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Originally published Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 5:26 PM

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Guest: Move now to build footbridge for Northgate light-rail station

Seattle needs to fully fund the proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting North Seattle College to the future Northgate Link light-rail station, writes guest columnist Ethan Bergerson.

Special to The Times

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SEATTLE Mayor Ed Murray deserves praise for his commitment to support sustainable transportation options and for setting an ambitious goal for 75 percent of commuters to travel to work by walking, biking, transit or carpool.

To achieve this vision, he will need to take concrete action to build transportation projects that work for everybody. He can start by fully funding the proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting North Seattle College to the future Northgate Link light-rail station, which is expected to open in 2021.

In 2012, the Seattle City Council and Sound Transit agreed to a plan to make the future Northgate Link light-rail station safe and convenient for everyone to access the station by foot, bike, bus or car.

Sound Transit and Seattle committed a total of $10 million to build a new pedestrian and bike bridge over Interstate 5 to connect the station to the college. However, they left at least half of the bridge unfunded with a July 2015 deadline to find up to an additional $15 million, or else the bridge would be canceled.

On March 12, Sound Transit held a public open house to release the station design, which is 90 percent completed. But Sound Transit and the City of Seattle still have not come up with a plan to pay for all of the bridge.

While running for mayor last year, Ed Murray called this bridge a “real priority” in a PubliCola article and declared that he would “go a step beyond the current administration and not just commit partial money to [this project], but find a way to work with public and private partners to actually fully fund it.”

Federal funding opportunities are available now, but the city needs to act quickly in order to meet application deadlines which are quickly approaching in April and May.

On Feb. 26, President Obama announced that he was offering $600 million in new funding through the TIGER grant program in the U.S. Department of Transportation. This program funds local transportation projects with a priority placed on “projects that make it easier for Americans to get to jobs, school, and other opportunities ... and reconnect neighborhoods that are unnaturally divided by physical barriers such as highways.”

The federal transportation department’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program and the Surface Transportation Program also have grant opportunities that are currently available.

The decision to build the bridge was not made arbitrarily. It was demanded by local Northgate residents who flooded public meetings and wrote comments asking Sound Transit to fund pedestrian and bicycle connections to station.

This bridge would tie two halves of North Seattle’s economic center together, creating economic, environmental and health benefits for both communities. By linking North Seattle College to the Northgate light-rail station, the bridge would connect new students to educational and job-training opportunities and bring new customers to merchants on both sides of the freeway.

Walkways and bike paths are the most cost-effective way for Sound Transit to make stations accessible to more people. The bridge would also reduce parking congestion so that the station works for everyone.

This is great investment for Seattle, an example of smart planning for other future light-rail stations and an essential step in achieving Mayor Murray’s transportation goal.

Light rail provides an affordable, efficient and convenient means of transportation that benefits all types of people.

But to maximize the benefits of light rail, people need to be able to access the light-rail stations. The pedestrian and bicycle bridge over I-5 would help make this happen.

Let’s not miss this opportunity to build this immensely popular project. Let’s make sure that the future Northgate Link light-rail station is safe, convenient and accessible so that everyone can choose how to get to where they need to go.

Ethan Bergerson of Seattle serves on the communications committee of Feet First, a nonprofit working to make all Washington communities walkable.

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