In an op-ed in the Sunday Yakima Herald Republic, the Yakima Valley Fruit Growers-Shippers Association explains why it supports the recommendation by Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 with an inland deep-bored tunnel. The state senate has already passed a bill securing $2.4 billion in funding for the project, and the state house last week passed a transportation budget bill providing some of that amount for the tunnel. A house bill specific to the tunnel must still be passed and may be voted on as soon as this week. (The tunnel itself is estimated by the Washington Department of Transportation to cost between $1.2 and $2.2 billion, with about $1.9 billion the most likely amount – see last page here. On top of the $2.4 billion being sought from the state, Seattle, King County and Port of Seattle are to provide the balance for related mobility projects, which coupled with the state funds would bring total project cost to $4.2 billion).
As it happens, the central Seattle waterfront, where the seismically vulnerable Viaduct now stands, is our state’s gateway to the world. Association Executive Director Keith Mathews explains why apple growers in Central Washington care about the tunnel proposal.
Consistent, efficient and uninterrupted access to the Port of Seattle (not only for export markets, but other, coastal domestic markets) is absolutely critical to our industry as well as others located on this side of the Cascade Mountains. And SR 99 is a critical link to the port. Since 1959, the Alaskan Way Viaduct has served traffic going to and from the port. In 2001, the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake shook it and severely damaged it. Though temporary repairs have allowed the viaduct to be reopened, state leaders are now seeking a way to replace it.
Several proposals have been considered, including the use of surface streets and transit only (surface option), replacement with another elevated structure, and the deep-bore tunnel and transit option now under consideration by the Legislature. There are several significant flaws to both the surface-only and elevated options. The surface-only option would eliminate one of only three north-south transportation corridors in the Puget Sound area (i.e. the gateway to the port), thus paving the way for gridlock on those streets, as well as Interstate 5 and I-405. The elevated option would involve tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and gridlock for up to six years while the replacement structure is built.
On the other hand, the deep-bore tunnel could be built while the reinforced Alaskan Way Viaduct continues to function. This will keep our truckers going to the port and the economic benefits flowing to Central and Eastern Washington. For these reasons, our association believes that the proposed Seattle deep-bore tunnel is the optimal solution in providing a clear access to and from the port via Interstate 90 and other routes. This proposal provides a reconstruction plan that minimizes traffic congestion during construction and provides an efficient travel path to and across SR 99 for years to come.
The association’s primary membership is composed of 42 packer-growers who supply half the apples consumed in the United States each year, pumping nearly $2 billlion annually into the state economy and $15 million a week in paychecks for Central Washington workers.
UPDATE: KOMO-AM 1000 and the Seattle P-I.com have picked up on the story.