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Thursday, January 5, 2006

Hey Deputy Mayor Gridlock: Fawk You!

Posted by on January 5 at 14:05 PM

Last fall, in column after column, I kept filing the same sentence, slapping Mayor Gridlock Nickels for giving the monorail just 4 weeks to fix its finance plan (which was facing a 40 percent shortfall), while Nickels himself was trying to sell a pie-in-the-sky Viaduct “plan” that looked to be about 92 percent over budget—without any timeline for a solution.

I summed up Nickels’s hypocrisy in an article last November:

Even more infuriating, Nickels’s chief complaint about the monorail’s turnaround plan was that the agency only had $1 billion to spend (according to Nickels), but was coming in with a $1.4 billion construction plan—$400,000,000 or 40 percent, over budget, by the mayor’s calculations. But Mayor Gridlock only has $2.4 billion to spend on the viaduct tunnel, and his plan is coming in at $4.6 billion —$2.2 billion or 92 percent over budget! (Can Nickels promise that any bonds the public sells to finance his highway plan won’t have a payback schedule longer than 30 years, another demand he made of the monorail agency?) Hey, Greg, how about we give you four weeks to come up with that plan!?

So it is that I’m psyched to see the Seattle Times today, beating the same drum.

And I love the response they got from Dep. Mayor Tim Ceis: “Give us three to four months.”

Three to four months? God, I wish (former Acting Monorail Executive Director) John Haley—the loud guy from Boston—was still in town. He’d have two words for Ceis: “Fawk You.”

On a related note: In my column today, in which I predict a number of things that are going to flameout in 2006, I cited “the idea that the viaduct tunnel option will only cost $4.5 billion.” Mark my words on that.

CommentsRSS icon

Hey, as long as Ceis will be ready with their finance plan in 3-4 months, let's make sure he includes some missing info:

1. An explanation of who, exactly, is on the hook for (inevitable) cost overruns, given the federal and state governments have capped their contribution?

2. Clearly not all the funding is going to be available before the bills come due. How much debt does this entail, and what is the total cost and period of debt service?

3. When, exactly, are you going to show the public pictures of what the "tunnel" will look like south of King Street, where it's an 180' wide surface highway, or what the "tunnel" will look like north of Pike Street, where it's a new bigger aerial highway?

Yeah, and the non-tunnel options *only* costs $2-3 billion...before the overruns.

Why don't we all save a pile of money and just tear the thing down?

Only western Seattleites would really miss it.

Is that worth a few billion bucks?

Not to the rest of the State.

How are the entrances/exits to the thing supposed to work?

Cary Moon, we knew you were just waiting to jump in and be the first to comment! ;)

Cary--since you are asking for specificity, how about a little more on the PWC plan. Costs, traffic studies, etc. I know you don't have government or corporate money to do that, but some real world plans for dealing with West Seattle like replacing the Spokane Street link to I-5 might be helpful. I wonder how many of your supporters live on the west side of the city...

For me the tunnel seems best at this point, but I am willing to do anything as long as we get rid of an elevated structure.

Josh--the only reason the SMP got such a short leash was because they dicked around with the bid for 11 months(!) with barely a peep from folks like you.

Oh, I see, the SMP was taking too long.
Hmmm... as I remember the original anti-Joel rap, he was just ramming things through and moving too fast.

It's the same old damned if they do/damned if they don't line from the anti-monorail crowd. Stations are too elaborate/stations are too scaled back and not what we voted for.

Can you imagine if the SMP did what Nickels is now doing with the Vidaduct—cutting the project from $4.5 to $3.6 by doing less. Sheesh. Imagine the outcry if the SMP said we're going to build a shorter line with less stations etc... Hmmm? It'd probably get voted down. Well, here's Nickels: Big press conference last year...and now the goal posts change. He's a hypocrite. Seattle voters are hypocrites.

And another thing Westside:

How long have we been "dicking" around on the viaduct? The earthquake happened in Feb. 2001!
Nickels has been in office since Jan. 2002.

I can quickly drown anyone in numbers, so if I missed the one you want in trying to restrain myself, just ask.

