The Seattle City Council is on the record against vacating a block of Occidental Ave. S. to let a new sports arena project proceed, but the city’s own transportation planners aren’t afraid to create two dead ends just blocks away on the same SODO street.
The Seattle Department of Transportation’s plan for the Lander Street overpass project, available via public documents, shows the current design would block Occidental Avenue South where it intersects Lander – a busy thoroughfare that regularly sees delays because it crosses a busy rail corridor.
The Port of Seattle and city leaders see the overpass as key to relieving congestion in the SoDo neighborhood. City voters approved funding for it in the 2015 Move Seattle levy, and state and federal money has been made available. The $140 million project is still $18.5 million short of full funding, and SDOT Director Scott Kubly has called the project one of his top priorities.
SDOT officials say the project would be tough to build the overpass in such a way that could leave Occidental open to two-way traffic – such a design would require additional land acquisition and construction would create significant disruptions in the area. They add that the current design is the result of community feedback, stakeholder input and recent traffic analysis. The Port of Seattle, whose biggest ocean freight clients rely on SODO roads for freight carriage, is a big booster of the overpass, which would connect 1st and 4th avenues south and give vehicles a way to avoid the busy train tracks that run north-and-south parallel to those roads.
The Port also vigorously fought the SODO arena project being pushed by investor Chris Hansen and his partners. Hansen’s arena would require the city to give up a section of Occidental Ave. starting one block south of Safeco Field (it would stretch between Holgate and Massachusetts streets). Port officials insist that Occidental is a vital corridor for freight and other traffic moving through SODO, an argument that influenced the Seattle council’s vote last May to reject the vacation requested by Hansen.
Peter McGraw, spokesperson for the Port of Seattle, said the organization did not have significant concerns about the layout of the Lander Overpass. "For us, it's always been about access (on Occidental) from Holgate to Atlantic." McGraw added, "There provides the relief valve during high traffic peak times."
However, McGraw acknowledged the bridge could ease congestion by getting more single occupancy vehicles off the roadway. The Port has pledged $5 million to the project.
McGraw, when asked if he thought a dead end would only add to Occidental congestion, said "The Port does not have a position on that particular aspect."
Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson said he remains focused on "making sure we have the financial resources to finish the (Lander) project". He said he was unaware of SDOT's design, despite the fact that the design has been posted on a city website for nearly six months.
Hansen has refiled his street vacation petition with the city. His overall plan includes millions of dollars for traffic mitigation, including funds for the Lander overpass project.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said no decision on Hansen’s latest request would be made until his office hears proposals for a KeyArena renovation, due April 12.
Follow Chris Daniels on Twitter @ChrisDaniels5.