By Brittan Jenkins

Lid I-5, the proposal to create new public land for parks, affordable housing, street connections and other civic uses in some of the city’s most populous neighborhoods by “lidding” U.S. Highway I-5, is one step closer to becoming a reality. The Lid I-5 feasibility study was included in the Washington State Convention Center’s (WSCC) initial public benefit proposal in December of 2016, and it was voted as the top choice out of 14 proposed projects that are considered to accompany the convention center redevelopment.

Due to the vacating of streets and alleys for expansion, WSCC is required to provide public benefits to offset the loss of alleys and streets. The amount of public benefit is determinate of the size and scale of the project and should be proportional to the WSCC addition.

We’re in the number one position for a feasibility study, and the study is to establish the feasibility to do this lid over the Seattle segment of I-5

Jim Castanes, who serves as a volunteer on the Lid I-5 Steering Committee and is the founder of local architecture firm, Castanes Architects, was one of the forerunners of the Lid I-5 idea that started about two and a half years ago.

“We’re in the number one position for a feasibility study, and the study is to establish the feasibility to do this lid over the Seattle segment of I-5,” Castanes said. “It’s really a continuation of Freeway Park which was a vision dating back to the mid 60s. We are now carrying on the vision from the 60s and 70s.”

Other lids have been built around Washington including Freeway Park and a lid in Mercer Island, but Castanes said some of their inspiration stems from lids in Dallas and Washington D.C. “We had a major charette that occurred last summer and a lot of ideas were generated from that, it’s pretty amazing,” Castanes said.

Castanes said lidding I-5 would allow for creating new spaces for a school, affordable housing, a park, sports fields for nearby schools around First Hill and Capitol Hill and art installations. But to even consider adding these components, the initiative is seeking $1.5 million from the WSCC public benefit package. That money will likely sustain the initiative for two years and will pay for consultants. Castanes said all the members of the committee are working pro-bono and they continue to keep doing so. He said they will likely receive the public benefit money next year but aren’t slowing down in the meantime.

“We’re working with the Seattle Parks Foundation, and they’re doing contributions to keep moving forward so we’re not just goning to sit around and wait,” Castanes said. “Right now, we’re continuing our efforts from the last two years and we’re coalition building. We’re reaching out to the communities and creating a coalition to support us,” he said. Castanes added they’ll be working on the structure for the feasibility study itself and also working with the city to find the right person to help with the study when it comes time.

While he didn’t want to speak on behalf of the people with the Lid I-5 Steering Committee, Thatcher Bailey, the executive director of the Seattle Parks Foundation, said he is excited for this project and the possibility of lidding I-5. “We are completely proud to be able to provide the minor support that we do,” Bailey said. “I love the notion that there’s a long term possible vision for how we reclaim the space above I-5 for multiple public uses and so that’s exciting to us.”

With many lids popping up around the United States, Bailey said why not bring one to Seattle. “There are lids happening all over the world so why wouldn’t we be thinking about that precious urban real estate being doubly purposed.”

Of note is that the second priority on the list is the Pine/Boren Lid Park proposal, another lid option, which is looking at building a 17,000-square-foot park and two fenced dog runs on either end of the space, totaling an additional 6,000 square feet.

Castanes said the architects of the convention center have concerns over the second proposed lid because accommodations have to be made for the dog park. “The strategy is we would focus on the feasibility study and then at the end, we would show that we should go ahead and do the lid where the dog park is,” Castanes said.

After nearly 6,000 comments from members of the public, WSCC included 14 projects of public priority. Those include Lid I-5, Pine/Boren Lid Park, affordable housing, Freeway Park improvements, Pine Street gap, Olive Way improvements, Melrose Promenade safety improvements, bicycle facilities, overpass improvements, Terry Avenue improvements, green street destination, Olive Square, Virginia Woonerf and “entry marquees” relocation.

Affordable housing comes in third, which could mean the citizens are curious about the feasibility of the lids and want to explore them for now until a final cost is proposed. Once a full proposal is created that includes the actual cost of the benefit, the priorities may shift. For the affordable housing component of the public benefit, WSCC is contributing $5 million.

Overall, the public benefits would add five additional or improved intersection crossings, add and enhance the landscape, enhance historic building lighting, add an overpass pedestrian rail, provide additional sidewalk surface, fill gaps in canopy coverage, create space for a new public art mural and add a decorative vehicle entry door.