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April 08, 2006

Viaduct Madness

Vision3The Stranger's Erica Barnett took note of new Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark's announcement that she intends to vote for putting a "no-build" Viaduct replacement option before the voters later this year. Clark's is now the majority-making fifth member to support Peter Steinbruck's plan, and no doubt comes as a great relief to our friends down at the People's Waterfront Coalition, who have been tireless in their enthusiasm for the common-sense option of replacing the viaduct with a surface boulevard and green space.

It's no surprise that WSDOT (our road-building friends from Olympia) and the Port of Seattle are unshakably [is that some kind of pun? think about it. -Ed.] opposed to the no-build option.  But what I can't for the life of me understand is why Mayor Greg Nickels has put all of his political capital on the idea of replacing the Viaduct with a tunnel.  It just doesn't make any sense.

Nickels clearly likes the whole visionary-urban-sustainability thing, as his extremely successful climate change initiative shows.  So why is he so committed to spending over $4 billion dollars that we don't have (not including Big Dig-style cost overruns) on a megaproject we don't need?  Is he listening too closely to his friends at the Port?  Is he afraid to back down after lobbying so hard for federal and state dollars? 

And while we're on the topic, can someone answer me this: if we can live without the viaduct for the 5-10 years it will take to build any replacement, can't we live without it forever?

Posted by Jon Stahl on April 8, 2006 at 05:58 PM in Policy | Permalink


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It's probably best not to refer to Nickel's climate change initiative as extremely successful until he actually does something that affects the climate. "Success" for him may be popularity, but for the rest of us it needs to be actually making some real changes around here.

Posted by: Christian Gloddy | Apr 8, 2006 8:13:23 PM

I hate it when people like you use Republican talking points. The idea that the Alaskan Way Tunnel would be similiar to Boston's Big Dig is ludicrous. You've been listening to Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson too much.

from the Seattle P-I:

"Skeptics of the cut-and-cover tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct like to compare it with Boston's notorious "Big Dig" without looking at the reasons why it was so financially problematic.

Two major factors of Boston's cost overruns were scope and complexity, or, how much work there was to do and how hard it was to complete. The scope and complexity of Seattle's project is greatly reduced from that of the "Big Dig," as are the risks of construction.

The proposed six-lane tunnel is one mile long along the central waterfront, with an additional three miles of surface or elevated roadway south of downtown. On-off ramps will be located at either end of downtown and displaced utilities will be rerouted adjacent to the structure. The tunnel will be constructed west of the existing viaduct without significantly disturbing it. Ultimately, Alaskan Way will be rebuilt about where the viaduct now stands.

By contrast, the "Big Dig" is actually several major projects replacing or extending portions of two major freeways, Interstates 93 and 90. The total project contains eight miles of roadway (more than three miles in three separate tunnels) in two separate corridors splicing like a wishbone through historic Boston. At least four major interchanges, 14 on-off ramps and numerous surface streets were built, modified or rebuilt. The project moved more than 200,000 miles of utility and communication lines. "

I don't care if you support the tunnel or not. I just don't want to see GOP talking points here.

Posted by: MountOlympus | Apr 8, 2006 9:32:19 PM

For starters, it's Sally Clark, not Sally Brown. And the post doesn't get any better after that.

There's no money for Nickels' tunnel, period. And unless the Viaduct is replaced with another viaduct, the Port's $200 million goes away, too. So there's no money for the surface option, either.

So that leaves . . . you guessed it. So what I'd like to see is somebody follow the money -- the real money, the money that, you know, actually exists -- and try to explain to people what the real options are. Right now, the real money is telling me there's only one option, and unless a whole lot of money materializes real soon now, that option is another viaduct.

Posted by: ivan | Apr 8, 2006 11:13:44 PM

Ivan, you're wrong on at least one point. The Port Of Seattle is contributing $200 million only if the Viaduct is replaced with a tunnel.

Also, Nickels has the authority to pay for the relocation of utilities by charging customers by rasing utility rates slightly. This will have to be done no matter what is done regarding the viaduct.

Speaking to the post itself:

The Mayor is able to count to about $3 Billion in funds to build a tunnel, which is short of the estimated tunnel replacement cost, but not by much. The year 2007 will have a big transportaion vote for highways and transit which is likely to contain big money for the viaduct.

