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Prospectus Blog Consensus Grows For Deep Bore Tunnel Option

A real consensus is emerging. Last night at the final Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting on replacement of the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 along Seattle’s downtown waterfront, Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and a top aide to King County Executive Ron Sims joined the near-unanimous majority in voicing clear support for more detailed study of the deep bore tunnel alternative in combination with surface and transit improvements. Meeting notes here.
To minimize traffic and business disruption, the viaduct would stand until tunnel completion, and tolling the tunnel would close the funding gap. Tunnel boring technology has advanced greatly, as detailed a year ago at a Cascadia Center expert symposium on the topic. The downtown waterfront would be opened up, not blockaded with traffic or another elevated viaduct. Superior life cycle costs and seismic safety are other advantages of a deep bore tunnel. Credit for advancing the emerging compromise solution – still subject to legislative approval and a clear and workable finance plan – is due to all SAC members.
SAC members Vlad Oustimovitch of West Seattle and Tayloe Washburn of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce detail the argument for the “surface-subsurface hybrid” in today’s Puget Sound Business Journal. Thanks to the SAC, the project team, and important research from deep bore tunnel experts convened by Cascadia Center, the message of the tunnel’s viability is being heard at the highest levels, regionally. Governor Chris Gregoire is examining the tunnel option. She, Mayor Nickels and Executive Sims will make a recommendation to the legislature by mid-January, perhaps by late December, on a Viaduct replacement.
Today, talking to substitute host Frank Shiers on KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show, Ceis emphasized the tunnel’s advantages. Here’s the MP3 file of first hour of the show. After Shiers’ intro, Ceis leads off, followed by Cascadia Center’s Bruce Agnew, a long-time advocate of a tolled bypass tunnel to replace the Viaduct. In today’s Seattle Times, Susan Gilmore lays it out:

When the state evaluated eight options for replacing the viaduct, the deep-bore tunnel was the most expensive, at $3.5 billion. But since then questions have arisen about that cost estimate. The Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center, a nonprofit that explores transportation issues in the region, continues to push for a bored-tunnel option – just inland from the Elliott Bay shoreline, which would keep the viaduct in place during construction. The institute has lined up tunneling executives to argue that improvements in technology have made tunnel boring more efficient and that a bored tunnel could be built for much less than the state estimate.
….The Legislature has set aside $2.8 billion for a viaduct replacement. “We’re not asking the state to spend one more cent,” Washburn said. He said other financing options should be explored, such as regional tolling and a local-improvement district. “This is a 100-year investment, and we’ve got to get it right. We, the region, need to take ownership with a funding package to pay for the bored tunnel.” Washburn said those who would benefit from a viaduct-free waterfront should help pay for a tunnel.
Dave Freiboth, with the King County Labor Council, agreed. “Any notion of going to the Legislature to ask for more than $2.8 billion is in a dream world. That’s not in the cards and shouldn’t be in the cards,” he said. Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago said the region is capable of paying for a deep-bore tunnel. The City Council officially supports the surface option, only because the tunnel was considered too expensive. “We have the available tools and authority (to build a tunnel),” Drago said. The region should explore tolling on all area freeways, she said, creating a transportation-benefit district that could collect viaduct-replacement money, a special motor-vehicle excise tax for the tunnel, and a local-improvement district. “I’m very optimistic,” Drago said. “What’s new here is the region picking up the funding.” The state said it will decide by the end of the year which option to select for viaduct replacement. But it’s unlikely support for the tunnel option will disappear when that decision is made.

Stay tuned.