about 2.4 percent of all trips in the region.
Light rail proponents say shifting 2.4 percent of people off the roadway by 2030 is a good start. But Sound Transit reports that two-thirds of these riders are coming from buses and are already being served by existing public transportation. This means light rail will actually only shift less than one percent of drivers from the roads.
All this means the region’s traffic congestion will continue to grow. It is estimated that the Puget Sound area will see the same congestion as present day Los Angeles within 20 years.
One transit option however costs less, provides flexibility, convenience and mobility and reduces the number of cars on the road. It is vanpooling.
There are six vanpool programs around the Puget Sound with about 1,700 vans on the road every day. King County’s program alone carries more people than Sound Transit’s entire Sounder Commuter Rail and for about 1/7th the cost.
In 2003, the Washington State Department of Transportation conducted a study on vanpool use and found a significant undeveloped market in the Puget Sound region. The study showed greater awareness by the public could result in a 600 percent increase in vanpool use.
For a fraction of the cost, vanpools have the potential to carry about 20 percent more trips than Sound Transit’s $22.8 billion light rail expansion.
Unlike light rail however, where two-thirds of riders are drawn from existing buses, the growth in vanpools would come almost exclusively from motorists. If the WSDOT analysis is correct, vanpools could shift about 72,000 single occupant vehicles from the roadway every day.
Vanpools also require significantly less capital and operating costs than fixed route buses and rail programs and vanpool passengers cover most of these expenses.
To run a vanpool program, users pay about 70 percent of the cost, while taxpayers cover the remaining 30 percent. Rail and bus programs collect only about 20 percent from users and 80 percent from public taxes.
High farebox recovery ratios might lead someone to believe that riding in a vanpool would cost a lot.
Remember the daily commute between Tacoma and Seattle?
A passenger in an average vanpool would only pay about $1,044 per year. That is 28 percent cheaper than taking a bus, 48 percent cheaper than using the Sounder Commuter Rail, and 61 percent cheaper than driving.

Michael Ennis is transportation director at Washington Policy Center, a non-partisan independent policy research organization in Seattle and Olympia. For more information contact WPC at 206-937-9691 or

R-Trip gives Redmond workers incentives to try transit options

Left to right, Kim Keeling, Jill Smith and Erika Vandenbrande are members of the R-Trip (Redmond Trip Resource & Incentive Program) team which helps city employees and residents find alternatives to driving alone. Satisfied participants say they save money, improve their physical fitness, have less stress and are happy to help the environment by walking, biking, carpooling or using public transportation whenever possible. Photo by Mary Stevens Decker.

Left to right, Kim Keeling, Jill Smith and Erika Vandenbrande are members of the R-Trip (Redmond Trip Resource & Incentive Program) team which helps city employees and residents find alternatives to driving alone. Satisfied participants say they save money, improve their physical fitness, have less stress and are happy to help the environment by walking, biking, carpooling or using public transportation whenever possible. Photo by Mary Stevens Decker.

By Mary Stevens Decker
Reporter Newspapers
In burgeoning Eastside cities such as Redmond, Bellevue, Kirkland and Sammamish, there are better ways to get to work, school or the grocery store than driving alone.
Most people know there are alternatives — walking, biking, carpooling or riding the bus. And most understand the benefits, such as saving money, getting more exercise and reducing carbon emissions. But frankly, many are too intimidated by the logistical planning.
Meet R-Trip (Redmond Trip Resource & Incentive Program).
This comprehensive city of Redmond program helps both workers and residents zip through the process of identifying modes of transportation that suit their personal needs, yet benefit the entire region.
Through partnerships with the Greater Redmond Transportation Management Association (GRTMA), Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce, King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit, R-Trip staff members incentivize employers to promote trip reduction. Giving employees free or discounted transit passes, flexible work schedules, increased bicycle parking or even bicycle jerseys can reduce workers’ tension, which in turn, increases productivity, lowers health care costs and improves the environment for everyone.
“The set menu is, ‘Try it, you’ll like it. Then you’ll want to do it more,’” explained Erika Vandenbrande, transportation demand manager for the city of Redmond.
R-Trip offers subsidies for vanpool riders, cash rewards for workers or residents who bike or walk as often as possible and grants to employers who want to initiate or enhance trip reduction programs.
“Typically, when employees see parking issues, that’s where the light bulb goes on for employers,” said Vandenbrande. “Do we build more parking or offer employees a transit pass?”
R-Trip literature can be found online, at
“And we do lots of transportation events, in company cafeterias at lunch hour,” said Jill Smith, business commute program coordinator for the city of Redmond.
“This is free to employers,” Smith noted. “There’s nothing to lose. And we literally walk the streets to talk to people about the trip reduction programs. Downtown Redmond and Willows Road were our big push this summer. Employees wished for more bus service there, more car and vanpools.”
Vandenbrande agreed, “It’s a multi-tiered approach. Large employers are subject to state trip reduction laws.”
Thus, Microsoft is on-board with its own fleet of buses and vans. Other big corporations such as Honeywell, Aerojet, Astronics and PhysioControl also help workers consolidate or eliminate driving trips.
But trip reduction has to go beyond that.
“Now, smaller businesses are hearing people say they hate their commute, they’re late because of the traffic,” said Vandenbrande.
She said Redmond Mayor John Marchione and the current Redmond City Council have been staunchly supportive of trip reduction measures first introduced during former Mayor Rosemarie Ives administration, in line with the strategic vision of linking two thriving urban neighborhoods, Downtown and Overlake.
“To have two vital urban centers, you can’t have a patchwork of parking cars superimposed on top of it,” said Vandenbrande. “By 2021, we hope to have light rail in Overlake and the city is pushing to bring that to Downtown.”
That’s not fast enough for the legions of frustrated commuters who need to get across Redmond or the Eastside today.
Determined to set the pace, the city of Redmond encourages its own employees to use alternative means of transportation and has hired a new part-time R-Trip coordinator, Kim Keeling, to educate colleagues about ride shares, loaner bikes and walking routes.
R-Trip’s Bicycling Guide and Transit Map takes guess work out of how to get around Redmond and neighboring cities. And R-Trip staff members are producing videos and other educational materials to address the most basic questions such as “how to ride the bus” or “how to put your bike on the bus,” said Smith. “It’s easier than people think.”
Another misconception is that once you commit to an alternative commute plan, you have to stick with it 100 percent of the time.
Not true, said Smith.
Walking, biking, carpooling or riding the bus even one day a week makes a difference.
Mary Stevens Decker is a reporter for the Redmond Reporter. She can be contacted at

