South Portal Design Approved

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WSDOT approves deeply flawed designed plan for the south portal of the viaduct in downtown Seattle, citing cost as the major concern.

Despite the many flaws pointed out by the Design Commission, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has decided to move forward with the plans for the reconstruction of the south portal of the viaduct.  Though numerous issues were cited with the design, WSDOT’s concern for cost seems paramount.  In an age of radical budget cuts, this is not surprising, albeit unsatisfactory.

Posted by Megan RisleyMay 8, 2011

Seattle Design Commissioners are trying to encourage a lengthening of horizons in WSDOT’s considerations.  While price is an issue, it need not be the only one.  People in Seattle want to enjoy their incredible waterfront – a rare gift for an urban space in the downtown area.  Seattleites are fortunate to have a beautiful bay as their city’s backyard, so, it would seem that such appreciation for it should show in their designs.

One main issue with the current design of the south portal of the viaduct is that a 25-foot exit ramp near 1st Avenue across Royal Brougham would be hazardous – both to the view across the Sound to West Seattle and to the traffic (on foot as well as motorized) on 1st Avenue.  Not only would it slice the waterfront vista basically in half, but the space such a ramp would leave underneath it is nearly ideal for illicit-activity gatherings.

The proposed design is narrower and longer than the current model, which could create bottlenecks – the traffic squeeze the 520 bridge (across Lake Washington) experiences all too often.  In downtown, though, where space is a little bit more limited, traffic surges could do more than just annoy commuters.  It could overwhelm the streets, causing safety issues for people going by foot or biking,  and bring more pollution (both noise and otherwise) for downtown dwellers, making for a generally unpleasant environment.

Commissioners are at odds with WSDOT in this matter.  While members of the Seattle Design Commission really want WSDOT to consider all aspects of urban design – not just how to keep costs low – WSDOT’s focus is on the “engineering advantages” the current design holds. But, Seattle doesn’t just want streets for cars.  Seattle wants a livable, walkable city.



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