The Long-Delayed Lander Street Overpass Will at Last be Built

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: The Seattle Pi

Three noisy trains in a row, whistles blaring, battled Seattle officials for attention on Wednesday, as they announced -- finally -- that construction will begin early next year on the long-delayed South Lander Street overpass.

Trains block Lander for 4½ hours a day, delivering a major impediment to Port of Seattle-bound truck traffic. 

The blocking of Lander Street is more than an inconvenience:  The Port of Seattle faces major competition, from Prince Rupert and Vancouver in British Columbia to Southeast U.S. ports made accessible by the widening of the Panama Canal.

The Canadian federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get freight moving out of the B.C. ports and headed to the American Midwest.

Freight cargo goes where freight cargo can move.

"What would Seattle be like if we lost a big chunk of port business? If you are not speedy, you are going to lose out," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

A memorandum of understanding between the city and port notes that the port produced "$718 million in state and local taxes in 2016." 

"This corridor supports thousands of family-wage jobs," noted Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton.

Cantwell helped secure a federal grant for the $123 million project. The money is already in the pipeline, hence immune from any attack by the Trump administration.  Seattle voters have put up money.  Seattle port commissioners voted this week to kick in $15 million.

"We've been talking about this for 20 years," said Creighton. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray worked to get money back in 2003-05 when he was chairman of  the House Transportation Committee in Olympia.

The money has been promised and then jerked back. Then-Mayor Greg Nickels took dollars away from the Lander project to help transform the old Mercer Street mess into the new Mercer Street mess.

The new bridge will permit trucks and cars to go over the railroad tracks on Lander, just east of First Avenue and near Seattle School District headquarters.  (Trains have, for years, held up those heading for Seattle School Board meetings.)

"It's also about cleaning up our air," said Murray, noting all the idling cars waiting for a long freight train to pass.

The Lander overpass mirrors the new South Park Bridge, the most successful transportation project Seattle has seen in recent years.

It is funded by multiple levels of government, as well as by the BNSF Railroad, the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Would-be Sodo arena developer Chris Hansen offered to fill the gap on remaining funding. Instead, the Port of Seattle -- which has fought the Sodo arena -- upped its share of the project from $5 million to $15 million.

With port competition heating up, said Cantwell, it's time to get the overpass built so exporters can get to the waterfront.  "Congestion is not a good message for anybody to send out," said Cantwell.