I-405: Yes, there is some good news

Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed - 60 mph - should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn't happen. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed - 60 mph - should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn't happen. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Dean A. Radford
Reporter Newspapers
First the bad news, which should be no surprise to anyone.
That 14-mile stretch of Interstate 405 between Renton and Bellevue is the most congested piece of freeway in the state. That’s not much solace when you’re trying to get to work. But at least you have lots of company.
But the good news is that the state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on I-405 from Tukwila to Bellevue and beyond by widening and removing bridges, including the Wilburton Tunnel in Bellevue, and adding lanes to shave minutes off that commute.
So how does the state arrive at its congestion estimation?
Going north to Bellevue from Renton at freeway speed – 60 mph – should take about 14 minutes. Anyone who drives the freeway regularly knows that doesn’t happen.
Here’s the reality.
“For someone to get to their destination, they would need to give themselves an hour,” said Stacy Trussler, the I-405 deputy project director for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Going southbound, she said, the congestion is even worse.
And then there’s the other bottleneck that adds aggravating minutes – lots of them – to the northbound morning commute from Kent or Auburn to the Eastside.
That bottleneck is the complex interchange at State Route 167 (the Valley Freeway) and Interstate 405 in Renton. It has the distinction of being in a tie with the junction of Interstate 5 and I-90 in downtown Seattle as the most congested freeway interchange in the state.
“That is a critical link to relieving the congestion on the Eastside corridor,” Trussler said. The state will seek federal dollars to help make necessary improvements.
That congestion also causes backups on southbound 405 through downtown Renton when drivers queue in the right-hand lane to take the SR 167 exit to Kent and Auburn.
But help is already on the way, from Renton to Bellevue and all the way to where I-405 runs again into Interstate 5 north of Bothell.
When built, I-405 was intended as a relief valve for traffic on Interstate 5. Now, 405 has become the key freeway thoroughfare to handle the Eastside’s growth.
Already, the traffic is moving faster on 405 between Renton and Bellevue, thanks to the addition of a northbound lane between 112th Avenue Southeast in Newcastle and I-90. And because of that, Trussler says, the transportation department has received “a whole lot of love letters,” thanking the state for improving the commute and cutting down on travel times – about 20 or 25 minutes at certain times of the day.
The worst congestion from Renton to Bellevue has been reduced dramatically, with bottlenecks gone, Trussler says. But the state can’t yet consistently promise a 14-mile trip in 14 minutes, if that’s even a realistic goal. That’s because the state still doesn’t have the money to add capacity – more lanes – to 405 starting at about the Maple Valley Highway in Renton.
That work is being planned, at least conceptually, in a 405 master plan. In fact the state transportation department has a team that’s specifically charged with figuring out how to make the entire Eastside transportation corridor work better.
Already the state has $1.5 billion either spent or committed for “hot spots” and strategic improvements on the entire length of I-405, from its junction with I-5 at Tukwila to the south and its reconnection to I-5 to the north.
“We are well under way with the strategic and safety projects,” Trussler said.
About $180 million of that money is going to improvements in Renton, from roughly Southcenter to the Maple Valley Highway.
The work in Renton is being done in two stages. The first one will be completed this year and adds lanes to 405 between SR 167 and Tukwila. The second stage – visible now because of the massive earth-moving project near Renton City Hall – will add a freeway off-ramp and an onramp, easing traffic in downtown Renton.
The “Your Nickel at Work” signs at 405 construction sites refer to the 5-cent increase in the gas tax that voters approved in 2003. The federal government is also a major source of funding for the 405 projects, including some money from President Obama’s stimulus package.
The South Bellevue project, at a cost of about $124 million, is about 95 percent complete. It helps relieve congestion at one of the worst I-405 bottlenecks – the drive in and out of Bellevue.
That project included the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel, which carried the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks over the freeway. The project also included that much-loved new northbound lane starting near Newcastle.
The project also included between I-90 and Southeast Eighth Street in Bellevue:

