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 received a major boost. 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, according to a statement released by the Lid I-5 project team.
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. 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 project is led by the Lid I-5 Steering Committee, a group of volunteer Seattle residents who believe current socioeconomic factors have created the perfect opportunity to Lid I-5.
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. The feasibility study was included in the WSCC’s initial public benefit proposal submitted in December 2016 and was voted as the top choice out of 14 proposed project to accompany the redevelopment and expansion of the Convention Center.
The Convention Center’s agreement to fund the study marks the latest chapter in a much longer saga, 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 forerunners of the Lid I-5 idea that was conceptualized roughly three years ago, and in February 2017 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 ascertaining a comprehensive technical analysis of where lidding I-5 is most cost effective, and 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. Additionally, staff from the city will collaborate with WSDOT and other public agencies as the feasibility study gets underway.
According to the Lid I-5 Steering Committee’s recent announcement, the $1.5 million in funding will be adequate to examine the Center City portion of I-5, which goes from Chinatown-International District to Lake Union. This area of the city is comprised of some of the densest neighborhoods that the freeway cuts through, including Yesler Terrace, First Hill, Capitol Hill, Downtown and South Lake Union. The project team has emphasized how these areas are in greater need of more affordable housing, public open space and enhanced street connections. According to the recent statement from the project team, “Lidding I-5 provides new land for these benefits at a cost that is approximately half that of purchasing developable land in the same area.”
The Lid I-5 Steering Committee reached the most recent milestone with help from various neighborhood organizations and nonprofit advocates for the project. Some of their Coalition partners include Capitol Hill Housing, Cascade Bicycle Club, Central Seattle Greenways, First Hill Improvement Association, Freeway Park Association, Housing Development Consortiumw and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
Through continued engagement with the WSCC and the Coalition, the Steering Committee negotiated an increase for the feasibility study funding from $250,000 offer to the recently agreed-upon $1.5 million in funding. Looking forward, Lid I-5 Steering Committee will continue working with WSCC and the city to refine and conduct the proposed feasibility study.
There are still hurdles that the study needs to overcome, having received funding. It must be approved as a public benefit by the Seattle City Council, whose final vote is expected to be announced in the spring of 2018. Lid I-5 will ensure that the funding is spent wisely, and will then aim to launch the next step of the project, designing the lids for I-5. On November 2nd, a Design Commission meeting will be held to review WSSC Public Benefits, including the Lid I-5 study. On December 7th, a final vote is expected on the WSCC Public Benefits.