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Originally published Sunday, February 13, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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James Vesely / Times editorial page editor

The vision thing, why pie in the sky is good

Consider this short list of things that never happened: • A soaring bridge over Elliott Bay, bypassing the Alaskan Way Viaduct as if...

Consider this short list of things that never happened:

• A soaring bridge over Elliott Bay, bypassing the Alaskan Way Viaduct as if it were a piece of road litter. • A soaring bridge from Bremerton across Vashon Island connecting to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

• A high-speed magnetic-levitation train across Lake Washington directly to the Microsoft campus on Highway 520.

• Passenger-ferry service from the Kirkland waterfront directly to waiting buses at the University of Washington.

• Cedar County, a breakaway county formed out of East King County to preserve property rights and distance its residents from Seattle.

• A world-class, indoor and outdoor soccer complex near Woodinville that could also be used as a venue for the Seattle-based Olympic Games.

• A NASCAR track facility covering acres of stands, stores and family attractions near Marysville in Snohomish County.

Had enough?

There was the undersea gas pipeline that would link Canada and the U.S. and cut across the Olympic Peninsula.

There was the idea of having people buy mini-cars so that at the beginning and end of each workday, highway congestion would be eased by loading them onto larger rigs for the drive downtown or back home.

There was also a carefully-planned community on the shores of Bainbridge Island that would set the standard for design and create a new kind of village life. Bainbridge Island residents said, "No thanks."

And there was the idea of a planned community on the bluff above Issaquah that would be a new living and working center with Microsoft at its core. Microsoft said, "Maybe later."

There are currently ideas floating out there for:

• Suspended car tunnels under Lake Washington to replace one floating bridge.

• Huge lids over Interstate 5 that would accommodate train stations, business districts and parks.

• Tree-lined boulevards instead of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the cars going somewhere else.

• A vast, high-rise condo neighborhood on the Elliott Bay shoreline near the two stadiums, with docks for cruise ships and new marinas.

• A brand new, four-year state university built from scratch in Snohomish County.

Today's vision is another soaring bridge, this time over Portage Bay, dropping down to a six-lane floating bridge over Lake Washington. This vision, created by some imaginative folks in the Montlake community, matches nicely the test of visions for the region: It's big, new, expensive and comes from outside the planning bureaucracy.

The Portage Bay-Arboretum passageway, affecting Montlake and also the views from Laurelhurst, may be the most contested ground on a waterway since the Battle of Vicksburg.

It pits neighborhoods against regional demands for a high-speed connection to Eastside jobs. Getting through that waterway will take lots of money and the determination of a Ulysses S. Grant.

As with all campaigns, it begins with a vision.

The good thing about visions is that they provoke us to ask what if ...

We can look back and say some visions are just not baked yet — only half-baked. Like mini-cars ramped onto trucks each evening, soccer complexes to rival those in Brazil and idyllic communities set in wilderness settings, they are all a bigger part of the give and take of a dynamic region.

Instead of seeing these visions as pipe dreams, I prefer to think of them as challenges to the innovation of our region, and a bedrock optimism that things can be made better.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

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