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May 23, 2006

Could Seattle do without its viaduct?

Great, in-depth article in the PI today that asks Could Seattle do without its viaduct?, and looks at the experiences (and debates) in other cities that have torn down elevated highways or are considering it.

What I want to see is the cold hard facts about whether viaduct traffic could be absorbed elsewhere -- and the numbers need to come from someplace trustable like the Puget Sound Regional Council, not the State DOT or the Port of Seattle, who have vested interests in building megaprojects.

Posted by Jon Stahl on May 23, 2006 at 11:58 PM in Policy | Permalink


Seeing as how construction will take many many years, you're going to find out either way.

Posted by: Christian | May 24, 2006 12:23:32 AM

What jumps out if you really read the P I article is that none of the other elevated highways that were torn down and not replaced carried anything close to the amount of traffic the viaduct carries. It's like comparing apples to oranges. Sure the traffic will be absorbed elsewhere, a wall of jammed up traffic on a surface Alaskan Way, jammed up traffic on downtown Seattle streets, and even more jammed up traffic on I-5.

I think the Puget Sound Regional Council would come to the same conclusion as WSDOT. And I'm not sure why the state DOT would have a vested interest in building an expensive replacement. They only have a certain amount of money and there are many road projects that are needed, and wanted, elsewhere in the state that they could spent the $2 billion on.

By the way, is "trustable" a word?

Posted by: Mark | May 24, 2006 2:03:59 AM

DOT has a vested interest in building megaprojects? So the numbers can't come from them? Wow! How's that for slanting a discussion? Whose numbers should we use, then, and what, pray tell, would those numbers be based on? Certainly not bias! Oh, no!

Here's my promise to you, Jon. When the new Viaduct is built, I'm going to buy a plaque to embed into one of those stout, earthquake-proof concrete supports, and It will have your name engraved on it, along with the names of Erica C. Barnett, Peter Steinbrueck, and this Ezra Basom character, whoever he is, and every other misguided soul who thinks that Seattle should just come to a screeching halt, and that everything will be just fine because of it.

Posted by: ivan | May 24, 2006 8:15:58 AM

As a resident in West Seattle I know first hand what complete nightmare not having the viaduct rebuilt could be. After the earthquake it took upwards of 3hrs.......3hrs to just get out of West Seattle! This went on for weeks, there is no way the side streets can absorb the increased population. This is a moot argument. Think of the decrease in tax revenues as every home value in this area is slashed to almost nothing. Washingtonians need to understand that citizens must invest in infrastructure.
A point I have not heard addressed concerns the issue of global warming and rising sea levels. We need to start building for rising sea levels. What about the sea wall, what about increased pressure due to the rising level. We are already a forerunner in our understanding of the effects of climate change yet this project has not even taken into account the reality of it. This solution is supposed to last for how long? We are poised to invest billions for this yet to not consider the long term realites would be so near sighted. Norway, London, and Venice all are beginning to approach public works with global warming as one element tht needs to be addressed in the solution

Posted by: Heather | May 24, 2006 2:11:13 PM

I could care less. I live in West Seattle and think that we could do a lot better if we built up a business district. We could provide enough jobs to the residents so the commute isn't a problem. I think Greg Nickels is heading in this direction. Create enough housing downtown to house the majority of downtown employees. People who don't want to live downtown can find jobs around their homes. I know this might be a bit of an idealist statement but otherwise the sprawl will keep growing and we'll keep building freeways to handle everyone's 2 hour commute into downtown. 10 years of that and we'll start to look like LA. Not the kind of town I want.

Posted by: Tom | May 24, 2006 3:36:45 PM

Buidling a road into downtown Seattle with INCREASED capacity will INCREASE traffic which will INCREASE the sea level.
I think it has been considered.

Posted by: Christina | May 26, 2006 12:40:23 PM

Umm... Ivan, I suggested that I personally would have more confidence in research coming out of the Puget Sound Regional Council, who are not in the highway building business, and who have a pretty solid reputation for doing reality-based research into regional public policy issues.

Posted by: Jon Stahl | May 26, 2006 11:10:00 PM

So much of the conversation about the Viaduct boils down to a classic US versus THEM debate.

