By Jack Stubbs
The Lid I-5 Campaign, an effort to geographically reconnect the city by lidding a portion of the Interstate-5 that runs through downtown Seattle, last week took another step forward in the approval process. At a meeting earlier this month, the Seattle Design Commission recommended the $1.5 million Lid Feasibility Study as a public benefit, according to a statement released by the Lid I-5 Steering Committee.
This boost comes roughly a month after the project team received further news about the status of its endeavor to transform Interstate-5: on October 17th, the Lid I-5 team announced that the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) had agreed to fully fund the lid feasibility study. The WSCC will pay the city of Seattle $1.5 million as a public benefit associated with the Convention Center’s major expansion project downtown. And additionally, independently of WSCC’s agreement to fund the project, Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON) has awarded the Lid I-5 Project a $48,000 matching grant to expand the project’s public outreach efforts.
The Seattle Design Commission’s designation of Lid I-5 as a public benefit marks the latest chapter in a long-standing campaign that will re-shape various elements of the city’s infrastructure—Lid I-5 is a proposal to create new public land for a variety of uses including parks, affordable housing, street connections and other civic uses.
Input from the Design Commission and the Convention Center are the latest updates for a project that has been in the works for some time, according to Jim Castanes, member of the I-5 Steering Committee and founder of local architecture firm Castanes Architects. Castanes was was one of the proponents of the Lid I-5 concept that was formulated roughly three years ago. Earlier this year, in February 2017, Castanes spoke to the long-standing history of the project. “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,” he said.
The feasibility study is aimed at determining various logistical matters, including a comprehensive technical analysis of where lidding I-5 is most cost effective, as well as how the new land should be used. The study will be managed by the city and conducted by expert consultants, who will be tasked with analyzing construction methods, exploring different financing options, investigating urban design opportunities and recommending a phasing strategy for the project. The consultant team will also study areas where Lid projects have been undertaken elsewhere in the country, ranging from Dallas and Los Angeles to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. As part of a collaborative city-wide effort, city staff will coordinate with WSDOT and other public agencies as the feasibility study continues forward in the approval process.
Looking ahead, there are still obstacles that the feasibility study must overcome, having received funding from the WSSC and been designated as a public benefit by the Design Commission. The Lid I-5 Steering committee expects the Seattle Department of Transportation to conduct an analysis of the Convention Center’s total public benefits package—which includes over $80 million in projects negotiated among our community partners—before the project moves to Seattle City Council early next year, according to the recent statement released by the project team.
In the meantime, the project’s financial sponsor, Seattle Parks Foundation, has initiated a fundraising challenge that ends on November 28th, wherein the project will receive $1,000 of additional funding if the project receives donations from at least fifteen donors. The funding will be allocated in various ways—helping the project team to host public events, publish educational materials, and help the project volunteers work with City staff on implementing the feasibility study.
Before the feasibility study is given the green light, it must also be approved as a public benefit by the Seattle City Council, whose final vote is expected to be announced in Spring 2018. On December 7th, a final vote is expected on the WSCC Public Benefits package.