Microsoft Corp., which has $20 billion of cash in the bank, is among the first in the Puget Sound area to benefit from the investment in roads and bridges through President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.
Local planners allotted $11 million of $214 million awarded to the region to help pay for a highway overpass in Redmond, Washington, connecting one part of Microsoft’s wooded campus with another. The world’s largest software maker will contribute almost half of the $36.5 million cost. Other federal and local money will pay the rest.
Work is scheduled to begin by June, while larger projects in the area await funding, including replacing an elevated highway in Seattle damaged by a 2001 earthquake and a bridge over Lake Washington at risk of cracking in a windstorm. Spending watchdogs and even some Microsoft employees see more pressing needs.
“I’m sure Steve Ballmer or Bill Gates could finance this out of pocket change,” Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said of Microsoft’s chief executive officer and chairman. “Subsidizing an overpass to one of the richest companies in the country certainly isn’t going to be the best use of our precious dollars.
“It’s a bridge to Microsoft,” he said. Ellis’s Washington, D.C.-based group, which tracks government spending, coined the phrase “bridge to nowhere” to describe a proposed span in Alaska that got $223 million in federal funding in 2005 and later was canceled.
The city of Redmond says the overpass will relieve congestion on other streets and support a big employer in the region, though one cutting jobs lately. Microsoft said in January that it’s eliminating as many as 5,000 jobs, including some from its Seattle-area workforce of 41,480.
“This project is a mobility improvement for the area as a whole,” said Lou Gellos, a spokesman for Microsoft. An existing bridge a few blocks away is congested and a nightmare for pedestrians and bicycle riders, he said.
The 480-foot (150-meter) span will run over a state highway from an older part of Microsoft’s campus to its newer west campus, where workers are constructing multistory buildings. Plans call for one car lane in each direction, a bike lane and a pedestrian walkway.
“Would it help me personally? Maybe, if I have to go that way,” said Jeff Fletcher, a Microsoft contractor waiting for a bus. “But I think there are better places to spend our money.”
If Microsoft and other private companies had to build all the connecting roads in the first place this wouldn’t be such a problem. If the cost to build the roads were too high other means would be created to transport people or telecommuting would become better developed.