Random Image

Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Special Projects: R.H. Thomson Expressway

Map showing the proposed Thomson Expressway

The R.H. Thomson Expressway was a planned freeway in Seattle. It would have built a loop around downtown, running from I-5 in the South, along the current Martin Luther King Jr. Way (formerly Empire Way) to cross the Arboretum and interchange with SR 520. From there it would have run to Lake City , connecting with SR 522.

The freeway was killed in the “freeway revolts” in the early 1970s for a couple large reasons. First, building this freeway would have resulted in the removal of thousands of homes. Even in the 1970’s this was a densely populated section of Seattle. Secondly, it would have passed right through the Arboretum, further destroying the natural environment there.

The “ramps to nowhere” on SR 520 are the remnants of this project. They were designed to connect with this former freeway. Also, the alignment for Link Light Rail in the Rainier Valley runs along MLK, on the same routing as this highway.

Satellite picture of ghost ramps on SR 520

While in the end it is a good thing this highway wasn’t built, it should be noted that this would have potentially improved the traffic issues in Downtown Seattle. One issue now is that there isn’t really a good bypass around the city. This would have created that needed bypass.

It should also be noted that around this time the Seattle area turned down Forward Thrust, which would have brought a light rail system from Everett to Tacoma and across the Eastside. The federal matching funds ended up going to Atlanta and became the seed money for MARTA.