In bridge debate, UW Football gets no respect

As I recently sat down with the Seattle-PI and opened it up to a certain article, I became stupefied by the illogical nonsense of it all. It was about the debate over renovation plans for the 520 Bridge. The article featured an interview with a systems analyst named Craig Dalby, of the National Park Service.

His words illustrated that he and his colleagues place wildlife preservation as the highest priority.

Dalby was depicted as valiantly riding the Metro Bus to work each day over the 520 Bridge, while fretting over a beaver dam, heron's nest and trails for walkers. What would happen to them when the bridge is rebuilt? Also of concern was the preservation of the Washington Park Arboretum and Marsh Island. There just had to be a better way, Dalby mused, to spare them from the onslaught of construction workers. So he created a design that has become known as "The Dalby Plan" or "The Arboretum Bypass Plan." In recent weeks, this design is rapidly gaining in popularity, and is being pushed hard for ratification.

Dalby's outside-the-box thinking is to abandon the existing east-west footprint of the 520 Bridge. Instead, the new bridge would sweep northward in a giant arc and cut a swath halfway across Union Bay. It would then turn back to run parallel to Husky Stadium before plowing through the stadium's south parking lot. From there, the roadway would dip beneath the Montlake Cut and connect with a planned university light rail line, before rising to street level to link with Montlake onramps.

"From the Arboretum's point of view, I haven't seen anything better," said David Mabberley, professor and director of the UW Botanic Gardens, which includes the Arboretum.

"It is balanced, integrated and elegant -- and elegance is a word I never thought I'd use in relation to 520," said Iain Robertson, an associate professor in the UW's Department of Landscape Architecture. "It manages to resolve issues and problems in ways that no other designs have done."

Elegant? Well, not really. Has anyone asked 70,000 Husky football fans? This Dalby Plan is the equivalent of scooping up dog crap with a shovel and flinging it into the neighbor's yard.

I contacted Debera Carlton Harrell, who wrote the P-I piece. She politely declined to comment.

"I'm just the messenger here, not the expert on what the impacts will be," she replied in an email. "One thing you should know: No final option has been selected, and since various options will have differing impacts, it's not clear what the impact on Husky Stadium and football fans will be… Is there a group that has formed representing football fans that is concerned? I've written a number of stories, and have never heard any concerns -- -but I did record quite a few concerns in other areas."

Yes, there are concerns from football fans. Many have been crestfallen over the prospect of losing the stadium's south parking lot for tailgating. But the Dalby Plan increases the imposition on UW football to a new level. This new bridge design would be as horrifyingly ugly as former Coach Lambright's purple helmets from a decade ago — and much more permanent.

Looking to learn more, I talked to Washington Athletic Director Todd Turner. I asked him if the Athletic Department has failed to be vocal enough, considering that the Seattle P-I is oblivious to the concerns of the Husky football community.

"Well, the University of Washington is in a precarious position from that standpoint," said Turner. "As a state agency, our public statements have to be more factual, and less opinion-oriented. I have my personal opinions on the matter… I don't know enough about the Dalby Plan to comment on it. But in looking at any of the designs - and there are several - traffic is going to be routed through the south parking lot of Husky Stadium. It is going to be a significant development, and have a significant impact on the game day experience for tailgating and parking, among other things. Obviously, we want to minimize that impact as much as possible, and we are going to advocate for it. We are participating in the discussions (with UW Administrators who represent the Athletic Department's interests), and providing them data. They are well aware of our concerns."

Every side of this debate has its concerns, and we all share this region together. Whether or not you agree with the Dalby Plan, it goes without saying that nobody wants the Arboretum turned into a parking lot. Nor does anyone want to see any wildlife needlessly relocated or harmed. But to fret over inconveniencing animals at the expense of humans, seems to be putting animals upon a nonsensical pedestal.

For Washington fans, it's bad enough that the tailgating experience will be partially destroyed by whichever design is selected, via losing the south parking lot. Several generations of fans have tailgated there and celebrated life in their own way, through the rituals associated with Husky football. It's also understandable that nobody in this debate wants the new bridge to affect their personal interests. But in the public discourse, the interests of Husky fans are being disregarded.

I, for one, don't want to sit in Husky Stadium and look toward the lake--only to see the once-beautiful view obliterated by a concrete monstrosity. Especially if it stemmed from the perceived need to not disturb some wildlife at an additional price tag of $2-4 billion. It is unfortunate that those in favor of the Dalby plan feel perfectly comfortable in imposing the consequences of this ridiculous design on Washington's football program.

Perhaps if Husky fans were put onto an endangered species list, they would suddenly receive much more consideration from the Arboretum crowd.

Click the link to read Harrell's article, and see a sketch of the "Dalby Plan.": LINK
Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories