Bill Would Restrict Seattle's Say in Big Transportation Projects

By Erica C. Barnett January 14, 2010

A bill co-sponsored by Senate transportation chair Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10) and North Seattle Sen. Ken Jacobsen (D-46) would severely restrict Seattle's say in major  state construction projects like reconstruction of the SR-520 bridge and the deep-bore tunnel along the waterfront.

haugenSenate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Mary Margaert Haugen (D-10)

Essentially, the bill would exempt the state department of transportation from the requirement to get local government permits to build state highway projects—a clear swipe at Seattle, which has two major state highway projects—the waterfront tunnel and replacement of the 520 bridge over Lake Washington—in the pipeline.

Specifically, the state transportation department would no longer be "required to obtain local government master use permits, conditional use permits, special use permits, or other similar local zoning permits for staging areas related to the construction of state highways."

Additionally, under the bill, any street use permits obtained by the state for major state road projects (i.e., the tunnel) would be "presumed approved as submitted" and could only be appealed  in superior court, not to a local hearing examiner "or through any other local appeal process."

Mayor Mike McGinn's communications director, Mark Matassa, had not yet seen the legislation and said he would get back to me later this afternoon.

Cary Moon, head of the anti-tunnel People's Waterfront Coalition, calls the bill "incredibly ominous. It basically says the state does not have to get local permits for its projects, and it can just do whatever it wants."  Under current law, "you've got to get local approval, because you can't just come in and shut down the city," Moon says.

Moon sees the bill as a preemptive strike against Mayor Mike McGinn. Not only does McGinn oppose the waterfront tunnel (saying only that he "won't stand in the way" of construction), he supports building light rail across the 520 bridge—a position that puts him in conflict with transportation leaders in the legislature, who want to build a six-lane bridge with two HOV lanes and a new drawbridge over the Montlake Cut. McGinn, along with state House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) and Jamie Pedersen (D-43) has also said the state's preferred option would adversely impact neighborhoods on the west side of 520 and send too much traffic through the Arboretum.

State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43), who recently wrote an op/ed for Horse's Ass arguing that the city of Seattle has been missing in action on the 520 issue, believes the legislation is aimed at limiting the city's input on 520. "[Legislators are] very concerned that the city will do what Mercer Island did for almost 20 years, which is take absolutely no action," Murray says.

Murray believes the legislation won't hold up in court. "I think cities have the right to make decisions on their own jurisdiction," Murray says. " I ultimately don’t think it will pass. ...  I don’t see members voting to allow the state to come in" and override decisions made by local jurisdictions, Murray says.

I have calls in to Haugen and both the city and state transportation departments to find out more about the implications of the bill for Seattle.
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