Thursday, transportation officials from the State of Washington, King County and the City of Seattle are to choose two or three finalist options from a field of eight or nine, for replacement of the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle’s downtown waterfront. Things are moving fast and furious and there is growing momentum for the deep-bored tunnel option – which compared to a new elevated viaduct or added surface street traffic would best minimize traffic congestion and environmental impacts, and open up the most public space on the waterfront.
With some 110,000 vehicles traveling the elevated roadway on State Route 99 every day, and the bulk of that traffic bypassing downtown, simply expanding surface street capacity and adding transit would result in unfathomable traffic jams on the city’s waterfront and nearby Interstate 5. Leading business and labor groups have already urged decision-makers to keep tunnel options in play as the process advances.
Yesterday, a half dozen deep-bore tunnel industry experts sent a letter to the Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee explaining how current official estimates overstate the costs of a deep-bored tunnel. Last night at a meeting of the SAC, a ninth option was presented by Tayloe Washburn of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a “surface-sub-surface hybrid” proposal that backers say could be a “grand compromise.”
Meanwhile, the region’s leading news radio station, KOMO 1000 AM, has continued to air the latest. Here’s a link to some of the segments about the tunnel option’s viability that have been airing yesterday and today from morning drive straight through evening drive. One from the top of the 2 p.m. hour today sums things up well.
ANCHOR: “A deep-bore tunnel may NOT be dead…Turns out there’s growing support among stakeholders for that option and with good reason. KOMO’s Travis Mayfield reports.”
REPORTER: “New research has surfaced.”
BRUCE AGNEW, CASCADIA CENTER: “We have a letter from tunnel experts that have studied it, and they think the tunnel can be built for somewhere around $1.5 billion, instead of the figure that the consultant team used.”
REPORTER: “Bruce Agnew with the Cascadia Center says a deep bore tunnel could be built while the current viaduct remained open…the surface options and the rebuild options would both mean closure for at least 2 years. Thursday the nine options under consideration are expected to be narrowed to two or three, the governor should make a final decision by early next year. Travis Mayfield, KOMO 1000 News Radio.”
Then the state legislature, which convenes in January, will make the final decision.
The Viaduct decision is regional and needs to be evaluated as part of where Puget Sound is, and is going, in surface transportation. Transit is growing in popularity and that is something we can all commend. But the vast majority of daily trips will continue to occur in vehicles and so a regional, time-variable electronic tolling system is essential to rationally price peak-hour capacity and encourage alternatives such as off-peak driving, more tele-work and ride-sharing, and transit use. Tolls should be used to pay for maintenance and operations of roads, new lanes as needed for regional tolling, and for transit in the same corridors where the tolls are collected.
The legislature is already poised to approve electronic time-variable tolling in 2009 to help fund the replacement of the dangerously storm- and earthquake-prone State Route 520 Floating Bridge across Lake Washington. It is now considered highly likely that decision will also involve tolling the parallel Interstate 90 bridge across the lake.
The Viaduct replacement and cracked, snarled I-5 through Seattle, as well as I-405 and envisioned extensions of SR 167 to the Port of Tacoma and SR 509 south to Federal Way from SeaTac Airport all would benefit greatly from user-fee toll funding, as would deadly US 2 in Snohomish County, which alone needs nearly $2 billion in fixes. People are willing to pay tolls. Neither meager gas tax hikes (which are all that is politically possible) plus infrastructure stimulus spending will come close to covering the tens of billions of identified, high-priority roads projects in Puget Sound. Our population is to grow by half in the next 30 years. Let’s not make this Viaduct decision with blinders on.
Over the long-haul, the deep-bored tunnel combined with surface transit improvements, is the most cost-effective, and effective way to replace the hulking, noisy, dirty, crime-friendly, crumbling Viaduct that makes distinctly unpleasant the experience of walking from downtown Seattle to waterfront venues along Elliott Bay.
The “cheap” solution, “surface-transit” only, would glaringly fail to meet thru traffic volume. The resulting traffic congestion and overcrowding of the downtown waterfront with vehicles would exact a huge cost on quality of life and the economy.