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Rantz: Horrible, irresponsible lid I-5 idea just won’t die in Seattle

A lid was placed over I-90 as it crosses over Mercer Island. The land is now a park. Some propose to do the same over I-5 in Seattle. (Creative Commons/ Jeff Hitchcock)

It’s the wildly irresponsible, stupendously ridiculous idea that just won’t go away. Like Hillary Clinton, the I-5 “lid” concept in Downtown Seattle keeps popping back up, forcing us to talk about it, then hopefully, ignore it. Until somebody forces the Lid I-5 conversation again.

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It’s unclear why KOMO 4 recently promoted the idea, though it’s presumably due to some local activist group pitching coverage. We know that in August, outgoing Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw tried to force the conversation again.

Bagshaw, who is expected to announce she’s not seeking another term, blogged about the idea this week, almost as if she wants to end her career of service being known for incinerating at least half billion dollars on a crackpot idea.

Recently, the Lid I-5 steering committee hosted a morning bicycle tour from downtown Seattle to Mercer Island and back. We were able to experience the range of freeway lids the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has built. The lids help us create more buildable land.

Of course, it was a bicycle tour. These folks are heroes!

Re-imagining how we can reconnect our neighbors along I-5 is within our grasp. The Lid I-5 campaign is inspired by numerous examples nationwide both completed and planned, ranging from Klyde Warren Park in Dallas to Capitol Crossing in Washington, DC. If we take this innovative opportunity suggested by the Lid I-5 campaign, we could have 20 acres of new public land in Downtown Seattle. Land costs are rising as buildable sites diminish. Lidding provides us with a tried-and-true way to create new public space while reducing the noise and pollution which spills into neighborhoods.

It’s curious for Bagshaw to point to rising cost of land and how this could be space for affordable housing. Our rents are high for a few reasons, a big one having to do specifically with the city council. They should have allowed property owners to build higher up and we’d had have a higher rate of available units for rent. Though it pains me to have to explain basic economics to the council, someone needs to remind them that when you have a high supply, it cuts down on the demand. When the demand is less, the prices on the remaining supply go down.

Imagine, for a moment, instead of wasting a half billion on this land, you allowed development to build even one or two stories higher. Think of all the excess units we’d have. Instead, the council stopped growth only to, years later, propose an obscenely expensive project to needlessly cover I-5.

As KOMO points out, proponents of the idea don’t really mention the cost of the entire lidding project; instead they offer estimates of $265 million for just a portion of the project. Living in Seattle and experiencing literally any major project, we know that the cost is always off by about 100 percent. Gee, I wonder what else we could spend all this money on?

We have out of control homelessness, a growing, deadly drug addiction problem, and we don’t have the funds necessary to fix our horrific traffic congestion. But sure, let’s put a lid on top of I-5. And, while we impact the traffic in the region for the project, we could maybe hand out Lime bikes for people to rent and use to bike across the region.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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