Dysfunctional Eminent Domain

This blog-as-website is my own perspective driven by my observations as a news photographer. To explain, following is a paid editorial published in the Seattle Times Jan. 2, 2022: file:///C:/Users/Steve/Documents/LAND%20PROCUREMENT%20ISSUE/Media%20Petitions/2022-01-02%20SeattleTimes%20published%20page%2020.pdf   If this link doesn’t work, below is the text. Photos can be viewed on Facebook: @freewaysarecoming.

A20 News |Seattle Times| SUNDAY, JANUARY 2, 2022

Take Note Seattle: Are Freeways Coming?

I hope that I’m wrong, but too often I’ve discovered that neighborhoods in the way of potential freeway expansions experience higher than normal rates of misfortune – crime and tragedy that increase homelessness, reduce life spans, and speed up the transfer of land titles.

Based on my experience as a former news photographer for a community paper in South Seattle, and based on crime patterns logged from years of data entry, I have predicted, without prior knowledge, the paths of almost a dozen planned freeway extensions and cross-links to parallel freeways.

For example, in the 1980’s, I witnessed a high concentration of misfortunes south of SeaTac airport. Ten years later, it dawned on me that Burien’s SR 509 freeway would be extended and connected to I-5 through that unfortunate neighborhood. I then discovered WSDOT’s SR 509 Route Alternatives (pictured below left) and its extraordinary correlation to the events that I witnessed. The highest concentration of events now defines the South Access Road, below right, of WSDOT’s Puget Sound Gateway Project. Forty years later, it is finally scheduled for construction as the southern “Y” that bypasses I-5 Southcenter traffic and improves “freight mobility” to Seattle’s port “gateway.”

WSDOT’s South Access Road EIS Route Alternatives                       WSDOT’s Puget Sound Gateway Project (Photos on Facebook @freewaysarecoming)                                              

Further north, the paired “Y” that completes the potential SR 509/SR 99 bypass is suggested by the mapped path of fires reported in the Seattle Times in 2001 (a random sample of all pictured fires over a 6-month period which can be referenced on a Facebook page @freewaysarecoming). The fires strongly correlate to the City of Seattle’s 1960 Planning Commission for the Northwest Expressway, below right.

Path of fires from N. 85th through Interbay     Northwest Expressway: 1960 Seattle Planning Commission  (Photos on Facebook @freewaysarecoming)

The map’s east-west path of boat fires and news events near Lake Union was logged from a different random sample of front-page stories over a two-year period. The map shows a cluster of activity past the terminus of SR 520, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. These events suggest that SR 520 could be extended west through Gasworks Park, crosslinking I-5 and SR 99, possibly passing through an unusual pocket of crime in a normally docile Magnolia, then bridging across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. When I worked for a Kitsap newspaper, I heard of proposals to build a bridge from Bainbridge Island to Bremerton, perhaps linking Seattle’s transportation network to Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula ports.

An additional crosslink between I-5 and SR 509 is suggested by a cluster of data further south through Georgetown and South Park, improving Michigan Steet’s bottleneck. This possible crosslink has not been officially proposed, but DOT officials admitted to me that it was “being talked about.”

The Northwest Expressway was never built, one of many freeway proposals that have been shot down by citizen revolts over the last 50 years. Citizens have voted down the Thomson Expressway, Lake Washington Bridge, Bothell Freeway, Cross-Sound Bridge, and I-605 (Seattle Times, Aug 24, 2003).

I-605 continues to be promoted, an eastside freeway starting in Everett that would run east of I-405 to ease growing congestion in South King County, potentially bypassing traffic in Everett, Bellevue, Renton, and Tacoma. My data for I-605 is sketchy, but I am skeptical that it will follow the meandering path proposed below right (“best engineering practices” have straighter curves closer to railroad grade).  I have, however, logged data past the terminus of Everett’s SR 526 freeway (Paine Field) east through Eastmont (below left), suggesting it will eventually crosslink to a future I-605.

