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Thursday, September 13, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Drive-by art splashes into Bellevue

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Instead of running a bland concrete gantlet, drivers on hilly Southeast Newport Way in Bellevue can now glance out their windows and see renderings of fish, seashells and lumps of coal on a new retaining wall.

For the first time, Bellevue has mixed road construction with public art, an idea it will try in other neighborhoods. Yesterday, the city celebrated the completion of a $4 million widening project that included $50,000 in local tax dollars for art.

The motive is simple: When people are spending so much time in their cars, what better place to present public art, reaching the most people per dollar, than a roadside?

Thousands of commuters can see the cast-concrete patterns by Seattle artist Vicki Scuri as they drive between Somerset Hill and Factoria in Bellevue. The renderings line much of a three-quarter-mile stretch of the retaining wall along the road.

The lumps of coal represent the mines of nearby Newcastle a century ago, while the depicted fish and shells — derived from Jell-O molds — represent the comfort of household kitchens.

"It's nice to be able just to glance out the car window and see something pleasing and attractive. It calms the spirit," said Margaret Lowe of the Bellevue Arts Commission.

During yesterday's celebration, Deputy Mayor Connie Marshall, dressed in black, led a moment of silence for East Coast terrorism victims and talked more about Tuesday's attacks than about the road work. City Councilman Conrad Lee described neighborhood art as a means to build a sense of community, which he said "makes America strong."

Officials considered canceling the party but opted to go ahead in the spirit of Gov. Gary Locke's declaration that "government is still open for business," city transportation spokeswoman Barbara Ramey said.

Art will be included in upcoming Bellevue road projects along 140th Avenue Southeast near Sammamish High School and along 156th Avenue Southeast in the Crossroads area. The latter project includes sculptures made of interwoven copper, brass and steel strips, honoring the diverse people who live there.

Mike Lindblom can be reached at 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

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