  • Building one new lane in each direction from I-90 to Southeast Eighth Street
  • Building a new three-lane southbound bridge over I-90
  • Converting the existing southbound bridge over I-90 to carry the northbound HOV lane.

Already completed is one of the so-called “nickel projects” in Kirkland. The transportation department is constructing a Stage 2 project that will add a lane northbound from Northeast 70th to Northeast 85th and southbound from SR 522 to Northeast 124th and Northeast 85th to SR 520.
The state transportation department has also selected Kiewit Pacific Co. of Renton to design and build a new northbound freeway lane in Bothell, at a cost of about $19.2 million. Crews will build the lane between Northeast 195th Street and State Route 527, where afternoon commuters face severe backups daily.
Dean A. Radford is Editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at

Q&A: Joni Earl, CEO of Sound Transit

"I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there." - Joni Earl

"I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there." - Joni Earl

By Dean A. Radford
Reporter Newspapers
Joni Earl, CEO of Sound Transit, talked in a wide-ranging interview with the Reporter Newspapers recently about the regional transportation agency whose mission it is to build an interlocking system of light rail, commuter rail and long-haul buses. In its early years, there was doubt that Sound Transit would even survive. One of Earl’s first tasks was to announce that the agency was $1 billion in the hole. But under Earl’s leadership, that has all changed. Today, the agency is planning a new transit corridor to the Eastside that could change the way people commute to Seattle and back again for decades to come.

What was the state of the agency when you took over in early 2001?
I started in October 2000 as chief operating officer. I had been with the agency about three weeks when it was clear that we had a cost problem. But we didn’t know how big it was. I was put in charge as the new eyes and ears in the agency to look at the project. I was the one, with consultant help and a lot of staff help, that about six or seven weeks later announced the $1 billion cost overrun and the three-year-schedule delay. That was in December. Bob [Bob White, the agency's executive director] left after we got the $500 million grant from the Clinton administration. He then resigned at the next board meeting and I was appointed acting. My view of the state of the agency at that point was we had lost credibility with the public. Pretty major credibility. The Board of Directors was angry because they put themselves out there in support of the agency and the project. They were really disappointed because they would say they were not getting the information to know they had that deep of a problem. The Federal Transit Administration, which was the funding agency for the grant, was very angry. Our senior senator, Patty Murray, wasn’t very happy with us. Employee morale was quite bad, to say the least. But two things held true through it all that helped us. The vision for light rail was the sustaining issue. People were mad at Sound Transit, but they still supported light rail. The vision to get light rail in the region was never lost. Never. None of the polling. What I was asked to do was to take the steps necessary to save the project and rebuild the agency.

What were your initial marching orders to get the project back on track?
When the board talked with me about the acting position, I knew enough at that point that we needed a new cost-estimating system. We needed a new project-control system. We needed a way to track costs accumulatively to know what was happening on our project, because that is what had gone wrong. I needed to make a few personnel changes. I had to rebuild the federal government trust that Sound Transit could deliver the project. One of the major tests for the federal government is what they call technical and financial capability capacity. So, we ended up having a two-year audit starting right at that point by the U.S. inspector general. What I tried to do and I think collectively we did it together because I had very strong board leadership and support was to take the internal steps we needed to take to shore up our costs and our systems to manage these projects.

What did you tell your employees?
One of the reasons morale was so bad is that we had just started commuter rail in September 2000. The commuter rail part of the agency was flying high. We had started the bus program in 1999. So two-thirds of the agency, since we do much more than light rail, were delivering. And then here’s the biggest part of the project for the agency was the one that was taking us down. That was very difficult internal morale issues that we had to work through. My message to the employees and perhaps one of my greatest strengths I brought internal to the agency is that I am a big communicator. Whether it was to pull all employees together for a quick all staff or e-mails. I was very clear with the employees that if they would do their jobs, you perform, I will deal with the external and the politics of the board and all of those issues. Here is my expectation. I was very clear with my directors about being transparent with information. It doesn’t matter how bad the story is. We have to fix it. I told employees in a meeting with 150 employees that nobody would get fired for pointing out problems or issues or making errors (unless they made a whole bunch of them over and over). But they would get fired if they withheld information because we couldn’t fix something that we didn’t know existed. That is kind of what had happened at the 10,000-foot level.

