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Prospectus Blog New Roadway Projects: Choose What Cuts Congestion

The last time anyone hazarded a report, it was estimated that a whopping four percent of daily trips in Puget Sound occurred on transit (second paragraph of p. E-6, here). That was in 2006. Let’s say that percentage has now more than doubled to ten percent. You’d still have nine out of every ten daily trips, occurring in vehicles – versus scheduled transit. Beating traffic congestion in the real world, that’s how leaders need to lead sometimes. Like now. With an historic decision for Puget Sound and Washington State partly unfolding later today on finalist options for replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99, an apropos reminder comes from our neighbor to the south, in Oregon. Editorial writer Rick Attig of The Oregonian is encouraged by improved odds for getting the “whole enchilada” version of the new variably-tolled bridge with light rail and a bike-pedestrian path built across the Columbia River, connecting Portland with booming Clark County, Wash. And, he notes:

Until recently, too much of the bridge debate has centered on issues such as whether speeding up commuter traffic would lead to more sprawl and development in the Vancouver area. There’s been precious little public discussion about the enormous economic benefits of removing a chokehold from the region’s transportation system, or the associated environmental benefits from ending the daily idling of thousands of cars and trucks on I-5.

Ka-ching, and Hello, Puget Sound. If decision-makers fall prey to the extreme social engineering impulse and decide to tear down the Viaduct portion of SR 99 – which carries 110,000 vehicle trips per day – without restoring adequate thru traffic capacity via a deep-bored tunnel, then as a result traffic downtown and on nearby, parallel Interstate 5 will grind to a halt. Tunnel experts say the deep-bored option is affordable, and the best choice by far. The Viaduct decision needs to be part of a broader regional plan for time-variable tolling. To boost transit use, the tunnel could be routed under Third Avenue downtown and a transit station could connect by escalator to the existing downtown transit tunnel which serves buses, and starting next year, Sound Transit light rail.
A compromise option combining elements of the “surface” solution and a tolled deep-bored tunnel is also on the table, along with an array of surface, tunnel and elevated Viaduct replacement options. We’ll see later today whether wise heads prevail, or not.