Independent expert determines Sound Transit has right to I-90 center lanes

The Washington Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee is meeting this morning to hear testimony from an independent expert hired to determine what, if anything, Sound Transit might owe the state for the right to cross the I-90 bridge, and I’m guessing some legislators aren’t gonna like what they hear.

Over at Seattle Transit Blog, Ben Schiendelman has a great recap of the issue and the consultant’s preliminary report, but the takeaway is this: Sound Transit owes the state squat. Under the terms of agreements signed by federal, state and local authorities, “the I-90 center lanes have been permanently committed to transit use since 1978,” and would only be used for cars until a transit agency needed them. Furthermore, the consultant determined that WSDOT only contributed to 2.5% of the cost of the relevant, impacted portion of the I-90 corridor, and thus any claims for compensation would be limited to that.

But as Ben points out, even that 2.5% figure may be a stretch:

Whenever Sound Transit builds an improvement, such as an HOV lane, on WSDOT property, some portion of the value of that improvement is ‘land banked’ — such that if Sound Transit needs highway right-of-way, it can draw from this land bank rather than have to actually pay. Sound Transit has quite a bit in this land bank, and that as well as the Sound Transit contribution to R8A could both be considered credits if WSDOT were able to charge for use of I-90.

The Land Bank Agreement considers full payment as the value of 20 years of use. While the land bank agreement may not apply to this particular transaction, it’s still interesting here: as the center lanes have been used by “highway vehicle , including single occupancy vehicle, travel” (pg. 26) for over 20 years, it’s also arguable that the state investment for the center lanes may have already been fully returned.

The report doesn’t bode well for legislators hoping to slow or kill construction of the voter-approved East Link light rail line, or for, say, House Speaker Frank Chopp, who reportedly hoped to extort a billion dollars or more out of Sound Transit to help offset the outsized costs of his Mountlake Tunnel. It’ll be interesting to see how legislators react.


  1. 1

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    Ben Schiendelman writes in his blog entry:

    Last week, the independent consultant agreed to earlier in the year released their draft report, “An Analysis of Methodologies to Value the Reversible (Center) Lanes on Interstate 90…” (PDF).

    That report isn’t from an “independent consultant,” it’s from two law firms WSDOT hired to represent ITS interests. As with any report from lawyers, the authors are bound to advocate vigorously for their clients’ interests. That’s what that report is – for better or for worse.

    There really is only one way for ST and the state to proceed: ST should pay WSDOT’s administrative costs for a transitway agreement. That’s what ST pays to other jurisdictions for transitway agreements when it uses their rights-of-way for rail. The analysis of these lawyers in their report to the contrary simply is wrong.

    More significantly, the state should not grant ST any use rights in that corridor UNTIL some good engineering experts report that converting that center span of the floating bridge to a railbed presents no undue risk to the integrity of that structure. Bear in mind, NOBODY’S tried to turn a concrete pontoon highway bridge to a rail bed before, and there are plenty of reasons why this one wouldn’t be a good first candidate for such a conversion. Appropriate joints haven’t been invented yet, the rigid, heavy superstructure might make the pontoons too top-heavy and unstable in storms, the reduced speeed and steep inclines at either end may actually result in the trains getting stuck out on the pontoons, new anchoring systems will be required, etc.

    Here’s a better series of postings on this issue:;page=1

  2. 2

    Now you see it spews:

    Regardless of who did the report, is this statement true: “the I-90 center lanes have been permanently committed to transit use since 1978,” and would only be used for cars until a transit agency needed them.

    If that’s in the agreement, sorry you made an agreement you NOW don’t like. But that’s how contracts work. If you took the money from the Fed and promised to use the lanes for transit WHEN it is developed, and now that we have transit and plan to use the lanes, you don’t like it? Get the f**k over it. Stop agreeing to stuff to get $ and then try to bs your way out of it later.

    Totally in agreement the engineering has to work first and foremost. But ASSUMING that it does, the issue as to whether Sound Transit has to pay some cash to use lanes that were promised to be used for transit originally seems moot.

  3. 3

    Ben Schiendelman spews:

    Mukasey Is A Tyrant:

    The engineering studies determining that rail on the bridge is feasible were done last year. Even WSDOT has accepted that.

  4. 4

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    *That report isn’t from an “independent consultant,” it’s from two law firms WSDOT hired to represent ITS interests.*

    The two law firms who drafted that report were NOT hired by “WSDOT,” but they were hired by a committee that was comprised 75% of state political appointees and 25% ST staff.

    The lawyers who prepare that report were paid for their work entirely with state money. They were selected to prepare that report by four individuals. Here’s the bill from last session identifying the selectors: ESSB 5352 Sec. 204 (3) (“the secretary of [WSDOT], the chief executive officer of sound transit, and the cochairs of the joint transportation committee”).

    Those are the four individuals who selected these two law firms.

  5. 5

    Ben Schiendelman spews:

    This is the engineering report that shows the design work is feasible:

    I don’t think you understand what an independent consultant is. WSDOT and ST are at loggerheads over the bridge – WSDOT did NOT want this outcome.

    Maybe you missed the part in the bill just above what you quoted where it said “independent analysis”?

  6. 6

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    The engineering studies determining that rail on the bridge is feasible were done last year. Even WSDOT has accepted that.

    The only testing done so far has been vertical load testing. Many open questions remain regarding whether undue risk of catastrophic failure would result from fixing a heavy, rigid superstructure with “train capable” joints to that pontoon bridge. That’s why the engineers’ reports after the 2007 load tests presented such qualified opinions.

    It remains very much an open question as to whether that center span can be converted from highway to railbed use. Ask any PE – you’ll see what I mean.

  7. 7

    DoneDeal spews:

    Ben, mukaseyisatyrant is bonkers.

    Don’t spend too much time with his insane conspiracy theories.

    Remember that BH guy from the PI and FoM forums who spent half his time defending the Monorail’s disastrous finance plan – and the other half bashing ST’s conservative financial model?

    Well, that’s mukaseyisranting. He’s not playing with a full deck of cards.

    Can you say “disgruntled/disbarred lawyer?”

  8. 8

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    Look at what that “engineering report” says about results of testing to date:

    The analysis showed that LRT loading combined with the 1-year storm loads, from the south, produced stresses that were 97% of the allowable stresses becoming the controlling case for operational limitations of LRT. The allowable stress criteria protect for projected bridge fatigue and do not represent the ultimate factor of safety.

    At 1-year storm loads the stresses were at 97% of allowable. That is not nearly enough of a safety factor.

    At 100-year storm loads that bridge would SINK if converted to rail.

    The testing done so far shows the current structure is NOT robust enough for 100-year storms if converted. Plus, appropriate joints haven’t been invented yet.

    Look, there’s a reason no concrete pontoon floating bridge EVER has been converted from highway to railbed use.

    Just sayin’.

  9. 9

    DoneDeal spews:

    The really weird thing about mukaseyisbonkers: he knows every possible obscure detail about stuff which may or may not matter. But he ALWAYS misses the mark by jumbling all those details together in a kind of mental mosaic.

    And, since he’s thinking/writing in a vaccum, even the conspiracy theories get screwed up. Yeah, like state officials are all part of this giant cabal conspiring to hand over their cherished floating freeway to the transit agency.

    One might guess mukasey is joking with these absurd theories. Sadly, he is not.

  10. 10

    Chris Stefan spews:

    The reason no concrete pontoon floating bridge has ever been converted to rail is there just aren’t that many of them to begin with. 4 of the handful in the world are here in Washington.

    On the other hand suspension bridges flex and many carry rail or did so in the past. Putting rail on a flexible structure is a solved problem as would be rail joints to deal with the expansion joint.

  11. 11

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    @7 & 9: You don’t know me, and you’re making up things about me. No way am I a disbarred lawyer. The only disbarred lawyer involved in transit I’m aware of is Will Knedlik, and ST’s board selected him to draft the “Statement Against” Prop. 1 in 2007.

    All you are doing is calling me names. Try addressing my contention: huge open questions remain regarding whether the center span can be converted safely to a robust railbed.

    I’ve never implied there’s any kind of conspiracy theory. That’d require a bunch of folks scheming to pull off something improper. What’s going on is just a bunch of folks looking at their own narrow pocketbook situations, and then acting selfishly. See – no conspiracy.

  12. 12

    Steve spews:

    @5 Feasible??? From that report you linked to, the definition of a high priority issue, many of which the report raises.

    “Issue to be resolved before the Independent Review Team can provide an
    assessment of the feasibility of the East Link project using the Homer M.
    Hadley floating bridge to facilitate the crossing of Lake Washington.”

    As far as that report is concerned, those high priority issues are unresolved. The feasibility cannot be assessed until these issues are resolved. How can you conclude that “the design work is feasible” by reading this report?

  13. 13

    DoneDeal spews:

    Heh. Just wait until mukasey rolls out his well-worn State Supreme Court = Illuminati manifesto.

    You guys haven’t seen anything yet. Mukasey is only just warming up his junk science machine.

    Mukasey isn’t a lawyer or an engineer. But he plays one on TV.

  14. 15

    Steve spews:

    I went to that site @14, followed a link there to where the report was supposed to be posted, but found no report. Instead, I eventually found a page there listing this last “milestone”, suggesting that the site is kind of dead-ended with the 2008 report you originally linked @5 to that raised the high priority issues.