So what had to happen next?
There was no silver lining to getting our credibility back with the public, other than start delivering the project. Pass the test. Pass the audits, which we did. But it took awhile. Get the feds to have confidence in us. When they have the confidence in us, we get the federal share. If we have the federal share, we can build the project. The other big piece in 2001 was the board made the decision after we did all the analysis to break the project into segments. Just opening the 14 miles. Then the airport in December. Then the university. That was all one big mega project. We were a startup. We were a brand new agency. Nobody really thought about what it takes when you are a new bureaucracy. Everything was new. There was a new HR system. You have to hire people. You have to have office space. You have to have telephones, computers. They didn’t have any of that. And they had a new 10-year plan to build $4 billion of capital in 10 years. Three new lines of service. We are the only agency in the country that I am aware of that was supposed to go from zero to a $4 billion program in 10 years and deliver service all over a three-county region. It had never been tried before.

How did Sound Transit get to the point where it was in a billion-dollar hole and already behind when it hoped to begin light rail service?
There were three fundamental problems. They just didn’t have the infrastructure in place to track costs. Real estate values were going up on the capital side. The real estate people might know it. They didn’t have a good project-control system in a state-of-the-art way to track costs. The second problem was that you had a situation where you are out talking to communities and there wasn’t what we call really good scope control. You would go out to one community and they would want a, b, c or d. You have all this money. You don’t have a good tracking system. You want to please the community or please the city you’re trying to build a project in because you have to get permits. I know the agency didn’t manage the scope of the project well in those early decisions. More things were promised than there was money in the budget to do. But nobody realized it because we didn’t have a good tracking system. The third thing was the agency had a lot of really good transit people and good engineers. What they didn’t have was someone who had run the organization part of the organization. Bob White [Earl's predecessor as executive director], to his credit came to that realization. He created the chief operating officer position. I had no transit background. I had local government background. I had run things as a city manager and deputy executive [Snohomish County]. My background is finance and accounting. I didn’t have transit experience. When he hired me, he said, “I have a lot of transit planners. I have people who know how to build projects. I need someone who knows how to run the agency in terms of the business of the agency, while others are planning and building projects.” There was no fraud. There was just a series of coming together with a really aggressive plan with really good people who didn’t have the basic infrastructure they needed to go about it.

In all the darkest days, did you ever think this isn’t worth it, that I am going to quit.
It is hard to go back to that time, although so much of it is very vivid for me. I went for literally a five-month period where I had no day off, not a Saturday or not a Sunday. My average day was 18 hours. I had five days where I never went home. There were 24-hour days when I just called my husband to bring me clothes. Sure during that time in the wee dark hours of the night, and there were other people on the staff who were working with me side by side. So there were times when I asked, What am I doing? I had never been tested like this before. I didn’t know if I had the capacity or capability to do this. For me what really stood out is I knew from the day I started here and from the people here at the agency that we had really good people here. We had a strong board that really believed in our mission. I was in a good place in that I didn’t own the problem. I didn’t create the problem. That gives you a little bit of freedom to make really hard decisions. To make personnel decisions. Or just say this is how it’s going to be. We don’t have time. We are just going to do it. You have a little bit of freedom in that circumstance. I had to go back to Congress to testify. I had a hostile chair. Congressman Norm Dicks went with me. He introduced me to the chair. He sat next to me for an hour and a half while I got peppered with questions just to support me. Sen. [Patty] Murray was just amazing support. So I just felt really good people put a lot on the line and I wanted to help them deliver it. I think for the region we needed the project. At that point it took us 30 years from Forward Thrust to get to this point. And failure had such consequence for the future of this region.

Why did it take so long for the region to come an agreement on high-capacity transit and start building?
We the region, whoever the region is, going back to Forward Thrust had a vision about the need to do high-capacity transit. But it always feels very expensive on a project basis. Out of the personal taxpayer’s pocket, it’s a pretty high investment for some people. Cost has been an issue. But we also have had wars over the years of roads vs. transit, bus vs. rail, light rail vs. monorail or vs. commuter rail. We love to debate issues. Bob White used to call it that you are constantly talking to a parade. You will start a conversation in year one. By the time you get to year five, there are new people who have joined the parade. There wasn’t from I could tell until the early 90s, after Forward Thrust, there really wasn’t a jelling around what’s the mechanism to get it built. Greg Nickels and Cynthia Sullivan [two members of the King County Council] in the mid 1980s did an advisory ballot that said, “Yes, we want it.” That, I think, was the start. That is why Greg feels so good about getting it open on his watch. They were the first ones after Jim Ellis [considered the godfather of Forward Thrust] and Forward Thrust to put it out to the voters of King County. It has taken strong leadership to stay with the vision. It would have been very easy for our board to collapse under the weight of the criticism in 2001 and say never mind, we aren’t going to do light rail. We will stick with what we are doing. There were many people trying to take us out as an agency. Some in Olympia. There was legislation introduced to break up Sound Transit. Don’t do light rail. Give bus stuff back to the local agencies. Commuter rail: Have DOT [the state transportation department] or somebody do it. But our board was steadfast.

