Blog Myth Making In Seattle: Official Estimates Exaggerate Cost Of Tunnel

You don’t have to be in Seattle long to hear about the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Hugging the coastline, the aging structure carries north-south traffic through the city. It’s been the topic of debate for what seems like an eternity. Why? Because it has to come down or mother nature may take it down.
By the time the clock reaches midnight on New Year’s Eve, Governor Gregoire, King County Executive Sims and Mayor Nickels will have on their desks a list of final options for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. They’ll make their decision in 2009.
Cascadia Center is at the heart of the debate and has long advocated construction of a deep-bored tunnel to carry traffic under the city.
Click below to see Cascadia’s most recent release and links to supplemental material.

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Contact: Mike Wussow
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Tunnel Pros Urge State, County, City to Weigh Real Costs as Decision Nears
SEATTLE, WASH. (Dec. 10, 2008)–As regional leaders approach the end of year deadline for finalizing replacement options for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, tunnel experts say cost estimates for a deep-bored tunnel are inflated, inaccurate and more myth than reality.
Experts say that the figures being reported for a deep-bored tunnel include costs–such as $900 million for surface streets and $350 million for a seawall–that shouldn’t be part of the cost equation. According to a letter from a group of five experts and sent to Washington’s deputy transportation secretary, David Dye, a tunnel “could be completed in the 60 months period with a price of $2B or less.” That’s years and at least one billion dollars less than a state analysis concluded. And that cost puts the tunnel option well within range of other options.
The latest evidence to backup the experts’ argument that costs are overestimated came this morning, when The Seattle Times reported that the final and accepted bid for the University Link Tunnel “was 34 percent below the agency’s (Sound Transit) estimate of $29.6 million.”
“Contrary to what some are saying, these experts are doing an apples-to-apples comparison,” says Bruce Agnew, director of Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute, sponsor of a recent tunnel comparison study. “This morning’s news about the University Link Tunnel reaffirms their contention that costs for tunnels are reasonable and often lower than expected. We strongly hope the state, county and city will sit down with this respected group of deep-bored tunneling experts before the end of the year. We’d be happy to facilitate and host that discussion.”
The five experts who signed the letter to Deputy Secretary Dye–Richard Prust, Vladimir Khazak, Dick Robbins, Kern Jacobson and Gerhard Sauer–all have extensive experience with tunnels. Mr. Khazak helped lead the development of the downtown transit tunnel which was completed in 1986. Mr. Prust’s company, global engineering firm, Arup, has completed a Cascadia Center-sponsored tunnel cost comparison estimate that shows clearly that tunnels are being built around the world, at a faster pace, at less cost and disruption, and using highly advanced technology. Seattle itself uses tunnels, including the recently completed Beacon Hill tunnel, which came in at $300 million.
The group of five experts says that the estimates being reported peg labor and material costs much higher than necessary or realistic for Seattle. Their tunnel estimates “include portals, tunnels and all associated safety requirements,” and “the data falls in the range $100M to $350M per mile of single tunnel, which would equate to $400M to $1.4B for a twin bore two mile tunnel in Seattle.”
Many cities have embraced the advances in deep-bored tunneling technology to help alleviate congestion and facilitiate the movement of people and goods. There is a proposed 1.5 miles long tunnel ($677 million/mile) project for the Port of Miami (Fla.), and a 58 feet diameter bored tunnel is being considered for a 4.5 miles long project in Los Angeles for I-710 (under $300 million/mile). Paris, Madrid, Moscow and Shanghai all have tunnels.
“The benefits of a deep-bored tunnel are too compelling to ignore,” says Cascadia’s Agnew. “The waterfront wouldn’t be disrupted during construction, which would allow commerce and commuting to continue. Tunnels last 100-150 years–twice as long as anything else on the table, which makes the full life cycle cost competitive. It is really the only choice that meets the economic, environmental and sustainability needs of the region, including costs.”
CASCADIA CENTER OF DISCOVERY INSTITUTE is known for its leadership in transportation and development issues in the Cascadia Corridor, Puget Sound and the U.S.-Canadian cross-border realm. Funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cascadia is proud of its reputation as an independent voice for solutions to regional and national challenges, a voice shared through policy analyses, testimony to government bodies, and through forums and conferences designed to solve complex policy matters. More at: