Monday, November 21, 2005

Driving tour of Link Light Rail construction

After buying biodiesel with Andy on Sunday, we decided to take an impromptu driving tour of some Link Light Rail construction sites, starting in SODO.

To begin with, rail is laid along the E-3 Busway. The last time I was down there, a tamping machine was settling the rock trackbed, and rails were being straightened and clamped to the ties. Most of that rail is now completely laid, and sections of rail are waiting in large stacks to be installed in the bus tunnel to the north. You can already see where the old rail has been removed.

The elevated section that leads to the Beacon Hill tunnel is almost finished - parts are now painted, and segments leading down to the maintenance facility are in place. The O&M facility itself has insulation going up - it really looks like a building now, rather than just a steel frame. We slowed down for these parts, but they're nothing new, and we kept going south toward the Duwamish crossing.

There was little visible change at Duwamish, but lots of foundation work - re-bar for the support column on the north side of the bridge is already sticking well out of the ground. There's cleared land along part of the alignment toward the I-5 crossing northbound, but we didn't venture over there just yet. We kept going south near the alignment.

Here's where it started to get really interesting. I hadn't been along I-5 in quite some time, and there's now been area cleared just to the west of the freeway for support columns to go up. This is exciting - commuters are for the first time getting a glimpse of construction on a project that will eventually benefit them!

We turned off onto SR-518 to see if there were any new support columns up. Immediately to the right we noticed that a lot more land has been cleared as a staging area - re-bar frames for several columns sat waiting just to the north of the highway. I spent too much time looking at them - by the time I looked up, there were already columns next to us! Twice as many are up now as were the last time I was at the airport.

At this point, we could see a yellow metal framework just above the treeline. I thought at first it was the station under construction, but as we got closer, it became apparent what it was: A huge crane, sitting atop the columns, pulling segments of guideway up and putting them into place. It looks as if it crawls along the guideway as it builds. I can't wait to see how that looks in another month.

On the way back, we saw where embankments are being built on either side of I-5 for the bridge overhead. This is the first time I've seen construction there - I hope people start to get the idea soon that we are, indeed, building a rapid transit system.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A busy few weeks: Transportation happenings

Howdy! I've been busy changing jobs and doing some moving over the last few weeks, but I wanted to cover some of the big things that have happened to impact the future of transit and roads in the area:

  • University Link, the extension of Link Light rail north of downtown to Husky Stadium and the hospital received the highest possible rating from the Federal Transit Administration. This means Sound Transit will likely be in line for federal money to help construction. This also means that the First Hill station is unlikely to be constructed - since it was removed from the plan as presented to the FTA, a station addition would require the plan be resubmitted.
  • I-912 was shot down by about 53%-47%. I can't even list all the projects it will fund - 274 projects, about 240 of which are fully funded by the transportation package. New lanes for I-5 to upgrade the remaining 4-lane sections to 6-lane; Lanes for I-405 southbound from I-90 to SR-167 and northbound from I-5 to SR-167 - with a new interchange; Planning work for the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass rebuild; Viaduct funding; 520 bridge replacement funding; many others.
  • One of the challenges to the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax has been shot down by the Supreme Court. Tim Eyman argued that I-776 would have made such a tax illegal, but voters approved Sound Move originally. The state Supreme Court disagreed with challengers in a 7-2 decision.
  • The monorail was finally laid to rest. While Seattle car owners will still pay the 1.4% excise tax to cover the SMP's $110 million debt, we can now look to other agencies and other technologies to serve the West Seattle and Ballard corridors. The Sierra Club has a meeting scheduled at REI to discuss future options.
Several other road projects are now under way, including HOV and transit access work on I-405 and planning work for a new SR-16 interchange in Tacoma. I'll be talking more about HOV lanes and freeway stops in the next few days.