Sound Transit chairman Greg Nickels lost his job as Seattle mayor by failing to make it past August’s primary election. What impact will Nickels’ loss have on the forward progress of Sound Transit?
I think Greg as a regional leader is going to be a big loss for the region about the vision that he has had for high-capacity transit. I can only hope that whoever wins the mayor’s race steps into the vision for high-capacity transit for the region. We have a very strong commitment on our board to our mission. And our mission is really both in the legislation that created us but also in the votes by the public. We were successful with Greg’s leadership as chair back in 2008 to get the Sound Transit 2 package passed. We now have a voter mandate to go build that project. We don’t lose commitment because Greg is no longer going to be on our board. Our mission has been defined by the voters. And we have to deliver it. And the board is very committed to that.

When do you think Sound Transit really turned the corner, when you knew that it had put behind it its financial troubles and was ready to move forward with construction?
It was when we got the clean audit from the inspector general in spring 2003. We got the federal grant in January 2001. But then the new Congress came in. Congressman Rogers as the new chair of the House Transportation Committee requested that it be put on hold. As soon as that got put on hold, even that billion-dollar cost overrun that we announced in December got impacted because now our cash flow got impacted because the federal share wasn’t going to come in on schedule. That put us in a state of, Oh, Oh. We have a plan the board just adopted in January. We got a grant, but now it was put on hold until we could pass the audit. That audit took two years. During that two-year window we put in all these new systems in terms of project management and project control. What happened when we got that clean audit, it was like an independent authority has now said Sound Transit has its act together. During that time we were continuing with the design and we were moving the project forward. But we couldn’t break ground and start construction until we got the federal grant. To get that federal grant you needed to get the clean audit. The grant was for $500 million. That was the 21 percent share of our funding.

How did you answer critics before – and now – that the public’s money would have been better spent on more buses and more roads?
We definitely have people on the trains. Often critics and proponents tend to potentially define light rail as the solution. The way I look at all public transportation is that it’s part of the solution. What we are doing is providing alternatives to sitting in your car in congestion. We are the multi-modal side. There are a lot of people who are always going to be in their cars for some reason. Some people define transit as everybody can get rid of every car that they ever had. I don’t think that’s a realistic goal. Our goal is alternatives. What light rail does is give you predictability. It gives you frequent service. We are running every 7 and 1/2 minutes during the peak hour and about 10 to 15 minutes to a half hour depending on the time of day on weekends. You are creating a regional spine of rail. Your bus service can feed it and serve other parts. What you don’t want to do is have tons of duplicate service between bus and rail. It costs a lot to build. But once you’re in operation, it takes one operator to carry 800 people if the trains are completely full. To carry the same number of people would take 9 or 10 operators, depending on the size of the bus. Your labor costs in terms of rail vs. bus for the long-haul operations are much cheaper to operate for rail on a per-passenger basis. The other thing is a very clean technology. It’s much cleaner. It’s electricity. It’s totally zero greenhouse gas emissions. To me, it’s good for the environment. I love buses, so this isn’t an antibus vs. rail. The other thing that rail has done is that it can create that nexus for development around it and higher densities around rail stations. Bus routes can change. Bus routes can move So there is more predictability for siting decisions and transit-oriented development around rail. Those rails aren’t moving. That service is there. Those are some of the things I do say to them about rail vs. bus.

Looking to the future, what can South King County expect in new service from Sound Transit over the next 10 to 20 years?
We have five subareas that we track costs and build projects in within the three counties. South King County and Pierce County are the only two areas that have commuter rail, bus and bus capital infrastructure and light rail. They are already getting all three modes of transit that Sound Transit provides, because they have had commuter rail since 2000 and buses since 1999 and now light rail. They have a lot of transit right in that area. There are about 100,000 new hours of additional bus service in Sound Transit 2. There are the extensions of light rail. On the commuter rail side we are going to get four more round trips. We are going to go from 9 to 13. We will phase in those over about the next five years. We are also going to extend the platforms for commuter rail. We can do seven-car trains. We will extend all the platforms to eight cars. We are going to add what equates to about 65 percent more capacity to commuter rail between trips and just capacity by just adding another train car to our sets. There is still a lot more service to come.

