Live From Seattle, Part I: Mega Projects

I am spending this weekend in Seattle, Washington, attending the 7th Annual American Dream Coalition conference in Bellevue. The Washington Policy Center is a major co-sponsor. These conferences are the premiere venue for learning about free market and property rights based approaches to land use, growth management, and transportation.

One of the hallmarks to the conference is a tour of the local region, visiting important transportation, revitalization, and planning projects and sites. This tour included visits to:

Bellevue–ground zero in the eastern Puget Sound’s job creation. About 35,000 people work in the downtown. The entire downtown is essentially new; a big chunk of the development was through the private sector. More specifically, Kemper Development Corporation invested in the signature revitalization project Bellevue Place.

Renton–home of Boeing. Boeing is downsizing, forcing the city to think about creative new uses of former Boeing property. We visited a shopping plaza.

Tacoma–site of the recently opened (and tolled) $400 million Tacoma Narrows Bridge. There are actually two bridges. The first one, which is now four lanes eastbound only, opened n 1950. The second bridget opened in 2007 and has four lanes westbound and is tolled. A friend who drives the route every day says that the bridge reduced an highly uncertain travel time of between 20 minutes and two hours to a highly reliable 24 minutes.

Bremerton–site of Harborside, a $400 million waterfront revitalization project spearheaded by its mayor, While the mayor made a point of emphasizing the importance of creating “great spaces” to revitalize waterfronts and “capture” the value, just about $150 million in private investment has been attracted to the area.

Lake Washington Floating Bridge–King County is faced with replacing and upgrading these dated bridges across Lake Washington that that link Seattle with eastern points in the region including Bellevue and Redmond. The SR 520 Floating is estimated to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, and the state is investigating the use of tolling to fund the project.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a tour of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and a briefing on the proposal to replace the elevated structure with a $4 billion tunnel. About $2.4 billion has been “raised” through the gas tax and other sources, which means they are facing at least a $1.6 billion shortfall. No discussion of tolling yet.