July 6, 2007
You may have read in the recent Seattle Times article that part of the Alaska Way Viaduct has just sunk by another quarter inch. Apparently, the engineers involved do not fully understand what is going on, although they admit that it could continue to sink. (We hope that these are not the same engineers who will build Sound Transit's proposed light rail line on the I-90 floating bridge.) If it sinks another inch the viaduct may have to be closed, at least for a while. Where will all the cars and trucks go?
This should serve to remind policy makers of the importance of the Eastside railroad for traffic mitigation. What this means is that some of the long distance traffic on I-5 through Seattle could be diverted to I-405 as a means of allowing some of the traffic from a closed viaduct to be shifted to I-5. In turn, some of the commuter traffic on I-405 could be shifted to commuter trains on the Eastside railroad.
Likewise, the construction of additional lanes on I-405 could result in temporary lane closures. This would be another reason to get a basic commuter service up and running on the railroad as quickly as possible.
Sound far fetched? Actually, it isn't. Existing railroads have been used for road traffic mitigation elsewhere, and the results have been very good. So good, in fact, that the temporary commuter rail service became permanent in South Florida. Tri-Rail began operating commuter trains in January 1989 in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties on existing track as part of a major mitigation effort during the construction and expansion of I-95.
Unlike what some of our leaders have proposed for the Eastside railroad, planners in South Florida did not decide to spend tens of millions of dollars to rip out the railroad and replace it with a bicycle trail just because it was mostly single track and was not in the very best of condition. Rather, they started commuter service as quickly as possible using the existing infrastructure while gradually upgrading it, including adding a second track. Trains now operate seven days a week serving 18 stations with up to 40 trains daily along the 72-mile corridor.
Message to those politicians who seem so obsessed with replacing the Eastside railroad as quickly as possible with a bicycle trail: Please wait. There is no urgency. If it must be done, do it after the viaduct issue has been settled and the widening on I-405 has been completed.
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