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Traffic concerns need to be addressed for proposed new arena

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More land has been purchased for a proposed new sports arena in Seattle's SoDo district. Art Thiel says the city needs to address legitimate traffic concerns in the already-congested neighborhood.

"It's only going to get worse."

Those are the words of KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel regarding traffic in Seattle's SoDo district.

Members of the King County Council this week echoed concerns raised by the Mariners, the Port of Seattle and many SoDo businesses that a third arena in the area would create huge traffic nightmares. Not that there aren't any of those already.

Money diverted

The city allocated money for infrastructure improvements in SoDo 10 years ago when the football/soccer stadium was built.  The plan included building a Lander Street overpass that would take commuters, sports fans and port traffic over the railroad tracks and get them to Interstate 5 more quickly.

But it never happened. Art says the money was reallocated to the Mercer Street improvement project.

"It happened to be where Paul Allen has a considerable real estate investment in South Lake Union. Obviously, Allen didn't need to point out that traffic is always a mess on Mercer and any commuter will say that this has got to be the highest priority of civic money. I'm not going to say which project is more important but I am going to say that the SoDo folks feel like no one fulfilled that commitment to them to relieve that congestion."

Seattle unique

Art says the SoDo neighborhood is not structured to handle this much traffic without some help.

"I don't think there's another city that has its downtown core, its active Port and its entertainment district (the stadium area) within a mile of each other. It's a very compact, busy area and it's only got two north-south corridors - 99 and I-5. Right now, only Edgar Martinez Way gets away from the surface train tracks. So, it's really packed in there and I think the complaints are relatively legitimate."

Tunnel problem

Art says he agrees with one county council member who expressed concern to the arena advisory panel this week that the transportation problem, so far, has been "casually addressed."

"The city must make the call on whether to reinvest in traffic down there because it's only going to get worse. The tunnel that replaces the Viaduct is going to be a toll. And, if we've learned anything so far from 520, people avoid tolls. So when the tunnel is finally ready to go, those people avoiding tolls are going to pour over the streets of SoDo. People need to keep an eye on what's going to happen in three-to-four years and not just what's going on in SoDo now."

Seattle's proposed new arena is contingent upon NBA and NHL teams agreeing to relocate to the city. Billionaire investor Chris Hansen, a Seattle native, is leading the charge for the project. He purchased additional land for the deal in SoDo last week.

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.


Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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