The US is the folks that are trying to fix and change our long-term transportation problems and land use decisions in the Puget Sound Region. The THEM are the folks that are looking for a short-term expedient solution to the heavily damaged unsafe Viaduct. A solution that will do nothing to alleviate congestion or begin to change the status quo for how people make their daily decisions for getting from point A to point B.

This short-term thinking is best illustrated by the highly wasteful proposal to shore up the existing Viaduct or the even more atrocious plan favored by short sighted legislators, like Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36), who suggest that the only reasonable option for the waterfront is replacing the Viaduct with a new larger one, under the guise of funding constraints.

Those that are supporting the no-replacement option should be congratulated for standing up to the assumption that we can build ourselves out of congestion. Their advocacy for transit and fixing the street grid so it is less highway dependent makes perfect sense, and would do wonders for traffic flow throughout Seattle.

Yet, it’s obvious that the silver lining in the debate about tearing down the Viaduct is not just about the future of the waterfront but also about I-5, and the inability of that highway to handle the existing traffic volume in this city and region. The focus in this discussion needs to be on fixing I-5, by creating a regulated highway system, and that is why replacing the Viaduct with a tunnel, with HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes that can shift traffic away from that parking lot we call I-5 is an important part of the long-term solution for change.

Posted by: Ezra Basom | May 27, 2006 3:58:14 PM


When you spend over 4 Billion on a partial tunnel, where are you going to find the money to 'fix' I-5? And then after that, when is transit actually going to be treated as a priority?

And you still haven't addressed your comment about how the Transit + Streets plan doesn't allow for a beautiful waterfront. How is that exactly?

Posted by: Christian | May 27, 2006 4:36:33 PM

The Retrofit is the only politically-realistic and environmentally-sound solution.

The Surface Option has and will gain just-enough political traction to scare the Governor into seeing the big unavoidable political fact: once you tear down the vaduct, you can't replace it. (Or only with enormous political cost.)

So the Rebuild is a non-starter.

And there is not enough money for any Tunnel, much less doing it right (i.e. tunneling all the way to Mercer.)

The Retrofit is the only option — btw, it also leaves money left over to work on 520 which is a nice side-benefit — left standing. The Governor is a smart woman. She will get it when push comes to shove.

Posted by: David Sucher | May 27, 2006 4:59:54 PM

To answer your question Christian about why I think the no-replacement option for the viaduct will serve as a barrier to a “beautiful waterfront,” I think we must envision how a surface street replacing the viaduct might impact the waterfront, in the absence of a tunnel.

If the waterfront is to remain a transportation corridor, which I think is unavoidable given the problems with congestion on I-5; the only scenario that seems likely with no-replacement for the viaduct is an expressway.

Posted by: Ezra Basom | May 27, 2006 8:05:23 PM

I will say it again because I know you folks care about the Democratic Party:

The Retrofit is the only politically-realistic solution.

1. The Surface Option will gain just-enough political traction to scare the Governor into seeing the big unavoidable political fact: Once you tear down the vaduct, you can't replace it. (Or only with enormous political cost.)

2. One of the political costs is to the Democratic Party, with national implications.

Do we want the "D" in "Democrat" to become a standing joke for "Dither?" That's what the public administration of this State (largely Dem) and City (entirely Dem) will stand for if they cannot make a decision on the Viaduct. The very worst thing which can happen to a politician -- looking like a bumbler; anyone remember Jimmy Carter? -- is not that far away. Five years after the earthquake and we still don't have a plan, much less under construction. It is embarrassing.

(And btw, that is not a comment on Carter in substance. I think he got a bad rap. I am simply talking about the raw, mean politics of the sound bite. "D as in Dither" is not bad.)

3. So the Rebuild is a non-starter. The entire notion of tearing down a structure (which only a small part of the population actually like) and then putting up the same thing (or worse) is bizarre. (We all know it was only a stalking-horse for the Tunnel i.e. to make the Tunnel look good.)

4. There is not enough money for any Tunnel, much less doing it right (i.e. which would be tunneling all the way to Mercer so as to re-connect South Lake Union and Queen Anne.)

5. The Retrofit is the only option left standing. Btw, it also leaves money left over to work on SR 520 which is a nice side-benefit for the Eastside.

The Governor is a smart woman. She will get it when push comes to shove.

Posted by: David Sucher | May 28, 2006 8:14:42 AM

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