Story Summary

520 bridge

The 520 floating bridge spans Lake Washington and take commuters from Seattle to Bellevue and Redmond. Initially opened in 1963, the bridge carries about 115,000 daily across the lake, but was initially designed to handle 65,000 vehicles per day. Tolling on the bridge began in December 2011 to pay for construction of a new bridge.

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Local News
06/07/13

New 520 pontoon arrives

PONTOONSEATTLE — The latest 520 bridge pontoon is expected to come through the Ballard Locks on its way to Lake Washington, according to a WSDOT press release.

Pontoon “A” will arrive from Grays Harbor Friday afternoon or evening. WSDOT reports it’s the second of two pontoons that will form the ends of the new floating bridge.

Later this month crews will begin work on repairing cracks in the walls of four of the Cycle 1 pontoons built in Aberdeen.

According to WSDOT, one of the pontoons will be moved to a dry dock in Portland for repairs and another to a dry dock on Harbor Island in Seattle. The remaining two pontoons will be repaired on Lake Washington.

SR520ClosedSEATTLE – All lanes of State Route 520 between Montlake Boulevard and Interstate 405 will be closed from 11 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, the Washington State Department of Transportation said Thursday.

During the closure, construction crews working for WSDOT will prepare for the next phase of widening on the SR 520 Eastside Transit and HOV Project.

SR 520 closure details at a glance

  • Crews will close all lanes of SR 520 between Montlake Boulevard in Seattle and Interstate 405 in Bellevue from 11 p.m. Friday, May 31, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 3.
  • Night work is planned, and residents near the work zone might hear construction noise. Weekend closure detour and map details are also available.

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Local News
04/29/13

Second cycle of SR 520 pontoons leave Aberdeen

PONTOONABERDEEN, Wash. – The second cycle of State Route 520 floating bridge pontoons left the Aberdeen casting basin early Monday morning.

The float-out process began Sunday afternoon, with the sixth and final second-cycle pontoons leaving the basin.

The pontoons were moved to the Port of Grays Harbor for inspection and will stay there until needed for construction on Lake Washington for SR 520.

According to the SR 520 program director, Julie Meredith, 24 of the 77 bridge pontoons needed for construction have been built.

sr520SEATTLE — One Washington State Department of Transportation employee was fired and another was demoted over the design flaws that caused cracks in the first batch of new State Route 520 Bridge pontoons, department spokesman Lars Erickson confirmed Friday.

Erickson said he could not disclose who received the disciplinary letters because it’s a personnel matter.

The Seattle Times reported that Jugesh Kapur, head of the DOT’s Bridge and Structures office, confirmed in a phone interview with the newspaper Friday that he was the one fired.

The letters were issued April 5, Erickson said.

After a state investigation of the cracks in the new pontoons, the state said repairs and redesigns of the pontoons could cost taxpayers an extra tens of millions of dollars.

SR520ClosedOLYMPIA — The Washington State Transportation Commission announced Tuesday it is proposing a 2.5 percent toll-rate increase for the State Route 520 Bridge that would take effect July 1.

The agency said the proposed increase is consistent with the project’s state financial plan, which anticipates annual rate increases of 2.5 percent through 2015.

Under the proposal, peak Good To Go! rates would be $3.70, and the peak Pay By Mail rates would be $5.25. The increase affects all toll rates, but drivers using a Good To Go! pass will continue to pay the lowest toll rate. The complete proposed toll-rate schedule for the SR 520 Bridge will be posted online at www.wstc.wa.gov.

Interested persons may comment on the proposal up until the commission’s May 22 meeting, when commissionerswill take action. Comments can be submitted to the commission in writing via email or mail. Email comments can be sent to transc@wsdot.wa.gov. Written comments can be mailed to: PO Box 47308, Olympia, WA. 98504-7308.

In addition, the commission is proposing a 25-cent increase for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 2013 and an additional 25-cent increase in 2014. The new rates would take effect on July 1 each year.