The proportion of trips that typically stop happening when highway capacity is reduced: 25%
The proportion reduced on the Embarcadero: 40%
The number of trips our plan is estimated to shift to the grid and I-5, to transit, and to encourage to stop happening: 55%, 25%, and 20% respectively.
The number of options West Seattleites will have for getting out of there: 4 or 5 (new transit; new access to 1st Ave, 4th Ave, and I-5 from Spokane St; possibly more ped ferries)
The number of people who thought congestion pricing in London was a success after trying it out, despite thinking it was lunatic before it was enacted: 65%
The proportion of the 75 biggest US cities that have fewer highway miles per resident than Seattle: 2/3
The number of the 5 biggest US port cities (we're one) that have fewer highway miles per resident than Seattle: 4
The proportion of car trips that are not work related: 75%
The proportion of car trips at rush hour that are not work related: 50%
The proportion by which our region increased how much we drive relative to population growth between 1970 and 1990: 2.5 times

And now for the ones you requested, sorry.
Cost info needs to come from SDOT and Metro (or whoever is going to provide the new / better transit.) But we have learned some rough numbers: the fixes to the grid cost about $300 million; required transit service improvements roughly $150 million; reweaving the street grid in SLU about $200 million, freight access improvements perhaps $100 million; tearing down the viaduct and relocating utilities $175 million. They just redefined the extent of the seawall that needs to be fixed, and I don't know that new cost. Without the seawall, just under a billion.

When I tell people in my normal walk of life about the reduced-capacity surface-route option, they look at me like I've just landed from another planet. And it's overwhelmingly obvious that no amount of explaining on my part is going to convince them otherwise.

As much as I would prefer the PWC option myself, it's just waaaaaaayyyy too hip for the room. The fundamental, practical, political problem I have with it is that, by trying to kill the tunnel in hopes of realizing the PWC option, you undermine the very goals you're trying to achieve.

Can't all of us who support transit and density over roads and sprawl agree that the absolute worst choice for viaduct replacement is to build another viaduct? With either the surface route or the tunnel, you open up the waterfront. Either way, you produce the best kind of residential development in just the place in this entire region where it can make the greatest difference.

The PWC campaign reminds me a bit of Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential campaign:

  • new viaduct = Bush
  • tunnel = Gore
  • surface route = Nader

Y'know, Gore wouldn't have been so bad, but all those votes for Nader only ended up handing the election to Bush. Now, the PWC and The Stranger's efforts to defeat Greg Nickels' tunnel are only going to help produce another viaduct in its stead. The Naderites' result: eight years of turning the United States into a bankrupt, second-rate power. The PWC's result, I fear: 50 more years of Seattle as a second-rate, auto-dependent city.

it's time for the tim eyman and the suburban sprawler free lunch to stop! to pay for all the needs of a working city: monorails, light rail over to the east side, 99 tunnels, i5, and i405 makeovers (necessary in the next decade) will require one or all:
a road mileage tax on per miles driven (with sliding scale for fuel efficiency); or a REAL gas tax or ...
highway tolls north and south, east and west.

Josh--the rap on the SMP has always been that it was a closed culture. A group of folks with very little transportation experience thought they had all the answers. Then when faced with a bid $200 million too high and revenues too low they frantically searched for a solution without asking for help. Finally, they released the ridiculous plan and were shocked that we didn't all go along. But, all of that is old history--my real question is why not a tunnel?

In this region we currently have a titanic struggle over transportation dollars. Suburbanites want more lanes to get home faster and they have more and more power in regional government. Seattle leaders have been fighting for two main points. First, they have insisted that mass transit dollars be part of any regional package. And they have insisted that the state step up and fund the viaduct replacement, whatever that is. If Seattle doesn't get money for a tunnel, it is likely that money will go towards sprawl inducing projects like adding two lanes in each direction to 405 at a pricetag of $11-15 billion easy.

I am all for more transit and less road building. We have two busy kids and two busy jobs and one car. We do our best to use transit whenever possible. At this point I am skeptical of plans that don't replace viaduct capacity. The Embarcadero was a deadend, Portland built another downtown freeway, and north of Vancouver there are very few people. I think that I-5 in downtown Seattle can never be expanded and I haven't been convinced that access from West Seattle in particular won't suffer dramatically. People will drive, this is America after all, where we have built a whole economy on cheap energy.

Cary--I am willing to be convinced and thanks for the info. As for now, I think we should stay at the poker table and see if we can get more money for the tunnel and stop sprawl elsewhere. We can always fold and go with the PWC plan, but we must get rid of an elevated freeway on our waterfront

"Y'know, Gore wouldn't have been so bad, but all those votes for Nader only ended up handing the election to Bush."

Of course, the well-documented, widespread & systematic voter fraud/tampering in Florida had _nothing_ to do with it.

Oh, and the Reichstag Fire was set by Evil Commies, as well.

Cressona, here are the flaws inherent in that logic.
1. This is not an election, and there is no vote to worry about splitting. This is a discussion about the future of the city.
2. Support for the aerial option in Seattle is low low low, and several politicians have proclaimed "over my dead body." Why even suggest it would happen, other than fear-mongering? Seattle owns the land, and WSDOT cannot begin construction without full cooperation from City government. Which still listens to the public, sort of.
3. Perhaps you should check out "Seattle Citizens Against Freeways: Fighting Fiercely and Winning Sometimes." This battle has been fought many times in this city and others, and often the highway department loses.
4. To have an educated and fair debate about pros and cons of a No-Highway solution, the City has to test it, refine it, model it, cost it, discuss it, and refine it some more. That is what anyone who thinks it may have merit should be demanding from the Mayor and Council. Instead, we're in this weird space of arguing about the big unknown behind the curtain, and amusing ourselves with political predictions about whether activism is worth the bother.

