To supplant the aging and seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99, which blockades downtown Seattle from its waterfront, two elevated replacement options, three tunnel options and three surface/transit choices are under review. The state, King County and Seattle transportation department heads are to recommend a few semi-finalists as soon as the end of this week, with Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Gregoire, and King County Executive Ron Sims then to make a final choice to the legislature by the end of this month or the middle of next month at the latest.
But Susan Gilmore of the Seattle Times reports today that some members of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) for the viaduct replacement process are very concerned about the integrity of the effort.
One of the eight options right now is a behemoth mixed-use elevated, enclosed roadway strongly favored by Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), whose power is considerable. Meanwhile, the Governor, Mayor and King County Executive may be leaning strongly toward a surface boulevard and enhanced transit option. Business interests on the SAC and others, including our Cascadia Center, argue that the 110,000 daily vehicle trips on the Viaduct cannot possibly be handled well on a surface boulevard, and that when full costs to business, drivers and the environment are factored in, the deep-bored tunnel option trumps any of the others. From today’s Times article:
“It’s very frustrating to me,” said Peter Phillips, a stakeholder representing the Seattle Marine Business Coalition. “We don’t get materials in time to review them. We are not involved in an engineering discussion; this is a political engineering discussion.”….Given a chance to have his say, Phillips believes a surface option, which the city supports, would destroy the industrial neighborhoods that rely on the viaduct.
“Surface is the cheapest to build, but what about the economic mitigation costs,” he says. “It now takes 20 minutes [on the viaduct] to get from Ballard to the Duwamish [River]. With surface, it will take more than an hour. “My fear is that the state will position the surface option as being equal to all other options in capacity and environmental impact with the caveat that if things turn out differently, they’ll build something to address those issues later.”
Another advisory committee member thinks the deep-bored tunnel would be the choice of a majority serving on the body, if they were allowed to take a vote, and that this option is getting short shrift.
At a recent stakeholder meeting, the frustrations bubbled over. “I’m really, really unhappy the way this is coming to an end,” said stakeholder Vlad Oustimovitch, an architect from West Seattle. “Stage managing is going on to make [the stakeholder group] irrelevant. I’m uncomfortable sitting at this table.”
Last week, the stakeholders were briefed on the economic implications of the eight viaduct plans. The problem is there was no plan for them to review: The economist hadn’t released it…..(Oustimovitcvh said), “There’s definitely been some backroom discussion among the three DOTs [the Washington, Seattle and King County departments of transportation]. There’s the sense right now that some kind of surface alternative will get selected….Oustimovitch supports the deep-bore tunnel alternative, the most expensive at $3.5 billion, and one he believes would be everyone’s first or second choice. He asserts the extra cost can be made up in two ways: directly through tolls and indirectly by economic savings, by being able to keep the viaduct open during construction.
A report completed last month for Cascadia Center by the international transportation engineering firm Arup found that deep-bored roadway tunnels similar to what would be required to replace the Viaduct typically cost in the range of $200-$700 million per mile, which would translate a range of $400 million to $1.4 billion here. Last week, Cascadia sent a letter to the three executives urging that they include the deep-bored tunnel option as a finalist. Also endorsing a “sub-surface” or tunnel solution in another letter to those officials last week were The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association, and the King County Labor Council.
The legislature budgeted $2.8 billion for viaduct replacement but about $1 billion has already been spent on related improvements and consultant work. The roughly $1.7 billion left – which must also cover about $400 million of downtown seawall replacement – could be augmented by tolling and investment from public employee union and building trades union pension funds. Additional funds from the city and Port of Seattle are a possibility.
The legislature makes the final decision on the replacement, during a busy session that begins next month. If the three execs choose a surface/transit option, the huge negative impacts on traffic and freight mobility in the SR 99/I-5 corridor will likely cause state lawmakers to reject that option, and quite possibly, settle for the elevated, enclosed roadway/mixed-use project supported by Speaker Chopp.
The SAC is to meet again tonight, in the Bertha Landes Room of Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave., at 5:30 p.m. It’s expected that SAC member concerns will be thoroughly aired.
UPDATE, 5:10 p.m.: Tunnel construction industry experts based in Puget Sound today sent this letter to state, county and city officials, detailing the flaws with the current analysis of deep-bored tunnel costs. And on his show “The Conversation,” KUOW-FM’s Ross Reynolds hosted a discussion today titled “What Should Replace The Alaskan Way Viaduct?” Cascadia’s Director Bruce Agnew was among the guests.