520 Bridge toll bill passes Senate, but real test coming in House

Sen. Rodney Tom - Courtesy photo
Sen. Rodney Tom
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday that would allow the state to move forward with the Eastside projects associated with the replacement of the State Route 520 floating bridge.

Sen. Rodney Tom, of Medina, sponsored Senate Bill 6392 that passed Tuesday by a vote of 44-3 and now heads to the House.

That proposal may lose momentum once it reaches the House, where Speaker Frank Chopp has joined a group of other Seattle leaders, including the city's mayor, to oppose the state's preferred plan for renovating 520.

The corridor makeover, which is expected to cost between $4.4 billion and $4.5 billion, will take place in separate east and west phases.

Projects on the Eastside will include adding an inside HOV lane in both directions from Medina to SR 202 in Redmond, building a new direct-access interchange for transit and HOV at 108th Ave. NE, constructing three new highway lids to connect neighborhoods divided by the corridor, and creating a bicycle/pedestrian path along the north side of 520.

Tom's bill would authorize the state to use what is now restricted tolling money to begin construction on those projects.

“This moves everything forward,” said Tom, who represents the 48th District, which includes parts of Redmond. “It gives us the capacity to start moving dirt this summer on the Eastside, creating upwards of 5,000 great family-wage jobs. It gets us past the planning process that has dragged on since 1997, and gets us actually working on the project."

Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Ross Hunter, who also represents the 48th District, say the state needs to take advantage of a favorable bidding climate by starting the work soon.

Chopp opposes the state's preferred 520-renovation plan because of what it entails for the west end of the corridor. He says it lacks mitigation for local neighborhoods and would tie up transit traffic moving to the future University of Washington light rail station.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has said the state should revamp its preferred plan to exchange the two carpool lanes with dedicated transit lanes.

A contingent of regional business, labor, and government leaders on Feb. 5 urged lawmakers to move forward with the plan regardless of opposition. The group included representatives from both Seattle and the Eastside.

“This (bill) sends a message to the business community that we can get things moving and we don’t want a bifurcated community, pitting Seattle against the Eastside,” Tom said. “We’ve been on the 520 merry-go-round for too long. It’s time to build the bridge.”

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