Cressona has a good point - especially now that the Seattle Times has opined that if the governor tells us to go with the viaduct rebuild, we should just accept it.

If the governor did that - and Nickels went along with it - they'd be missing the political reality.

In the Seattle area, there are basically two groups of people passionate about this issue:

1. People who live, work, hang out and like downtown, and want the viaduct to disappear.

2. People who live and work west of downtown, and want their hassle-free commute back as quickly as possible.

Common ground for these two groups is the tunnel. It would make the viaduct disappear - and give the westerners back their commute.

Unfortunately for the commuters, statewide there is also a third group who's passionate about the viaduct:

3. People who live nowhere near Seattle and don't see why even $1 billion of their tax money should be spent on a 1-mile bridge or tunnel to nowhere there.

Now downtowner group 1 could easily make common cause with these people to pressure the governor into accepting the PWC option. Hell, everyone wants to save money.

Which is why it mystifies me that Della, the ex mayor of SeaTac, and even the Seattle Times Op Ed people are pushing the rebuild-as-is option.

Seems to me they're just cutting their own throats, and the more they push that - the more they'll get nothing at all.

Downtown people - as there are a lot more of them than there are viaduct commuters - will just start screaming "over my dead body," as Cary says.

Oh, and one other thing: given this political reality, if I were a viaduct commuter, I'd be proposing a $1 toll per trip - plus some reasonable mils of property tax on downtowners - to pay for a tunnel - and it had better be better tunnel than the crap they've whittled it down to now, or downtowners will probably still say "no way."

Top 5 US Port cities? We're not even top 5 on the west coast anymore; we're not even the biggest on Puget Freakin' Sound.

The US ports that are bigger than us, as much as ten times bigger than us, are: Port of South Louisiana, LA; Houston, TX, New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; Beaumont, TX; Corpus Christie, TX; Huntington, WV; Long Beach, CA; Texas City, TX; Baton Rouge, LA; Plaquemines, LA; Lake Charles, LA; Pittsburgh, PA; Valdez, AK; Los Angeles, CA; Mobile, AL; Philadelphia, PA; Tampa, FL; Baltimore, MD; Duluth, MN; Norfolk, VA; St. Louis, MO; Portland, OR; Freeport, TX; Pascagoula, MS; Portland, ME; Port Arthur, TX; Port Everglades, FL; Boston, MA; Richmond, CA; Paulsboro, NJ; Charleston, SC; Chicago, IL; and Tacoma, WA. That makes us, what, 35th? And slipping.

Other Cary "facts" are irrelevant, like congestion pricing in London (a city with mass transit), or the Embarcadero (exactly the kind of blighted surface dead zone Seattle DOESN'T need). In fact, the next time someone brings up the Embarcadero, I'm gonna bust a blood vessel.

Particularly egregious are references to "transit" or "new transit", seeing as how there AREN'T any viable transit options in this city, and will never be, as well as suggestions that trips that are not en route to a job just don't matter. Ask any downtown store -- not just Macy's and Nordstrom -- if any of the car trips made by their customers are "unnecessary" or not.

The question of what do about the viaduct is moot, because they aren't going to do ANYTHING; we can't afford it, and we don't have the political will to accomplish big projects of any kind. But the suggestion that we don't need anything there is just insane. Have you SEEN the Embarcadero? A surface-street option there wouldn't "open up" anything; it would kill the waterfront dead, since you wouldn't be able to get to it anymore. Unlike SF, we actually USE that stretch of our waterfront a little. Hey, speaking of SF, there's a city that's twice as vibrant as us that hardly even knows it HAS a waterfront.

Yeah, I have a feeling we're not going to do anything but let it fall down either, unless people finally get behind a tunnel in a big way - which seems unlikely.

And any rebuild option will fail if it ever seriously threatens, after downtowners start protesting en masse against it.

So we'll get the surface option by default, rather than by PWC design.

Manhattan's West Side Highway provides and interesting parallel - they were already talking about tearing it down when the viaduct was built, they finally went for a retrofit in the early 70s that ironically failed when cement truck involved in it cause a section to collapse - and after weighing rebuild vs surface vs tunnel through the 80s, they finally just tore it down and made it a surface boulevard in the 90s.