    “April 8, 2008 – Initial presentation to Joint Transportation Committee by I-90 Independent Review Team.”

    Is there an actual follow-up report on the resolution of those issues that were raised?

  15. 16

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    @7 & 9: Give us your take on Chris Stefan’s analysis above at 10 (fairly paraphrased as “suspension bridges work for trains, so this concrete pontoon bridge will work for trains”).

  16. 17

    Ben Schiendelman spews:

    Steve, I think you just misunderstand the report. It’s just a matter of engineering. Your ‘high priority’ and the priorities of someone in the context of the engineering project are very different.

    The issue report’s goal was to identify if there were any showstoppers. There are ‘high priority issues’ with every project, but the point is, they’re all solveable.

  17. 18

    Steve spews:

    @17 Ben Schiendelman spews:
    “Your ‘high priority’ and the priorities of someone in the context of the engineering project are very different.”

    I’m not the one who established what the “high priority issues” with the rail bridge crossing might be – I gleaned that from reading the first report that you linked to @5. Sorry, but with this flippant response of yours, I have to wonder about your ability or willingness to give anybody straight answer. I hope you aren’t intentionally trying to mislead.

    “There are ‘high priority issues’ with every project, but the point is, they’re all solveable.”

    All engineering problems are solveable? Good grief!

    Really, sir, as a professional engineer myself, I’d rather read the actual report on the solutions to the high priority issues raised by the first report rather than further read your attempts to diss my trying to get a straight answer out of you. If there is no final report then please just say so. If the high priority engineering issues identified by the report you linked to @5 have no solutions at this time, then please just say so. And if there is a report somewhere that presents engineering solutions, please just link to the darned thing.

  18. 19

    Chris Stefan spews:

    Many of the issues are the same due to the bridge structure flexing more than say a truss bridge. Sure that doesn’t cover all of the issues, but it is a rather large leap from “there are issues to resolve” to “it can’t be done or shouldn’t be attempted”. I’ve read the reports and Ben is right, there are no show stoppers.

  19. 20

    Steve spews:

    @19 It sure looked like there were some “show stoppers” in the report that was linked @5. Maybe you can direct me to any follow-up reports that address the “high priority issues” that were identified. Thanks.

  20. 21

    Steve spews:

    The definition of a “high” priority issue from that first report, Chris, italics mine:

    Issue to be resolved before the Independent Review Team can provide an
    assessment of the feasibility of the East Link project using the Homer M.
    Hadley floating bridge to facilitate the crossing of Lake Washington. These
    issues, if not addressed, could prevent the Independent Review Team from
    reaching a conclusion regarding the feasibility of the design.

    I just want to know what the proposed engineering solutions are to these “high priority issues” that were identified.

  21. 22

    The Dude spews:

    # 8 –
    You can’t read. Even in your own post – that is 97% of operating allowance. All it means is that in an average year they can continue to run trains all the time. If the winds are greater, they have to not run trains until the winds die down. They do that for cars on 520 all the time. There is no risk of sinking in that quote anyplace.

  22. 23

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    From the blog entry:

    Ben Schiendelman has a great recap of the issue

    David: Ben just got called off. He’s a loose cannon.

    David: How much do you think Microsoft pays him every two weeks?

    That engineers’ report he linked to as much as says ST’s plans would make the center span sink in just a couple of years.

    Do you get that, David?

  23. 24

    Steve spews:

    The report linked to @5 identifies eleven “High priority issues”. Show stoppers. All of them, including concerns about the existing cathodic protection of bridge cable supports, stray curents from rail, and the possibility of shortening the expected life-cycle of the existing bridge by 25%. I’ve engineered cathodic protection systems for installations such as the Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor where they load nuclear-tipped missles onto Trident subs. I live in Mason County. I have no dog in this fight. I’m just an engineer who would like to read about the proposed engineering solutions to this and the other problems presented by the report, particularly the cathodic protection and stray currents, as well as seismic and storm loading. I really thought I’d be directed to a follow-up report and that’d be the end of it. That clearly hasn’t happened.

    Until the “high priority” engineering issues identified in the report are resolved, nobody could truly know if this crossing is feasable. If there are no solutions to these issues at this time, I don’t see how anybody could possibly provide an accurate estimate as to how much this crossing project would really cost.

  24. 25

    Mukasey is a Tyrant spews:

    @ 24:

    Stray electrical current is NOTHING when it comes to problems. This plan to try converting the center span to a fixed rail bed is doomed to failure, and that report Ben served up above as much as acknowledges that fact.

