Saturday will be a big day in the Puget Sound region. The longest floating bridge in the world will open on Saturday morning, connecting the west and east sides of Lake Washington. The bridge opening is the result of years of hard work by elected officials and those who worked with them. This moment is a reminder of what the public and private sectors can achieve when they work together, and a success we can build on in the future.
The new SR-520 Bridge is also a wonder of modern engineering. The bridge is designed to withstand sustained winds of up to 89 miles per hour as well as a powerful earthquake. “Smart highway” technology will include reader boards with real-time traffic and variable speed limits, increasing efficiency.
This bridge, with a new HOV lane in each direction, reflects the region’s commitment to reducing congestion and protecting the environment – two goals Microsoft strongly supports. Those who today commute slowly cross the old, four-lane bridge – including about 6,000 Microsoft employees every weekday – will benefit when the portion of SR-520 that connects to I-5 is completed, allowing the bridge to carry 10 percent more vehicles and 17 percent more people during peak traffic periods. Reduced bottlenecks will decrease HOV travel time by up to 25 minutes, and general-purpose lane travel by up to 31 minutes.
With improvements to traffic flow and transit use, the Washington State Department of Transportation projects a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. These reductions complement Microsoft’s existing focus on traffic congestion and pollution. We run several programs to enable environmentally friendly commutes, and as a result, 42 percent of Microsoft employees use a form of transportation other than driving alone for their daily commute. Each employee riding the Connector, one of our commute trip reduction programs, saves about 30 pounds of carbon emissions each day and nearly 5.5 tons annually.
People throughout the region long ago identified the replacement of the floating bridge constructed over 53 years ago as a priority, especially since the bridge was designed to last only 50 years. However, other needs competed for attention and more efficient vehicles reduced gas tax revenues, making it harder to get the multi-billion-dollar project started. A coalition of labor, environmental, transit and business interests, including Microsoft, together ramped up their efforts more than eight years ago. The group worked with lawmakers, advocated for new sources of revenue, and conducted public awareness campaigns about the importance of this project and a regional, comprehensive transportation funding plan. Initial funding was secured in 2009, and the remainder just last year. The Legislature also last year passed a comprehensive transportation package that funds $11.5 billion in road projects, bike paths, and transit.
Just as the public and private sectors came together to build this world-class bridge, we now turn to other transportation issues. To continue this spirit of collaboration, Microsoft is part of Challenge Seattle, a new initiative launched by leading local companies working to improve our region. Challenge Seattle will engage elected officials and other partners to support transportation, education and economic initiatives in our region. Challenge Seattle’s work in transportation includes the establishment of a Mobility Innovation Center at the University of Washington to explore technology-driven transportation solutions, a goal for reducing single-occupancy commute trips and long-term strategies for creating a world-class transportation system.
Saturday is an exciting day for the region, as we have our first opportunity to traverse, by foot or bike, the world’s longest floating bridge. It’s Microsoft’s honor to sponsor a series of events to celebrate this milestone. We should all take this moment to admire this amazing feat of engineering, and celebrate what we’ve accomplished. Then we should take a deep breath and get ready to work on the next set of challenges, together.