The future on the Eastside is a little more complex. Under Sound Transit 2, Eastside residents will get their own light rail on a new rail corridor and more bus service. Describe the work on the Eastside.
Probably the biggest project in the Sound Transit 2 plan is the East Link project. That is light rail that comes in from the International District station [in south Seattle], goes across I-90 to Bellevue and then to Overlake Transit Center, which is Microsoft headquarters. We don’t have the money to go all the way to downtown Redmond. But we are doing the planning all the way to downtown Redmond. We are in the final environmental impact statement process. We have looked at a combo of about 19 different routes for this corridor. The board selected a preferred alignment, not a final alignment, that we are starting some engineering on. When I look at East Link, the three big challenges in that project are we have to negotiate an agreement with the state Department of Transportation because we will get the center lanes on the I-90 bridge [over Lake Washington]. So that has controversy to it. We also believe that was a condition in the 1979 agreement and the record of decision from the federal government when Brock Adams approved the construction of the bridge that those are high-capacity transit lanes in the center. When you come off the bridge and go into Bellevue, there are community groups that want one alignment that the city and Sound Transit so far have not selected in the preferred path. So, there are neighborhood issues. Where you go through downtown Bellevue there is a huge issue about whether to have a tunnel or not. The city wants a tunnel. We don’t have money for a tunnel. We have been clear about that. We are still looking at that issue. But there are lots of decisions similar to the ones that the board had to make over the last 12 years on trying to build this first part of the alignment.

What will you do to ease impacts on Eastside business and traffic during and after construction of light rail?
We can’t specifically answer that now because we don’t know the exact alignment or the construction impacts. As you do project development, you define the design and the impacts and you go through that. I know we have learned a lot by the construction we have already done. We are just continually getting better at working with the business communities. Our staff is doing a great job. We are right in the heart of a business district on Capitol Hill [in Seattle]. We do on-the-street outreach. There are a variety of things. If we are impacting businesses, like if there are relocations, there are a lot of federal guidelines that we have to follow to do that. We will use a multiple number of tools. We built the big Bellevue direct-access project right off of Northeast Eighth Street and 405. There was a lot of concern about business impacts. That just went beautifully. The key is working with the businesses and working with the business organizations like the Bellevue Downtown Association and Bellevue chamber and individual property owners on the city. I am totally confident that we can build that project with good mitigation and tools so that businesses don’t suffer any more than they have to. There is always pain with construction. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a road or transit project. There is always pain. Being really up front and transparent about it is the key.

What are some of the guiding principles that the Sound Transit Board of Directors will follow in making its final decision on which alignment option, including whether there is a tunnel, to pick for Bellevue?
It will be a combo. It will be: Can we afford it? That is the first one. We were very clear that we didn’t have money for a tunnel. The cost estimate that was in the Sound Transit 2 plan was based on an aerial alignment. The general rule of thumb is that surface is least expensive. Aerial is the next expensive and tunnel is the most expensive. We had wiggle room in the cost estimate because we picked the aerial. We didn’t pick the lowest cost, which gave us some flexibility. They will look at effectiveness. There is one thing to build it, and it’s another to operate it. You want to make sure your alignment is easy to operate. You don’t want a bunch of sharp turns. Are we locating stations in places where it serves people and businesses? You don’t build this stuff to have the trains empty. They will look at all of that and then the impacts. One of the debates about the tunnel is that there were two or three different tunnel alternatives. One is much more impactful in the community than another. You have tradeoffs of impact and cost in your construction methodology. When the board made the decision in May on the preferred alignment, its action actually laid out some direction in terms of what we want for more information on various construction methodology. They asked for more research between the various alternatives that the city of Bellevue wanted versus what they selected. How many businesses are impacted? Do we have to relocate businesses? All of that will play into their decision. We asked the city of Bellevue, If you want a tunnel, show us how you are going to help fund it. We can’t fund it on our dollars.

So, without additional funding from Bellevue, is a tunnel simply not a viable option?
I don’t think we know that yet. That’s premature to know that. The cost estimate was aerial which was more expensive than surface. The city worked with us on other parts of the alignment that might be less expensive. We have to look through all the analysis before we will be able to say that. We are being clear, that as of now, we don’t have the money. It’s probably the biggest decision in front of the board in the next 12 months.

How will light rail ease the general commute between the Eastside and Seattle?
We have done a traffic analysis with the Department of Transportation that shows if you do nothing (mainly on the I-90 corridor) and just population growth and all that projected stuff happens that that commute is going to significantly worsen over the next 20 years. When you put light rail in there, there is a pre-project to light rail that we have to do which is to build two-way HOV lanes on the bridge. We have all the federal approvals for that. It is a joint project we have been working with the state transportation department on that. Phase one of that is already built. Before we can take the center lanes, we have to build new HOV lanes. If you think about it, the center lanes are reversible now. They are not working two ways. And the commute over time has really shifted. Those now work reversible as if peak demand is going certain ways. It’s now starting to be about 50-50. So you really need two-way, all-day HOV lanes like you have elsewhere on the freeway. We have to build those lanes. I really want to underscore this. We are not impacting the existing general-purpose lanes. There are three lanes on the bridge for general single-occupant cars. Those three lanes stay. We build new HOV lanes. Then we put in high-capacity transit. For the future, we have so much more capacity to move people across that infrastructure. I just think it’s going to change the commute patterns between east and west in this region in a significant way over time.

