SEATTLE-Most days it’s the marine life that causes the most stir at the Seattle Aquarium. But on this sunny afternoon, an attraction of a different sort was the center of attention. As cars and trucks drove by outside the aquarium on the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct, inside the fate of the aging structure was being sealed. Surrounded by supporters, Washington’s Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law the bill that commits the State of Washington to tearing down the viaduct and replacing it with a deep-bored tunnel.
“This wasn’t an easy process,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels as he welcomed a crowd of several hundred to the bill signing ceremony, “but it is done, it is done, it is done!” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
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As just about anyone who follows Washington politics knows, what to do about the elevated highway hugging Seattle’s downtown waterfront has occupied the city for years. As early as 1973, two then-Seattle city councilmen, John Miller (founder of Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center) and Bruce Chapman (founder of Discovery Institute) suggested tearing the viaduct down and replacing it with a tunnel. The beginnings of the contemporary debate, however, really began after the Nisqually earthquake shook Seattle and damaged the viaduct in February 2001. Eight years later, in January 2008, with the formation of a committee to review options for the viaduct, the replacement discussion had moved from a walk to a sprint. (Go to Cascadia Center’s website to see news coverage, documents and reports that were part of the tunnel debate during the last 16 months.)
But after today, at least when it comes to the viaduct, it seems that Seattle has come full circle. Governor Gregoire said Washington and Seattle were “putting years of discussion behind us” so that the work could begin. All the disagreement, and even the stalemate following a March 2007 vote where Seattle voters said they didn’t like either of two replacement options then on the table, seemed to be water under the proverbial bridge. “We are better by far together than we are when working separately,” said State Representative Judy Clibborn, seeming to capture the mood perfectly.
As Governor Gregoire signed her name to Senate Bill 5768, the crowd of several hundred applauded–seeming to let out a collective sigh of relief that a good decision reached through consensus had finally been made. A consensus that Governor Gregoire said took “planning, commitment, stamina and guts.”