Saving 520’s ramps to nowhere from demolition

Jul 6, 2016, 6:04 AM | Updated: 8:34 am
ramps to nowhere...
How the R.H. Thomson Expressway columns might look if preserved by Seattle ARCH. (Rainer Metzger for Seattle A.R.C.H.)
(Rainer Metzger for Seattle A.R.C.H.)
LISTEN: Saving 520's ramps to nowhere from demolition

They’ve stood for more than 50 years. For some, they were a kayaking slalom course, for others, a high dive above Lake Washington. But for others, they became enormous inadvertent monuments to a freeway construction project that was shut down decades ago by citizen activists.

Now, some old concrete columns from the 520 “ramps to nowhere” near the Arboretum are being championed by a local group. They say that a small portion of the vintage columns near the lake should be preserved, in place, as a tangible reminder of the power of ordinary people to take a stand.

The eastern portion of the new 520 bridge opened earlier this year, but there’s still much to be done to construct the western portion and finish the project all the way west to I-5. Part of the remaining work includes demolition of the old 520, including the remains of the never-completed R.H. Thomson Expressway, aka the “ramps to nowhere.”

Related: Bizarre Lake Washington disaster struck 25 years ago

The Thomson Expressway would’ve cut through Madison Valley from I-90 north to 520, and then north, under Lake Washington, and eventually to State Route 522. That project was killed, famously, more than 40 years ago by a group of citizen activists who objected to what they considered needless destruction of residential neighborhoods.

Rainer Metzger is a 39-year old Garfield High and UW architecture graduate who leads tours in Italy. He’s also a spokesman for Seattle Activists Remembered, Celebrated and Honored, or “Seattle A.R.C.H..” The non-profit group wants to save four specific columns, and the massive beam the columns support, as a monument to the death of the Thomson Expressway.

Metzger says that A.R.C.H.’s goal is, “to create a kind of marker in the Arboretum area that symbolizes the history of neighborhood activism.”

He says that the old concrete symbolizes much more than the freeway that was never built.

“I think a lot of Seattle values were forged in that citizens’ movement, where people rose up,” Metzger said. “All kinds of diverse groups of people came together to say ‘enough’ to the freeway mania of the time.”

Metzger and his Seattle ARCH colleagues have reached out to WSDOT, the agency overseeing the demolition and construction, but it’s not really up to WSDOT to pass judgment on what A.R.C.H. envisions.

“We’ve approached [WSDOT] about keeping a remnant, a little ruin, something to remind people of the citizens’ neighborhood movement,” Metzger said. “They say, ‘Well, yeah, that’s cool, that’s nice, but we need to be told to do that by somebody higher up, by either the people or city council or the state or somebody,’ and it’s just not part of their mission. It’s not part of their purview.”

Metzger says that Seattle A.R.C.H. will reach out to the Seattle City Council later this month, and ask them to formally request that WSDOT preserve the columns and the beam as one-of-a-kind monument.

In the meantime, while remaining agnostic about Seattle A.R.C.H., WSDOT has taken some baby steps to preserve the history of 520 in and around the Arboretum. Including, according to spokesperson Steve Peer, saving one of the concrete guard rails, date-stamped with the old 520’s original 1963 completion date. That artifact has been given to the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation for potential future display, Peer said.

But Peer also says that preserving a big chunk of concrete that’s been targeted for removal from park land is complicated.

“Part of the problem is that as part of the environmental process, we want to remove things from the Arboretum,” Peer said, not leave them in place. “We get permits for doing those things, and credits, if you will, for doing those things, for leaving the environment better than we found it. So there’s a conflict there” in preserving a piece of the R.H. Thomson Expressway in its original location, Peer said.

And speaking of poor R.H. Thomson, he was a celebrated public official who highway planners had sought to honor by naming the eventually-doomed expressway for him. Metzger acknowledges that lost in all of this is the true legacy of Thomson, who served as City Engineer for many years, including one stretch from 1892 to 1911, and who passed away in 1949 in his 90s.

“He did a lot for improving public health and safety, built the Cedar River pipeline and brought in fresh water to the city, and got rid of all kinds of diseases,” Metzger said. “Unfortunately, he’s remembered for this freeway that never happened, and for this citizens’ movement that kind of stopped his name.”

In addition to asking the Seattle City Council for help with creating the monument, Seattle A.R.C.H. is working to preserve the stories and oral histories of the individuals that stopped the R.H. Thomson Expressway and make all the materials accessible online. They’re also in the midst of producing a documentary film called “Seattle Freeway Revolt” and have posted a trailer.

On a visit to the construction site next to 520 earlier this week, Rainer Metzger was asked, should efforts to convince the Seattle City Council fail, if he would be prepared to chain himself to one of the Thompson Expressway columns in order to save it.

“I’ve had that image in my mind for a long time,” Metzger said, laughing. “But no, I don’t think so.”

Local News

crime, shooting...
Associated Press

Clark County deputies shoot, kill suspect after pursuit

Authorities say police shot and killed an assault suspect after a pursuit near Vancouver in southwest Washington.
1 day ago
rapid covid test...
MyNorthwest Staff

UW doctor: When to use a PCR versus rapid antigen test for COVID-19

Dr. Geoff Baird with UW Medicine has a simple formula for weighing the two main COVID test types: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and rapid antigen.
1 day ago
USS John McCain...
KIRO Radio Newsdesk

Naval Station Everett welcomes USS John S. McCain

The USS John S. McCain is now docked at its new homeport, Naval Station Everett.
1 day ago
vaccine booster, heart...
Stephanie Klein

What to know as Oct. 18 deadline for vaccine mandate approaches

The deadline for state workers, including educators, and healthcare workers to show their employers proof that they're vaccinated against COVID-19 is Monday, Oct. 18.
1 day ago
KIRO 7 News Staff

Police: Two in custody after hit-and-run suspect rams patrol car; officer fires shots

Two people were taken into custody after a driver suspected of a hit-and-run rammed an officer’s patrol vehicle, resulting in the officer firing shots at the car Saturday night in Medina.
1 day ago
Seattle library...
MyNorthwest Staff

Last of Seattle Public Library branch closures from pandemic comes to an end

Seattle has reopened its NewHolly library branch, meaning that for the first time since the start of the pandemic, all 27 of the city's branches are now up and running.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Saving 520’s ramps to nowhere from demolition