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February 20, 2007

Letter to the Editor: Let's replace the viaduct with European-style bridge

I have been an active observer of the ongoing debate, discussion and, in some cases, self flagellation that has occurred in the Greater Seattle metro area for years over “just what to do about that nasty old viaduct.” I utilize the viaduct from time to time, so have an understanding of the utility of the highway. I have also lived in earthquake country for most of my life and have experienced a number of significant earthquakes.

I don't see that there is any option other than demolition of this structure. I fail to understand why the “powers that be” can't seem to get this through their thick bureaucratic heads.

Recently, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend some time traveling in northern Europe. We drove around Sweden, Norway and Denmark and enjoyed a number of beautiful and impressive bridges and tunnels.

I have done some research in an attempt to understand how the Scandinavians have been able to do so well with connecting land masses over water while providing convenient, secure transportation solutions for cars, buses and trains. Their secret? Bridges and tunnels combined. Not small structures, but massive, iconic marvels of civil engineering. Expensive? Not as expensive as the numbers we are throwing around for tunnels and near to the cost of a viaduct replacement, with one amazing advantage: there is no reason to shut down the waterfront and kill most of the existing businesses during that four- to five-year period. The economic penalty paid to shut down the waterfront has been estimated at $5 billion.

Imagine, as at least one group of engineers in Seattle have, a beautiful suspension bridge running from somewhere near to the intersection of Western and Elliott, rising up into Elliott Bay with spans high enough to allow all shipping traffic under its span. The structure not only carries car and truck traffic, but also redirects waterfront rail down to the port on a lower deck, below the car decks. The bridge makes landfall down near Pier 43 with direct connections to 99 South, Interstate 90 and I-5. These types of bridges exist in Denmark.

The day the bridge is opened, the viaduct is shut down and demolition starts. Waterfront businesses survive and the desired waterfront park environment is constructed. The waterfront not only remains a vibrant part of the city, but is improved significantly, and another important transportation route is augmented. But alas, although we may be the Emerald City, this is definitely not Oz.

Scott Robertson


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