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Originally published Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 2:03 PM

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McGinn is lone dissenter as panel OKs new 520 bridge

The Puget Sound Regional Council Thursday approved construction of a new, six-lane Highway 520 bridge. The vote allows the state to award what's expected to be a $1 billion contract to build the lake crossing portion of the bridge from Medina to Foster Island, where it touches Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The Puget Sound Regional Council Thursday approved construction of a new, six-lane Highway 520 bridge.

The vote allows the state to award in July what's expected to be a $1 billion contract to build the lake crossing portion of the bridge from Medina to Foster Island, where it touches Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn cast the only no vote of the 32-member executive committee. He raised a theme familiar to his opposition to the waterfront tunnel — that the state is proceeding without a completed environmental impact statement and so a vote to award construction contracts is premature.

"The environmental work is not mere documentation. We're being asked to give the go ahead to the project without actually having that analysis," he said. The mayor said questions about tolling, the impact on local streets and financing for the Seattle portion of the bridge had not yet been fully answered.

McGinn has criticized the 520 bridge replacement project because, though rail could be added in the future, he says not enough work is planned initially toward that end. Thursday, he also questioned whether the state had adequately studied and planned mitigation for the project's impacts to traffic in the Montlake area.

The regional council gave its approval conditioned on completion of the environmental review.

Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond praised the decision and said it allows the state to move forward quickly to replace a vulnerable bridge. She said the state would continue to work closely with Seattle to improve connections in the Montlake area.

"Let's not pretend we haven't been at this for 14 years. Montlake doesn't work well today," she said.

She also advised McGinn to work with Sound Transit to develop light rail in the 520 corridor. Sound Transit is presently working on a voter-approved rail route across Interstate 90.

"Voters haven't had a chance to discuss or fund light rail, nor has the regional plan caught up," Hammond said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, president of the regional council, said his city worked with the state to complete a $250 million Interstate 5 improvement project four years ahead of schedule and under budget, because it proceeded with design work while the environmental reviews were still being completed.

Of the 520 project, he said, "the longer we delay, the greater potential for increased costs. That's a risk I'm not willing to take."

The Seattle members other than McGinn on the regional council, City Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen, all voted to go forward with the 520 project.

In a letter to the regional council Wednesday, Seattle Transportation Director Peter Hahn said the city continues to have concerns about the project's impact to Seattle streets. He called for a full study of the potential effects of traffic from Madison Street in the south to 75th Street in the north and from Montlake Boulevard west to Interstate 5.

He also asked the state to mitigate the identified traffic impacts.

The Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, a group of residents in the Montlake, Portage Bay and North Capitol neighborhoods, also urged the regional council to vote against the conditional approval. They said the most vulnerable part of the existing bridge, the concrete pillars on the west end, won't be replaced for another 10 years.

Residents also are concerned about the increase in traffic congestion, health effects from exhaust and the disruption from years of construction.

"We think it's a terrible project as currently designed," said Fran Conley, coalition coordinator.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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