    Converting the center I-90 pontoon span to a rail bed would sink that bridge. Think about it. ST would need to scrape off the existing road bed, and then try fixing onto the pontoons a heavy, rigid superstructure. That superstructure would be comprised of as-yet-uninvented joints, railbed, ties, rails, pylons and electrified wires. A new anchoring system probably would be tried.

    Ask anyone involved in naval architecture what happens when you increase the weight of a superstructure on any water-displacing, floating structure. The thing becomes very unstable and top-heavy.

    Concrete can take big loads – it has great compression strength. The problem here though is that concrete’s got really poor tensile strength. That low value means designing new joints to join the pontoons is likely an insurmountable problem.

    There’s no good way to attach appropriate joints to support heavy train use to the concrete pontoons if a rigid, heavy rail bed superstructure is affixed on top of them. Those joints would be subjected to force matrices during storms that would rip them from the concrete pontoons. The newly-rigid bridge structure would be much more susceptible to catastrophic failure in recurring storms.

    Concerns about stray electrical current miss the big picture. There’s no need for further East Link planning of the type now underway.

    When are we going to hear how ST wants to build a new bridge for its trains to replace the current center span?

  25. 26

    Steve spews:

    @25 I can see big pictures just fine, thank you. I do not require your assistance. My professional discipline is electrical engineering. I’ll leave the discussion of any specific structural issues that have been identified to those who are actually qualified to discuss those matters. I only ask, where is the follow-up report? It was stated by Ben that there is such a report. I’d like to read it. If there isn’t one, then everybody would be a little better served if people like Ben would stop misrepresenting the facts as the first report only identified feasibility issues and offered no solutions.

  26. 27

    look it up spews:

    @24, in presenting the final report to the JTC, the IRT Chair stated under questioning by Sen. Ed Murray that he saw “no showstoppers”. That colloquy was the genesis of the no showstoppers term that is oftern used in references to the report. I do not have a link to the JTC transcript, but maybe someone else can find one. It was a pretty definitive moment, where the leader of the team picked by the legislature in consult with WSDOT stated unequviocally on the record that LRT is feasible via the I-90 floating bridge.

    As an additional reference point, people can look at the 1978 USDOT Record of Decision that allowed I-90 to be built. It clearly states the bridge is to be funded 90 pct by the federal government and built to support rail transit in the future. This die has been cast for a very long time.

  27. 28

    norbert spews:


    An ambiguous comment about showstoppers is all you have? Fucking lame.

    That July 2008 report above is full of assertions by engineers that show they doubt the existing pontoon bridge can be converted to rail use.

    Where’s a report signed off on by PE’s saying that pontoon bridge can be converted without undue risk of catastrophic failure? Link to that bozo, or stfu.

    An off-hand remark about there not being showstoppers isn’t the kind of assurances prudent planners can rely on.

    “Definitive moment” my (horses)ass!!!

  28. 29

    norbert spews:

    Here’s what “no showstoppers” meant in that context: “We want to be hired to present more reports.”

    “No showstoppers” doesn’t mean anything.

    It certainly does not mean what you wish it meant: “We certify converting the bridge so ST can use it for rail service is practicable at a cost of [$X], and it would not increase concrete fatigue or risks of structural failure.”

  29. 30

    Gabe spews:

    What a surprise, right wing anti-transit cranks claiming that light rail will sink a floating bridge…which was BUILT for light rail.

    The “greatest generation” somehow gave way to the whiner generation – a set of out-of-shape middle aged complainers who need the solitary confinement of their cars to remain truly happy…and separated from society.

    Just to give you an idea about how ridiculous their claims are: the hybrid buses they claim would be a better replacement (running bumper to bumper to match light rail capacity) weigh about 70,000 lbs each.

    The light rail vehicles these paranoid morons think will “sink the bridge” overnight weigh 100,000 lbs.

    In the end, it’s all a bunch of right wing malarkey. I’m surprised they haven’t raised the REAL reason they hate bringing the train across the bridge….you know, “those people” might start visiting Bel Square. Oh, sorry…we’re supposed to call it “The Collection.”

  30. 31

    norbert spews:

    What a surprise, right wing anti-transit cranks claiming that light rail will sink a floating bridge…which was BUILT for light rail.

    A correction: after the Lacy V Morrow bridge sank in 1990 the new span was constructed very quickly using Federal Grant money. None of it was engineered for rail.

    Oh, and I’m neither right wing nor anti transit, fuckwit.

    It isn’t the weight of the railcars alone that is the problem. The problem is a combination of the bridge becoming top-heavy and rigid due to the new rails and railbed, along with how the weight of a four-car set will cause the entire structure to flex. The aging concrete pontoons won’t be able to take it.