The city’s plans to widen the Sammamish River bridge are still delayed by not having the necessary right-of-way. Now, the city risks losing grant money if the project takes too long.
The city is working on expanding or replacing the bridge on SR 202 that crosses the Sammamish River. In 2008, the city council approved a design in which the existing bridge would remain and a new bridge would be added to the south, for a total of four lanes of traffic. However, it requires an easement from the Port of Seattle, which controls the nearby railroad.
"The Port has continually changed their requirements, and that’s what makes this so confusing," Tom Hansen, director of the public works department, said. "... Trying to work with them is like hitting a moving target."
City staff has talked to state legislators to try to resolve the issues with the Port of Seattle. It would benefit the state for Woodinville to complete the bridge project, City Manager Richard Leahy said.
"Very few cities invest in the state highway system," Leahy said. "We’ve done it because the state hasn’t, it’s neglected, and we’re the ones that have to live with the traffic."
At the Sept. 10 city council meeting, council members expressed their frustration that Woodinville hasn’t made much progress negotiating with the Port.
"This is the exact same discussion we had in June," Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen said. "Nothing’s changed."
"It’s the definition of insanity, and I’m sick of it," Councilmember Hageman said of the interactions with the Port.
Joe McWilliams, the managing director of the Port of Seattle’s real estate division, said the Port isn’t being "obstructionist," but is trying to use taxpayers’ money responsibly.
"The Port is ambivalent about the bridge," McWilliams said. "We certainly wouldn’t object to it."
The problem, he said, is that the proposed design for the bridge encroaches into the safety zone of the railroad, which extends 25 feet from the center of the tracks and exists "to protect life and limb in case of a derailment."
The Port had the land appraised so it could sell the easement to Woodinville. However, building the bridge would change the value of the land, McWilliams said. Since the bridge on SR 202 would prohibit expanding the railroad — for example, for a commuter train service — the land is less useful and therefore worth less.
Now, McWilliams said, the Port is considering selling the land to Woodinville, rather than just selling the easement, so that the city would bear the potential economic loss from not being able to expand the railroad.
At the city council meeting, Hansen presented two alternatives to the original plan for the bridge.
The first alternative would replace the existing bridge and construct a new bridge in phases.
It would add a traffic lane to each side of the bridge, for a total of four lanes, and it would retain bikes lanes and sidewalks on each side, as in the original plan. It would require only a temporary construction easement, not a permanent easement, from the Port.
However, it would cost about $1.2 million more and take longer to build.
The second alternative is closer to the original plan. It would involve constructing a new two-lane bridge south of the existing bridge, but the new bridge wouldn’t have a bike lane. But it would probably stay within budget and within the necessary clearance of the railroad, assuming the Port agrees to a "reasonable resolution" of the right-of-way issues, Hansen said.
And as the process of acquiring the right-of-way drags on, the city faces a deadline. The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) has provided a grant of $1.5 million for the bridge, but Woodinville could lose that money if the project isn’t completed in time.
TIB originally stipulated that the project had to be under construction by the end of 2013.
After Woodinville staff wrote to the TIB explaining the difficulties acquiring right-of-way, the city will be able to keep funding as long as it begins the project by 2014 and finishes by 2015.