Feds give Seattle $45 million to finish Lander Street Overpass

A map of the Lander Street Overpass project (Credit: Seattle Dept. of Transportation)
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SEATTLE - The Federal Government has made a big push to finish the long-delayed Lander Street Overpass.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $45 million to the City of Seattle for the project in SoDo as part of a Federal FASTLANE grant. Seattle's Department of Transportation and Mayor Ed Murray applied for the grant calling it vital to complete the long-awaited project.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., helped author the grant program and said she toured Lander with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last October, and that her office recognized the need for grade separated structure to take traffic over the existing railroad tracks.  The Port of Seattle, in particular, has requested the project for years, to ease freight congestion.

According to the grant application, more than 3,200 rail cars traverse Lander every day and cause delays for nearly 13,000 vehicles.  It also says 1,500 people a day use South Lander on foot, or bike, on a daily basis. The application says the crossing had seven serious injuries involving cyclists and six accidents involving pedestrians between 2011-2015, including two rail-related fatalities.

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"We're very excited," Cantwell told KING 5, noting Washington state received two of 18 federal grants within the program, aimed an increasing freight mobility.

"This will help us maintain the competitiveness of our Ports," she noted, "All of this freight moves up and down I-5," she added. "But the last mile can mean four hours of delay."

Cantwell says the overpass will allow fruit, grain, and other goods faster across the state. 

Jessica Murphy, who is leading the city effort for SDOT, previously told KING 5 the approval of the Move Seattle levy kick-started the project again.  It was tabled even after voters were promised the overpass as part of the old bridging the gap levy.

Murphy says $20 million from the levy approved last fall will go to the project. The state legislature dedicated $7 million. All told, contributions from BSNF, the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, there was $50 million dedicated to the project.  SDOT already held an open house on the project.

The federal grant will mean $100 million of the $140 million cost is now accounted for. 

There will likely need to be some local funding sources to complete the financing for the project, whether it be from the Port of Seattle or another source. Cantwell acknowledged that there are "many partners," and as far as completion, "it comes very close to doing that."

SDOT said Wednesday the grant brings the city within $40 million of the full funding.

"The project will break ground in early 2018, pending receipt of remaining funding," SDOT spokesman Norm Mah said.

SoDo Arena investor Chris Hansen was slated to spend roughly $18-20 million on the project, in exchange for vacating Occidental Avenue, but the Seattle City Council ultimately decided to reject that exchange in May.

"Sixteen percent of volumes on Lander today are truck traffic," Murphy told KING last month, adding "East West mobility is hard (in SoDo).

“The Port of Seattle is pleased with the Lander Street funding announcement this morning and we wish to thank both Senators Murray and Cantwell for their tireless efforts on behalf of the maritime and industrial business community,” said Commission Vice President Tom Albro in a statement. “This project has been a priority for the past 20 years, and we are preparing an agreement with the City of Seattle to contribute $5 million to this effort that will improve freight mobility in SODO.”

The grant announcement also includes $5 million for Tukwila's Strander Boulevard extension and grade separation.  That project, priced at $38 million, would build a crossing under a freight rail line, from State Route 181 and Southwest 27th Street in an area currently considered a freight bottleneck.

"There is so much freight there," said Cantwell, adding "they need capacity."

"If we don't move freight, we lose jobs," said the senator.

"We're now one very significant step closer to building a critical overpass in SoDo that has been greatly needed for improved safety and mobility - particularly for our local maritime and industrial sector - since the 1990s," said Mayor Murray in a statement.

"With the arrival of new stadiums and increased transit, rail and commercial activity over the years, the need for the project has only grown," Murray added. "The City will continue to work with our partners, including the state, the Port of Seattle, and those in the private sector to close the remaining gap and finally build this much-needed and long overdue bridge for cars, freight, bikes and pedestrians."