What was a key lesson that you learned from building that first 14 miles of light rail that will help you move forward with the East Link?
My big motto is under promise and over deliver. [She laughs.] Because that is not where we started. A key lesson: I think being very clear and upfront and transparent about what we can and can’t afford to do. One of our challenges and this isn’t unique to Sound Transit. We have to get permits in every jurisdiction we go through. We don’t have any rights to come into downtown Bellevue and build this project. Everything is a negotiation and a partnership about getting permits. They can’t unreasonably withhold a permit. But they certainly have major influence, just like the city of Seattle did in building light rail in their city. That is a real challenge for us. A lesson for me is that we have to be very clear, which I think we have been on this tunnel. That is an example. We can’t afford it. If you want it, then you have to help us get there. My motto through all of ST2 with the board and other settings: Even if someone really really wants something, we aren’t going to promise something if I can’t find a financial path to make it happen. That’s how Sound Transit lost its credibility, I think. Those days are over, at least on my watch. For however long that is.

How much closer will we be to getting rid of our cars?
I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there. But I am not one of those who believes that people will get rid of their cars. I fundamentally don’t believe that. The option to do it will be much greater. [Earl commutes to her Seattle office from Tacoma, where she lives.] I am one of those perfect examples where I have learned and it has not been easy, which I think is a problem with transit that we are still working on as an industry, to figure out how to get around a region without your car. It’s doable in this region between biking, walking and public transit. You can do it. We have not found all the right tools to make it super easy. Part of it is that we have so many options.
Dean A. Radford is Editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at

Sound Transit is back on track

Sound Transit opened the Central Link line of the light rail in July, a 14-mile stretch of track that will go from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport by the end of the year. Photo by Chad Coleman.

Sound Transit opened the Central Link line of the light rail in July, a 14-mile stretch of track that will go from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport by the end of the year. Photo by Chad Coleman.

By Dean A. Radford
Reporter Newspapers
Joni Earl has a simple motto:
Under promise and over deliver.
Failure to follow that recipe for success is what got her agency, Sound Transit, in trouble before she took over as chief executive officer in 2001.
Earl found an agency with a billion-dollar cost overrun because it had no way to track its finances and was promising projects it couldn’t deliver.
Earl brought to bear her expertise in finance and local government in reshaping the culture of an agency that was pretty good at managing and designing bus and commuter rail projects, but derailed when it came to running its basic business operations.
Of course, that work was done in tandem with the Sound Transit Board of Directors, a point Earl repeatedly made in an interview with Reporter Newspapers recently.
Earl, with her gift for communication and her willingness to be brutally honest about what her agency was doing wrong – and right – can now look back on her nearly 10 years at the helm and marvel at the 14 miles of Link light rail snaking from Seattle to nearly Sea-Tac Airport.
With the opening of Link light rail, Sound Transit today is now operating the three pieces of its voter-mandated transit system – commuter rail, light rail and a regional bus system in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
But her work – and Sound Transit’s – is far from done. There are billions of new tax dollars to be spent to extend light rail to Bellevue and beyond and add 10s of thousands of hours of new regional bus service.
The agency will draw on its years of experience planning, designing and then building Link, which opened in July, to work with Eastside community and business leaders to build from scratch East Link, which when done will link downtown Seattle with the Overlake Transit Center between Bellevue and Redmond.
Of course, along the way, it will pass through downtown Bellevue. City officials and business leaders want a tunnel for light rail to ease impact on businesses and downtown traffic. But that’s the most expensive option for building light rail and Sound Transit doesn’t have enough money to build it, based on the taxes voters approved for Sound Transit 2.
Bellevue and Sound Transit will continue to debate the tunnel. A final alignment will be picked this year.
A tunnel is not totally out of the realm of possibility. But Bellevue would have to help pay for it. It’s another one of Earl’s guiding principles to keep Sound Transit financially healthy and credible as a government agency.
“Even if someone really really wants something, we aren’t going to promise something if I can’t find a financial path to make it happen,” she said in the interview. That path would lead to Bellevue’s budget office.
“That’s how Sound Transit lost its credibility, I think,” she said, by not realizing the depth of the financial trouble it faced in the early years and not being open about that problem.
“Those days are over, at least on my watch,” she said.
Today, Sound Transit is fresh off the start of Central Link and commuter trains through the Green River Valley are pulling cars off the Interstate 5 corridor between Tacoma and Seattle.
In 20 years, Bellevue will have its own light rail and South King County will have thousands of hours of new bus service and even more commuter trains running up and down the Green River Valley.
But will we have left our cars behind to travel on a seamless regional transportation system of interlocking rail and bus routes? Probably not. And that’s not a realistic goal anyway, says Earl, because someone will always need a car to get to work. But she’s seeing a shift away from total reliance on a car.
“I meet more and more people now who tell me they got rid of a second car because of how much transit is out there,” said.
But Sound Transit will tempt commuters with convenient options for travel and continue to refine, along with King County Metro, the region’s bus routes to make them more efficient.
Dean A. Radford is the Editor of the Renton Reporter. He can be contacted at

