On the same day Washington was ranked amongst the top three most effective state governments, Gov. Christine Gregoire helped demonstrate how she made the grade by announcing revised plans that would replace the 520 floating bridge two years sooner and at as much as $700 million below previous estimates. Much of the savings come simply from accelerating construction, thus avoiding anticipated inflation of concrete and other materials.
The accelerated schedule is achieved through a number of means, including expediting the environmental permitting process and beginning construction on the rest of the 520 corridor sooner than originally planned, but much of it is due to advancing pontoon construction at two facilities simultaneously. Construction on smaller pontoons will now begin in 2009 at an existing facility in Tacoma, while construction on a new facility at Grays Harbor will begin in 2010, with production coming online the following year. Pontoons from both facilities will be floated through the locks, and into Lake Washington, where they will be assembled on site. This accelerated construction plan also has the ancillary benefit of creating hundreds of new local jobs at a time the national economy is headed into recession.
The proposal calls for a six-lane bridge — two general purpose lanes and an HOV lane in each direction — and will avoid the need for a draw span by raising the clearance on the Eastside approach. The bridge is designed to be expandable, with the ability to add new lanes or rail capacity by attaching a new row of pontoons to one side, and is now scheduled to be completed by the Fall of 2014, with full 520 corridor improvements to be finished by 2016. The total project will be financed by $1.7 billion in state and federal money, and as much as $2 billion in tolls.
In a letter to legislative leaders, Gov. Gregoire explained that the revised plan came in response to a request she made to WSDOT in January to explore all options for accelerating construction. Credit surely goes to WSDOT for rethinking the construction plan and finding the savings in both time and money, but credit also goes to Gov. Gregoire for pushing this process along.