The wall of traffic it created now has many people wishing they'd built a tunnel: "a truly progressive solution would have been a Westway highway tunnel for I-478 express traffic, beneath a waterfront boulevard that would actually be able serve more as a low speed boulevard, with a waterfront trolley in the fashion of what was recently done along the Embarcadero in San Francisco."

For more see

The part people always leave out is the seawall. This is not about transportation, it's about the structural integrity of the city. It HAS to be rebuilt -- unless your plan for the waterfront involves taking every building within four blocks of the water by eminent domain, and leveling them. Either way, you're talking about a huge, huge construction project down there, that will cost megadollars.

The alternative is New Orleans, Seattle-style, or 9-11 Seattle-style, where the buildings fall not from terrorist attacks but from ennui. I'll bet there isn't a building in the entire CBD that took the failure of the seawall into account in their engineering.

I haven't seen ANY SERIOUSNESS in any of the involved parties about this: they know how to make the soundbites, sort of -- your NYC link just goes to show that what passes for discourse in this city wouldn't even register in a real city -- but they're no more in touch with reality than Bush and Cheney are in Iraq. How much is it REALLY going to cost? Off the top of my head I'd take Nickels's $4.6 bil and say that's just the seawall; the tunnel will double it or triple it. There's no money. They kind of money they have available is just going to cover the glossy pictures of what it will look like.

But the people at the PWC are even dafter. Quite an achievement. "Lush, healthy, functioning shore", ya sure, OK then.

Okay, I want to address two of Cary's points.

"Cressona, here are the flaws inherent in that logic.
"1. This is not an election, and there is no vote to worry about splitting. This is a discussion about the future of the city."

True, but this is also a situation where, if the tunnel option gets killed, we will be forced to answer the question: which is more politically viable (between both the public and elected officials), another viaduct or a surface route? I wouldn't be so quick to play a game of chicken with Christine Gregoire, Ed Murray, Patty Murray, et al when the stakes are the future of downtown Seattle.

"2. Support for the aerial option in Seattle is low low low, and several politicians have proclaimed 'over my dead body.' Why even suggest it would happen, other than fear-mongering? Seattle owns the land, and WSDOT cannot begin construction without full cooperation from City government. Which still listens to the public, sort of."

Cary, can you provide any polling data to support your statement concerning the unpopularity of another viaduct? I'll admit my observations are only anecdotal, but I've discerned an undeniable pattern: even among Seattleites support for the rebuild outweighs support for a surface route. In fact, as someone who was involved with a number of monorail campaigns, I can think of more monorail supporters who prefer the rebuild. And if there's anyone who should be hip enough to see the value of the surface route, it's monorail supporters!

Moreover, in City Council, where is your support? David Della and, much to my disappointment, Nick Licata have spoken in favor of rebuild.

As for who wins if there's a standoff between the state and the city, I guess that's a question only a lawyer could answer, and a well-connected lawyer at that. But keep in mind:

  • Highway 99 is a state route.
  • The state Growth Management Act explicitly accounts for situations just like this one where a city tries to obstruct what I believe the law refers to as a "necessary public facility." Tukwila tried to stop Sound Transit from coming through, and the GMA overruled Tukwila.
  • In the broader sense of the state constitution and the United States constitution, the state has dominion over the city. Between these three legal realities, I don't see how the city could win a case in the Washington State Supreme Court or a federal court?

Cary, let me ask you this question, which is the lesser evil, a tunnel or a new viaduct? And have you asked Greg Nickels the question, which is the lesser evil, a new viaduct or the surface route?

The funny thing is that I had been a supporter of the PWC alternative. Then two things happened last election day:

  • The Green Line monorail, the one real transit alternative that could have picked up many viaduct trips, was defeated.
  • I-912, the one binding, forceful way to say no to the state's viaduct plans, was defeated.

What's telling to me is that Transportation Choices Coalition, the most serious, credible, independent transportation advocacy organization in this state, has been talking up the idea of a reduced-capacity, tolled tunnel. I'm not sure, though, if their board has formally endorsed that idea.

A toll is the way to go.

100,000 trips a day, at a dollar a pop, is $1 billion over 30 years, unless my math is rusty.

That's supposedly pretty much the difference between a tunnel and a new viaduct.

All of Cary's numbers assume equal conditions in every city.

San Francisco has mass transit. Other cities have topography that's much flatter and wider than Seattle's.

Grant and I have been over this, Cary. The PWC plan has a ton of holes, and fails to take into account a variety of legitimate factors, all while shrouded under a variety of better-city for-our-children rhetoric.

And quit mentioning that glorified stub offramp that was the Embaracdero. Of course it was easy for SF to do without it. The viaduct is a major city thoroughfare that prevents traffic in Downtown from becoming nightmarishly bad.

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