Should We Cover I-5?

Sheldon Costa

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The 1-5 Freeway creates a very tangible barrier between downtown and capitol hill. It also happens to be—for some—a particularly ugly gash in the center of Seattle. In the same way that Downtown is currently trying to reprioritize city space with the viaduct downtown, The Northwest Urbanist, a blog run by a Seattle urban planning graduate student, is arguing that the city put a cap on the grey blight cutting our city in two. The blog post points out, when initially constructed in the 1960’s, the current location of the interstate was chosen because it

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mostly contained older, undesirable buildings. Despite protests from citizens—particularly those living in first hill—the project went through. Scott Bonjukian, the blog’s moderator, points out the numerous reasons for capping the I-5, most of which residents of Seattle are probably familiar with. He argues that things like noise, exhaust pollution, and the obvious aesthetic lacking of the interstate are all good reasons to consider capping it altogether and utilizing the space for more effective purposes. What kind of effective purposes? Assuming that the cover would be capable of holding up buildings, the space could be utilized to provide more land for Seattle’s rapid urban growth. If it’s unable, however, a lid could be used to add more green space to the city—something already being considered in underutilized streets like the pike/pine corridor—in the form of parks or community areas. It would also remove the current isolation between neighborhoods. As you might have guessed, a project like this—despite making the city look and feel radically better—isn’t cheap. Bonjukian posits that the project would take “four bertha-sized tunnels” to clear out the projected area at a cast of 3.5 billion an acre. Obviously, this wouldn’t be very feasible. But Bonjukian points to a number of alternative methods. Stifling traffic on the road would be nearly impossible, so the blog takes the position that a cap on the interstate would be most feasible. This could then be covered with vegetation or be used to expedite pedestrians from the hill to downtown. This method, Bonjukian calculates, would cost about 2 billion dollars. Concepts like these are becoming more and more prevalent as people in the city begin considering alternative methods to our current development. A Capithol Hill blog post points to a community meeting last week that met to discuss 23rd avenue corridor improvement project, which culminated in a number of suggestions for how to make 23rd avenue more efficient for buses and traffic, as well as safer for pedestrians. The article also mentioned that the Seattle Department of Transportation is considering plans to create more green space along 23rd. As the city expands and development continues, we can expect to see more and more ideas like these develop. Times of growth can either be extremely beneficial or totally destructive in this regard. It all depends on how we spend our money.