R.H. Thomson Expressway

In the 1950s, city engineers began developing plans for the route between the north end of Empire Way in south Seattle (today's Martin Luther King Jr. Way) at Rainier Avenue South and the Meadowbrook neighborhood in northeast Seattle. By 1958 a four-lane expressway was proposed along the east side of Capitol Hill, roughly following a route between 28th Avenue East (Martin Luther King Jr. Way) and 29th Avenue East south of the ship canal and 24th and 25th Avenues north of the canal. A tunnel would have carried traffic under the ship canal. Citizens Against the R. H. Thomson (CARHT) was formed by neighborhood and environmental advocates to stop the north-south section paralleling I-5 named the R.H. Thomson Expressway. Their efforts culminated in a June 1, 1970, vote by City Council to remove that proposed highway from the city's Comprehensive Plan. The Seattle City Council cancelled the contract with the State for the project in 1971 and ramp construction was stopped in various stages of development. The City Council set a final referendum on the expressway on the February 8, 1972 election, asking voters to formally terminate the approval they had granted in 1960 for the highway and its bonds (which had never been issued). Nearly 71 percent of those voting approved Referendum 2, which terminated the project.

Many public hearings took place in the 1960s regarding the R H Thomson. On August 28, 1969, three years before the City cancelled the contract with the State, the Committee of the Whole considered a proposed study regarding the proposed Thomson Expressway. The Committee decided to proceed with the study as recommended by the Special Task Force. Below are excerpts from that meeting. The preliminary report of the Special Task Force is in CF 264448.

Mayor Floyd C Miller: Members of the City Council, the Planning Commission, ladies and gentlemen.  I am pleased to have this opportunity for a public presentation and discussion of the preliminary report of the City's task force on the R.H. Thomson.  As you know, I established this task force last May to review the whole matter of the R.H. Thomson and recommend how we should proceed with our planning efforts... We are not here as adversaries or belligerents. We have a problem to solve and want solutions. I hope everyone will believe me when I say it - and I think I speak for the committee as well - we are resolved in our feeling that Seattle must plan its transportation system to complement and improve our urban environment. We want to improve, not ruin, our neighborhoods. We want a balanced system adequately and timely planned to serve our citizens. We have pioneered an urban design program approach in rapid transit planning which has been highly praised nationally and copied by other areas. We now have an opportunity to the same thing in planning a balanced, coordinated, total transportation system. This is our goal.

James McCurdy: Thank you Mr. Mayor, Mr. Chairman, members of the Council. I'm James McCurdy and I'm representing the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. We are particularly interested in the proposal coming before your committee today because we in the Chamber have long recognized the need for another major north-south traffic carrier to supplement existing Interstate 5. We are on record in support of the R.H. Thomson Parkway as it is currently planned in the City's Capital Improvement Program. And we are also on record supporting immediate and effective progress on its construction. We favor the construction of this Parkway for a number of reasons. Among those and the most important, is the future prosperity of the Seattle Central area is dependent on such a Parkway. Almost everyone, and including the opponents of the R.H. Thomson, agree that there are requirements to move great volumes of traffic throughout the City as well as providing improved access to jobs and shopping for residents of the Central Area. In addition, the anticipated development of mass transit is planned to relate closely to the proposed corridor, thereby providing even greater mobility to the residents in the area.

Bill Mary: Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Bill Mary. I'm director of public affairs for the Automobile Club of Washington. We are glad to appear here today to give our full support to the early completion of the R.H. Thomson Parkway as we have consistently have done since this City Council approved the project as a limited access facility... So the Auto Club urges action right now. And certainly, if you need additional facts, get 'em and you'll have our support. Frankly, we think enough studies have been made. This new study will indicate little more in our opinion than the fact that we need prettier freeways. But it simply cannot contradict the congestion that we all can see and then tell us that no expressway is necessary. We feel that the people in the Thomson corridor have suffered enough by indecision and delay. The crux of our whole feeling on this problem is that indecision and delay has caused the problem, not the fact that the highway is coming, it's that nobody knows if the highway is coming or not. That's what causes the problem. So in effect, the Auto Club is asking the City of Seattle to fish or cut bait on the whole Thomson issue. And if you decide not to build a north-south expressway, which we feel is very vital, we feel the people have a right to know as soon as possible, exactly what plans are underway to solve today's traffic congestion with remedies that are available today. Thank you.

Maynard Arsove: Mayor Miller, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Maynard Arsove.  I'm chairman of a group that calls itself the Citizens Against R.H. Thomson. I won't go on at length about my orientation in the transportation matters, except to say that the members of the organization and the community councils that have supported our point of view are vitally concerned with good urban planning and that good urban planning does not necessarily consist of moving an enormous number of vehicles through a city.

Margaret Tunks: My name is Margaret Tunks and I want to speak to you about funding. It's extremely important to some of the citizens that this study be funded by sources which have no particular interest in the outcome. The reason that we feel this way is that the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study was financed almost entirely by money which came through the State Highway Commission. And of course, as you know, it came out with the fact that we would need nothing but roads until 1990... I know that we have grave financial problems in the city. And this is one of the statements that we made in our statements against freeways proposal that was sent to all City Councilmembers of the task force, that it is the citizen's duty to help with funding. I can't say at this moment how much it's going to cost, how much money we'll need, where we can get it from. But we can certainly explore getting federal funds paid directly to the city without going through any transportation groups with pre-destined conclusions.

Citation: Committee of the Whole meeting, August 28, 1969. Event ID 117, Record Series 4601-03, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings, Seattle Municipal Archives.