A public input meeting to gather comments on the proposal is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 15, at the Gig Harbor Civic Center at 3510 Grandview St.

A final hearing, where the commission will take additional public comment and plan to take action to adopt new toll rates, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Monday, May 20, at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.

 

In addition to the public meetings, comments can be submitted to the commission in writing via email or mail. Email comments can be sent to transc@wsdot.wa.gov. Written comments can be mailed to: PO Box 47308, Olympia, WA. 98504-7308.

 

The proposed toll rates to take effect July 1, 2013 are:

  • $4.25 for Good To Go!
  • $5.25 cash
  • $6.25 Pay By Mail

 

The commission is required by law to set toll rates for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in an amount that is sufficient to pay the debt for the bridge, as well as to pay costs related to maintenance, preservation and operations of the bridge.

insleeOLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee pledged Wednesday to correct whatever it was that went wrong at the Washington State Department of Transportation that led to the costly State Route 520 Bridge pontoon cracks – a mistake that could cost as much as $100 million.

It’s the first real problem of Inslee’s tenure, and Wednesday he expressed real frustration.

“I’m grossly disappointed that the protocols of the Department of Transportation that should have been followed were not followed,” Inslee said about the lack of adequate testing at the design stage. “I don’t believe there is a legitimate excuse for that not having been done.”

An independent report lays the blame on WSDOT engineers, not outside contractors.

The governor promised that the people responsible will be held accountable.

“There will be letters that will be going out shortly to some of the Department of Transportation employees,” Inslee said. “Appropriate discipline will be decided after their due process rights are respected.”

Republican legislative leaders took aim at the WSDOT and what they argue is a history of mismanagement.

“We are seeing time and time and time again where through WSDOT we’ve got big problems,” said state Rep. Dan Kristiansen, chairman of the House Republican Caucus and a former contractor.Were we up to it?” he asked.  “When you are dealing with massive projects that carry certain levels of liability, let’s make sure we have the right people for the job.”

Just last week, Democrats unveiled a $10 billion package to help with transportation projects across the state.  The centerpiece is a 10-cent increase in the gas tax. Republicans said these latest pontoon problems means their support for that plan will be hard to secure.

“Until we have some kind of confidence around DOT’s ability to do the project correctly, then I don’t think we can continue to keep throwing good money after bad,” said state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

But Inslee maintains this is still the year to pass a transportation package.

“I’m not going to allow these cracks to be a crack in our confidence moving forward,” he said. “We’re going to fix these problems.”

The transportation plan, including the gas tax hike, would need two-thirds of the Legislature to pass – or a simple majority to send it to voters this November.

The state Supreme Court said it may issue a ruling Thursday on a challenge to the state’s two-thirds rule to pass tax measures. The suit, brought by the League of Education Voters, assets that the state constitution says that bills require a majority vote only in both houses of the Legislature to become law.

 

bridgeSEATTLE — Underwater cracks have been found in the new pontoons under the State Route 520 Bridge and it will cost tens of millions of dollars to fix the problem, state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said Tuesday.

It will also delay the opening of the new, six-lane bridge.

Hammond said the big cracks are blamed on state design flaws and mistakes, but there are hundreds of smaller cracks that are blamed mostly on contractor handling of the pontoons.

This throws off the budget for the bridge, not to mention when it will be completed.

But there is a fix for the problem. Workers will use high-tension bands to reinforce the pontoons already on Lake Washington and those that are still being built in Grays Harbor County.

The smaller cracks are common in other floating bridges and can be fixed much easier with sealers, but the overall repair job will be expensive. In the end, it will cost tens of millions of dollars, possibly up to $100 million or more to repair the pontoons.

“We got a very good bid from the contractor. We were all concerned about the time element in delivery of this bridge. We were working as hard as we could to have concurrent processes that would allow us to open the bridge by late 2014 so that we did not experience catastrophic failure if there was an earthquake or a wind and wave action and so we were working very diligently on that time frame,” Hammond said.

“It did not mean that anybody inside our agency should have taken shortcuts on what they were doing and as they were responsible for this contract,” she said.

Hammond also said disciplinary action will be taken against state staff members responsible for the mistakes.

She said the good news is that the fix isn’t expected to exceed the state’s $200 million bridge contingency budget.

Hammond also said the state is unlikely to meet its December 2014 goal to open the floating section of the new bridge. “I’m hopeful the project will be done within 2015,” she said.

CRSEATTLE — After one year of tolls across the 520 Bridge, Washington state is declaring success.

“We’re very pleased,” said Craig Stone of WSDOT.  “It’s been a great program.”

Tolls are on track to generate over $1 billion towards the $4 billion 520 project.  And while drivers may not love them, the state says the resistance is less than expected.

“Over time traffic has returned to the 520 corridor,” Stone said.  “We are running at 70 percent of the traffic volumes that we had before.”

Seventy percent is a big improvement over the initial sticker shock to the tolls, when one out of every two cars avoided the bridge to save money. Now, that the early traffic diversion has settled down, the state has new figures about how other routes have been affected.  State Route 522, around the north end of the lake, has nine percent more cars than before. Interstate 90 has 11 percent more.

“Traffic has worked better than our forecasts,” said Stone.

The state legislature will be looking at I-90 in the coming months. Tolls on that span, which could come by 2015, would help meet the $1.4 billion funding gap that still exists for the 520 project.

“When you start looking at an across lake trip,” said Stone, “both bridges work in tandem with each other.”

After some early billing glitches, the state now says 94% of drivers pay their bills on time.  But nearly 10,000 car owners are in for a surprise.  They still owe money, and January will be the first month that state will hold up their vehicle tab renewals until they pay up.

SEATTLE — City planners heard an earful from community members Monday at a city hall meeting over the design of the 520 bridge. They argue that the design on the Seattle side needs a major overhaul before it gets built.

“The current 520 plan does not meet the needs of our community and people traveling through it,” said Steve Milam, the President of the Montlake Community Club. “The design needs to better provide safe and direct routes for people walking and bicycling across 520.”

In addition to a call for much better connection north and south at Montlake for bikes and pedestrians, there is a strong push, backed up by public surveys, to add a bike and pedestrian lane on the last quarter mile, what’s called the Portage Bay Bridge.

“If we are going to spend billions of dollars on a mulch-generational project, let’s make sure we get this right,” said Craig Benjamin of the Cascade Bicycle Club.

Right now, Washington state plans to divert bikes coming across the lake down onto a land path at Montlake that would wind back up to Capitol Hill.

“It’s very steep, very challenging,” Benjamin said.  “It would be very indirect, and we know that people don’t ride indirect routes, and it would be really hard to do.”

Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin noted the irony of the bike lane request.

“Initially we had been really working on trying to get that bridge smaller by reducing the width, and now we have this huge outpouring of people saying they want a bicycle pedestrian path,” Conlin said. “We have to figure out how to reconcile that.”

In addition better bike and pedestrian connections, there was continued talk from some nearby residents to keep the span four lanes through Montlake instead of the proposed six.

“I think the Westside design is massively overbuilt and will dwarf the natural environment and the neighborhoods,” said Frank Conley of the Coalition for a Sustainable 520.

“We made a commitment that we want transit to move on that bridge,” said Conlin. “If you want transit to move, you have to have those additional two lanes.”

The project still lacks full funding, though today the state said estimates of the shortfall have improved, from $2 billion to a current $1.4 billion that will need to be found. One wildcard in the budget is just how much will need to be shelved out to repair the problem pontoons.

“When we encountered the spalling and the cracking that we experience this summer, we knew that there was some risk that the state,” said Julie Meredith, SR 520 Program Director. “We will have a long and I’m sure rigorous discussion with the contractor on responsibility and ultimately to the effects to the schedule and the budget as part of that.”

The state said today that it will look into whether it can tweak the design to meet the concerns expressed today by bicyclists and pedestrians.

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