 My projected extension of SR 526 through Eastmont             Publicized I-605 proposal. Source: Wikipedia (Photos on Facebook @freewaysarecoming)

The most likely route for an often-promoted Cross-Sound Bridge is unclear. Clusters of data point to multiple potential routes. Crime patterns, the questionable sinking of the Lake Washington Bridge, and the ship collision with the Spokane Street Bridge suggest that the West Seattle Freeway, were it not for its failures, would extend our country’s longest freeway, I-90, across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. But this proposal was firmly vetoed by Governor Mike Lowry, yet another setback for transportation “interests.” Later, while photographing an interview with a WSDOT ferry official, I learned that the most likely bridge route would be through Vashon Island to avoid construction challenges in deeper parts of Puget Sound. Clusters of misfortunes suggest two possible routes through Vashon, one coming from Fauntleroy, the other from Des Moines.

My last, most probable projection of a potential freeway route, without any hint of official proposals, is an extension of I-5 in Fife. Rather than its current sharp turn to the west toward Tacoma, data suggests that I-5 may be extended southward to bypass Tacoma traffic.

If I’m right, my allegations beg the question, “Why all the freeway pressures in our region?” The entrance to the I-90 Mt. Baker tunnel says it all – etched in stone – “Portal to the Pacific.”  Puget Sound shipping ports are closer to the Pacific Rim, 24-hours closer than California ports and two-weeks closer than East Coast ports. Therefore, pressures to open traffic bottlenecks in our region are intense. Supply-chain issues have further backed up port traffic, likely intensifying pressures on local properties in the path of desired freeways.

There are strategic transportation initiatives worldwide, and billions of dollars of international trade, freeway construction, and economic growth are at stake – all held up by property rights. A DOT official told me that, even though they have power of eminent domain to take land, they don’t like to use it. By law, they are required to respect property owners who refuse to move. Public setbacks don’t appear to eliminate demand for new freeways; they only build pressure to remove citizen obstacles. “Land procurement” appears to be a drawn-out, imperceptible process, with a thousand creative ways to remove people from their land.

Police agencies have been unable to corroborate this citizen perspective. I believe crime analysts may not study decades-long trends and may miss patterns because they average data by zip code. They don’t compile crime data with fire and health departments, and they don’t track the misfortunes of heirs linked to their parents’ valuable property – land that would otherwise stay in families for generations. The crime and misfortunes I track include but are not limited to fires, overdoses, suicides, accidents, health problems (any early death), incarceration, foreclosures, financial ruin, and a variety of types of crime. Random samples of news stories across decades are statistically-valid indicators of larger trends that should reflect the comprehensive data available to government agencies.

It is my opinion that government officials complacent in their silos are blind to the service that land speculators provide to reduce property-rights obstacles to public and industry projects. I don’t think every property investor is unethical, but I believe that a limited consortium of speculators use inside information from Dept. of Transportation or other government proposals, and then recruit and rent to nuisance, addicted, or crime-prone people in the area, creating conditions for community decay. This symbiotic service depresses land values, and speculators profit when DOT begins “eminent domain” buy-outs and industry bids up land values close to freeways, infrastructure, or zoning opportunities.

I know my conclusions seem unbelievable. And I know that convictions can be emotional – I hope mine are simply that. However, the crime patterns that I observe repeatedly point to logical extensions of existing freeways critical to a growing region. The passing of time will confirm or refute my projections. My goal is to create awareness among the public in case citizens’ own experiences resonate with my conclusions. Maybe then, public pressure will force an official inquiry and a resolution.

Know that a growth economy inherently conflicts with private property rights, and that this impasse would shut down development and gridlock our economy if key properties were not available. Any resource in high demand and limited supply – like oil, water, and precious minerals – attracts criminal activities, so why not land resources?

Until now, I haven’t raised this issue publicly because I haven’t wanted to scare communities with uncorroborated assertions. But I believe that communities have a right to know whether their neighborhood is a target for crime. For 20 years, I have been begging public officials to correlate crime patterns and freeway proposals. Government has a responsibility to address conditions that affect public safety.  I am asking, please, do the research. Connect the dots.

Steven K. Richmond
Seattle, Washington


This paid editorial, if I’m right, illustrates deep structural problems: 1) the conflict between private property and a growth economy, and 2) the disparity between who benefits, and who pays the cost. I want to bring this problem above board, but I don’t believe command-and-control reactions can outsmart “demand.” We need an agency, perhaps a Commissioner of Private Lands, to conduct the research and translate the absence of public safety into tax penalties that deter anti-social behavior.

I am an advocate for freedom, responsibility, and public safety, the last being impossible without the first two: both liberty and justice.