Keep the promise on Highway 522 expansion

What does the proposed Highway 522 expansion between Monroe and Maltby have to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle? Unfortunately, everything if Gov. Gregoire has her way.

For nearly 50 years, residents along Highway 522 have waited for the state to fulfill its promise to expand the highway to four lanes. Numerous times, just as the state Department of Transportation was ready to proceed, that promise was broken as the Legislature diverted funding to other projects.

And now, even though the $195 million project was re-appropriated through the Legislature’s 2003 nickel gas tax increase and is ready to go out to bid this year, it appears the governor may once again pull the plug on the project.

Why? Because she’s $400 million short on her proposed tunnel replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The governor’s proposed budget pushes the Highway 522 expansion project from 2010 out to 2018. She needs the money for Seattle.

Another eight-year delay is bad enough, but we are very concerned about a report in a major Tacoma newspaper that said the governor’s transportation budget adviser Robin Rettew “conceded that any project that’s now scheduled for construction in 2015 or later probably won’t get built without a new source of money,” and that “the governor wanted to keep all the mega projects [such as the viaduct] on the list.”

The state has an inexcusable history of putting the Highway 522 project on hold numerous times over many decades. It’s not only been costly in terms of inflation, but lives.

When Highway 522 between Monroe and Woodinville was designed in the mid-1960s, it was developed as a four-lane highway. Part of its four-lane, graded roadbed has been in place for more than 30 years. However, to save money, only two lanes were finished, with no median barriers.

In 1993 a five-stage project to widen the highway to four lanes was delayed in a budget-balancing act. By 1995, after 1,780 accidents, 1,359 injuries, and 47 deaths over 15 years, Reader’s Digest listed Highway 522 as one of “America’s most dangerous highways.”

A portion of the four-lane highway from State Route 9 to Maltby was finished in 2001. The improvement reduced collisions and fatality accidents in that area. Yet State Route 522 is still dangerous as drivers try to navigate through the five bridges, two major intersections and the remaining narrow eight-mile section of the two-lane highway between Maltby and Monroe.

Highway 522 connects to what is now considered the state’s deadliest roadway, Highway 2. We’ve also fought with some limited success for funding to fix some of the most dangerous areas on Highway 2. Yet, money that should be addressing the safety problems on both of these deadly highways continues to be siphoned off for Seattle-area congestion relief projects. Meantime, fatality accidents continue on Highway 2 and 522.

How many more accidents must occur and how many more lives must be lost before the state of Washington finally fulfills its Highway 522 promise?

We won’t get into the issue of what viaduct replacement would be best. That’s not the point. Instead, we believe local residents should not be punished with further delays on the Highway 522 project, or even worse, no expansion at all, because of the long-standing lack of leadership that has driven up the viaduct replacement costs.

When a promise is made to the citizens of Washington, it should be kept. Local residents have waited almost 50 years. That’s long enough. Let Seattle fill the gap to its viaduct funding elsewhere. It’s time to keep the promise and finish the Highway 522 expansion.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000