What Eastside cities say about 520, I-90 bridge tolls

City of Bellevue
The Bellevue City Council finds that tolling on the existing SR 520 bridge is only acceptable in 2010 if: (1) deployment of early tolls will result in significantly earlier completion of the project; and (2) beginning earlier in 2010 allows for lower toll rates that are deemed more acceptable to the public.
The toll should be applied only to SR 520, assuming the primary purpose of tolling is to fulfill the Legislature’s funding gap for replacing the bridge. If it is determined that tolling I-90 is needed to help reduce the toll rate on SR 520 or to ease traffic diversion, the state should ensure that a toll is accompanied with improvements on the I-90 corridor and the toll rate for I-90 should be set to minimize the diversion and to fill the funding gap, rather than tolling it at the same level as SR 520.
The City of Bellevue does not support the use of segment tolls.

City of Issaquah
The city fully supports implementing tolls on SR 520 in 2010. The city is particularly concerned about diversion onto north-south routes (e.g. I-405) as alternatives during peak hours and believes those routes should receive improvements before any charges are considered on I-90.
The city strongly supports maintaining a free or low-cost method for minimum-wage workers and local business to cross Lake Washington on the I-90 bridge.

City of Kirkland
The city supports early tolling of 520, tolling of I-90 when SR 520 is tolled and implementation of HOT lane systems on I-405.
Revenue need not be confined to paying the capital costs for construction of the facility where it was collected. In order to minimize negative impacts of pricing, choices such as high quality transit must be provided on priced corridors. Low-income users may benefit most from viable alternatives to pricing such as high quality transit.

City of Mercer Island
If tolls are placed on SR 520 and I-90, as a congestion management device or as mitigation for anticipated traffic diversion from 520, the revenues derived from tolling these roadways must be retained for transportation construction, maintenance, improvement and mitigation within the cross-Lake Washington corridor.
Early 520 tolling to generate a revenue stream for bridge replacement (with the smallest possible toll, so as to avoid massive diversion onto I-90).

City of Kenmore
Recommends further analysis of the impacts on 522 that local residents use as a cross-lake connection when 520 is unavailable or experiencing difficult delays.
The city recommends a Bus Rapid Transit service on the 522 corridor that will provide service at least every five minutes during the peak periods and every 15 minutes during off-peak periods.
Prior to any tolling, complete the scheduled improvements on the 522 corridor, especially those in Kenmore and Bothell.

City of Redmond
Toll revenue should only be used for capital and maintenance expenses in the cross-lake corridor and help fund the capital cost of the new 520 bridge.

City of Renton
The city is concerned about how diversion could affect I-405. Improvements to I-405 funded with the Nickel and TPA gas taxes must continue on its present schedule in order to avoid major problems when tolling starts.

520: A bridge and so much more

520 is more than just a bridge. It’s a major corridor between job centers and growing communities around Lake Washington. Built in 1963, today’s 520 bridge is vulnerable to earthquakes and windstorms. In addition, the existing corridor is carrying twice as many vehicles as originally planned and is heavily congested during morning and afternoon commute times. Congestion makes the bridge and its approaches a bottleneck between these economic engines of our region.
When 520 was opened to drivers in 1963, traditional tollbooths were used and it was an immediate success with commuters. This popularity meant that bonds used to pay for the bridge were paid off ahead of schedule. When the last toll was collected in 1979, four times as many vehicles were crossing the bridge each day, compared to when it first opened.
It’s time to replace the aging bridge with a safer, more reliable structure, people say. It’s time to build a new corridor that moves more people around the lake and provides better access to the highway. Construction of bridge pontoons will begin in 2009.
The new 520 bridge is scheduled to open in 2014. When the corridor is complete, it will include six lanes, with two general-purpose lanes and one carpool lane in each direction, spanning Lake Washington from I-5 in Seattle to just west of I-405 in Bellevue. The bridge will be designed to withstand major earthquakes and windstorms up to 95 mph.
The new 520 will have carpool lanes and increased transit service that will make bus trips more frequent and reliable. It also will have space for walking or riding a bike across the lake, shoulder lanes to keep traffic flowing when something goes wrong, and new interchanges to reduce traffic impacts and improve communities near the corridor.