Also, the post compares the viaduct tunnel with the Big Dig. The Big Dig was several different projects, all more difficult than anything proposed here in Seattle. Planning for the Big Dig went well into construction, and some construction elemants were gorundbreaking when used in Boston. Seattle's dig is anything but big. To be fair, it could only be call the Small to Moderately Sized Dig.

Posted by: Will | Apr 9, 2006 12:46:11 AM

Ivan: Thanks for noting the typo... got Sally's name right now. ;-)

Others: My point was not to compare the technical challenges of the tunnel to the Big Dig, but to point out that megaprojects tend to have mega-cost-overruns.

Which of our major infrastructure projects have actually turned out to cost what their initial boosters claimed? Light rail? Monorail? If we are going to seriously consider a tunnel, we should seriously consider whether we want to pay the real costs.

At the very least, we ought to seriously consider whether an inexpensive boulevard makes sense. So far, many of our elected and appointed officials seem curiously resistant to considering all the options.

I want to see unbiased traffic studies, and some sense of what other kinds of transportation improvements we could get for $3 billion dollars.

Posted by: Jon Stahl | Apr 9, 2006 12:24:47 PM

"At the very least, we ought to seriously consider whether an inexpensive boulevard makes sense. So far, many of our elected and appointed officials seem curiously resistant to considering all the options."

Anybody who relies on that Viaduct knows damn well the surface option makes no sense, and I, for one, will campaign actively against any elected official or candidate who supports it.

Posted by: ivan | Apr 9, 2006 12:59:19 PM

Jon, yr point's quite sensible -- right, if we can live without the viaduct for 5 years while they're building it -- well, we can live without the viaduct. I don't see why this is a Republican talking point.

It was a PI editorial by Kevin Fullerton, who chairs the Sierra Club's political committee, that convinced me on this:

"If a new freeway is built along Elliott Bay, Seattle will invest substantial talent and resources to reduce traffic flows in that corridor during construction, only to welcome the cars back upon completion. We'll find ways to reroute cars onto existing streets or take them off the road altogether in the service of a project that will later encourage us to dispense with such innovation. Why would any forward-looking city, especially one that purports to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adopt such a self-defeating plan?" (from http://www.walkablestreets.com/freeway.htm)

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Apr 9, 2006 3:36:18 PM

Sound Transit eliminated almost 1/3 of the project they promised to voters (Sea Tac to the U-District), and now they like to say they're on time and on budget. BS.

The Fire Station Levy Mayor Nickels pushed is now tens of millions of dollars over budget (I don't have an exact percentage it's over budget handy, but it's substantial).

Comparing the AWV tunnel proposal to the Big Dig is hardly a GOP talking point - lots of folks who hate the shit out of the Rethugs have been saying it since the Central Artery project started going way over budget (in case you didn't know - WSDOT decided to replace the AWV with a toll tunnel as far back as the early 1990's as part of a package of toll roads, of which SR-16 in Tacoma is the only one that survived).

BTW - Nickels doesn't have anywhere $3 billion in hand, and the AWV Tunnel proposal could well kill RTID next year (and it's already on life support even before you start asking regional taxpayers to pay for a pretty waterfront for tourists and downtown condo owners).

Same shit, different paper.

Posted by: Mr. X | Apr 10, 2006 4:26:06 PM

There is no way we are going to tear down the existing viaduct. It's just not going to happen because once you take it down, you can't put it anything like that back up. And there is no money for the tunnel.

Posted by: Raw Data | Apr 12, 2006 8:10:34 AM

How about a real breakdown on what each part of the project will cost? The seawall, the 2 miles south of downtown, and finally the tunnel. Also a real cost analysis for building a replacement viaduct that is 50% larger for all 3 miles.

Why do we need a 3 lane tunnel that will dump all it's traffic into a 2 lane tunnel (Battery St. tunnel)?

Why is building a tunnel such a big deal in this town? We already have the Battery St tunnel, the I-90 tunnel in Seattle, and the I-90 tunnel on Mercer Island. Was it that hard building these tunnels?

Posted by: uptown | Apr 12, 2006 7:57:50 PM

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