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Light rail, diverging diamonds, sunken ships and other positive transportation stories for 2020

The tunnel entry northbound of the light rail through downtown Bellevue. (KIRO Radio/Chris Sullivan)

Transportation was not immune to the hardships felt across the board in this pandemic. There has been so much bad transportation news this year, it’s time to focus on the positives.

Transit agencies like Sound Transit and Metro are losing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding because their tax revenues dried up and the fare boxes are empty. Ridership on ferries has plummeted, and toll revenue is so far off that there is a concern that the state won’t have the money to pay back the bonds for constructing 520.

Best of 2020, by MyNorthwest

Also, the West Seattle Bridge is closed and will be for another year-plus. In any other year, this would have been the biggest story.

But enough of the bad. Here’s some good:

The state opened its first diverging diamond interchange in Lacey. This is a freeway overpass that forces you to drive on the opposite side of the road across the freeway. It makes it a lot easier to clear traffic and a lot safer for drivers turning onto the freeway.

A lot of people were concerned about how drivers would react, but WSDOT’s Doug Adamson said it’s almost idiot-proof.

“There are raised barriers through there and really you are channeled through there, kind of like water flows through a creek,” he said.

Drivers seem to like it. I really liked driving across the interchange. This is the first of several diverging diamond interchanges planned for the state.

Despite the financial troubles for Sound Transit, 2020 was a good year for light rail expansion. The new Bellevue tunnel was completed this year, and project manager Chad Frederick said he couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

“We didn’t have a lot of unknown things happen like has happened elsewhere in our region,” Frederick said. “We may have really benefited from a lot of luck on this one, but there was a lot of planning that went into it and we put a lot of mitigation into making sure we didn’t have problems with the ground as we excavated this tunnel.”

The Lynnwood light rail extension really took shape this year. Drivers can see the columns along I-5, and a few weeks ago, the first structures went up across the freeway where the trains will eventually go from the Mountlake Terrace transit center to the west side of I-5.  Northgate is expected to open next year. The Lynnwood and Bellevue lines are on track to open in 2023, with Redmond opening in 2024.

The new Mukilteo Ferry Terminal opens next Tuesday. It’s the first new ferry terminal in 40 years.

Contractors found a previously undiscovered shipwreck in Lake Union while replacing the Fairview Bridge.

“People have gone through and mapped some of sunken ships that are on the bottom of Lake Union, but the one we found was not mapped,” said project manager Marylin Yim. “It was a complete surprise.”

Archaeologists were called in, but the wreck wasn’t anything significant. Workers left it in place. The new Fairview Bridge should open in the spring.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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