The City of Seattle and Port of Seattle are set to announce Wednesday they have fully funded an agreement to build the Lander Street overpass.
It ends a nearly 20-year-old discussion about needed repairs while at the same time rejects an offer from SODO arena investor Chris Hansen to fill the funding gap.
The announcement comes after Port of Seattle Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve investing $15 million in the project, up from a previous pledge of $5 million. Commissioner Tom Albro abstained from the vote, noting his family owns the Seattle Center Monorail. But it is clear the Port’s decision is also tied into the city’s arena politics.
A final draft of a Memorandum of Understanding “For Intergovernmental Cooperation between the Port of Seattle and the City of Seattle for the Safe and Swift Corridor Program” noted the importance of the Port’s impact on the region, and how it has generated “$718 million in state and local taxes in 2016.” It also noted “Whereas, the City and Port recognize Key Arena as an important civic asset, a historic anchor and the Uptown Neighborhood, and a valuable source of tourism and entertainment for the City” as a reason for the “mutual promises and covenants” between the two sides. The agreement also hints at improvements near Terminals 90 and 91, which could be part of a KeyArena MOU.
The $123 million Lander Project has been sought by many groups for years.
The Lander railroad crossing, near First Avenue, can cause significant traffic backups for freight and other traffic. The Port argues it creates 4 ½ hours of daily closures.
The new bridge will allow drivers to “fly over” the crossing.
However, years ago Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels diverted money for the project to ease the Mercer Mess. Voters had approved Lander funding in the 2006 “Bridging the Gap” levy. The 2015 Move Seattle levy had Lander in it’s list of projects, and Seattle Department of Transporation Director Scott Kubly called it a top priority. The federal government awarded a federal FASTLANE grant for Lander. There has always been a question of how the rest of the gap would be completed.
Hansen offered earlier this year to pay for the rest of the project. Hansen asked for the one-block street vacation of Occidental in exchange for the funding, so he could build a privately financed sports arena. The Port has long objected to the idea, saying it would create more traffic. By investing an additional $10 million in the project, Port Commissioners have effectively taken the option away from Hansen.
However, SDOT’s design at last check still creates two dead ends on Occidental just blocks away from Hansen’s project.
BNSF, The Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, and Puget Sound Regional Council have also pledged millions to build the bridge.
The move comes a day after the Seattle City Council approved a resolution to move forward on KeyArena negotiations, and SDOT signaled Hansen’s street vacation request was on indefinite hold.
The Lander construction could start as early as 2018, and be completed and open to traffic as early as late 2019 or early 2020, according to City Hall sources.