CHOKEPOINTS

Final phase of SR 520 plan in jeopardy

Nov 16, 2023, 5:22 AM | Updated: 7:17 am

montlake 520 finish...

The Montlake Lid project is still on schedule to wrap up in early 2024. (Chris Sullivan/KIRO Newsradio)

(Chris Sullivan/KIRO Newsradio)

We’re down to the final few months of construction, as the Montlake lid should be finished early in the second quarter of next year and the reversible lane from State Route 520 to the Interstate 5 express lanes should be done by June.

It’s nothing but the finishing touches that stand between now and putting a final bow on this phase of the 520 master plan.

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“Things that are really coming into fruition now for all that we’ve been working for the last four years,” the Washington Department of Transportation’s Steve Peer said.  “We’ve got the new direct access ramps that are getting built right now, and they will probably be built by the end of November. We have the bike and pedestrian bridge over 520 that should be complete in the first quarter of next year.”

So, all the puzzle pieces are moving into position, but not everything is rosy for the SR 520 project. The final piece of the expansion, from Montlake to I-5 over Portage Bay, sits in a precarious position.

Only two companies bid on the Portage Bay Project, and the best one is 70% of what WSDOT expected the project to cost. WSDOT expected the project to to cost about $ 800 million, while the best bid is over $1.34 billion.

So what happens now?

“We’ve worked with the governor’s office and state transportation committee leaders to discuss options moving forward,” Peer said.

Project head Omar Jepperson recently sent a note to legislators in districts 45, 46, and 48th to outline the seriousness of the situation.

It spells out the pros and cons of canceling the bid and starting over, dividing up the project or phasing it. Those are all bad options because they add time and money to the job.

As Jepperson wrote, up to seven years in delays and up to $1.5 billion in extra costs. Plus, there is a safety risk for delaying, considering the seismic vulnerability of the Portage Bay Bridge.

“Our team will continue working with WSDOT Leadership, the Governor’s Office, and Legislature to understand possible ways to close the funding gap, including through tolling, sales tax deferral, and other financing and grant opportunities,” Jepperson wrote.

And WSDOT is doing something unique here. It is keeping the best bid, which came from Skanska, open through the end of the legislative session. The bid was supposed to close next Monday, but WSDOT is working with the company to keep it open so lawmakers can find the money to finish the project.

WSDOT certainly doesn’t want to finish through Montlake and leave the final 4,000 feet of the expansion undone, but that is a possibility.

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