by Rod Lotter
– The Capitol Hill Times –
It may have taken more than 6 years of planning, but the Washington Park Arboretum will undergo its largest expansion since being established in 1934.
The expansion is the result of collaboration primarily between the Washington Department of Transportation and the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee.
The Committee is an advising organization that guides Arboretum planning in coordination with the University of Washington, the Arboretum Foundation and the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.
Collaboration and negotiations between the groups has managed to net more than $20 million for expansion and improvement of the Arboretum over the next decade, said Paige Miller, the vice chair for the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee.
The first phase, which will cost $7.8 million, will eliminate the “bridges to nowhere” located within the Arboretum, create a one mile multi-use trail and improve the Azalea Way pond, among many other projects. Construction will begin in 2014.
Miller said they will be by far the largest improvements to have been done to the Arboretum since she began working at the foundation in 2007.
“It is a huge deal for the Arboretum and the community that uses it,” Miller said. “It is maybe the first time the Arboretum has been expanded to include more land, which is exciting.”
She said the mitigation talks began in Dec. 2007, but the process took a long time to enact.
“Welcome to Seattle. As a one-time elected official, I am more than familiar with how long things take to get approved in the city,” said Miller, who previously served as Commissioner of the Port of Seattle.
The Bridges To Nowhere
The bridges to nowhere were constructed in the 1960s by WSDOT in anticipation of the R.H. Thomson Expressway. The Expressway was proposed to loop downtown, travel alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Way, go through the Arboretum and connect with the SR 520 Bridge, but it never happened. The Expressway was never built, in part because of mass protests against the project in the early 1970s, but the ramps have remained intact since then. The building of the R.H. Thomson Expressway would have also required the removal of thousands of homes located in the Central District, Madison Valley and the Montlake neighborhoods, which was highly controversial at the time.
As part of the agreement, WSDOT will finally tear down the bridges located within the confines of the Arboretum and return the land to the park.
New, Safer Trails
The second part of the proposed improvements to the Arboretum will involve the construction and expansion of biking and pedestrian trails located within the park.
Miller said the main trail project will begin at the Arboretum entrance near the Shell station near East Madison Street. She said the trail will go all the way through the park and end east of Lake Washington Boulevard. Eventually, the trail will connect with the Montlake Lid, which will be a new pedestrian overpass crossing the 520 Bridge. Miller said this will allow pedestrians and bike riders to cross the bridge and connect with the Burke-Gilman trail.
A 2-mile roundabout will also be constructed in the Arboretum and lower the risks associated with car traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard.
The Second Phase
More than $12 million have been proposed to bring more improvements to the Arboretum as part of the WSDOT mitigation agreement. Since construction of the new bridge will bring about many environmental concerns, Miller said the hope is that the mitigation payments will help protect the Arboretum.
The funding has not been finalized yet, as it all depends on what can be garnered by WSDOT to build the West Approach Bridge South section of the new bridge. But the funding is expected to help further expand the Arboretum by transferring the WSDOT-owned peninsula to the Arboretum. Funds will also benefit shoreline restoration, the creation of a new North entrance to the park, restoration to sections of the Arboretum creek and the creation of another roundabout.
Of course, as Miller noted earlier, the second phase of the project will probably take years to finalize, so it will likely not get underway anytime soon and plans may change along the way.