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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Bad Transportation News, Part 1

Posted by on March 8 at 16:10 PM

A proposal in the state legislature that would allow the city council or voters to decide between two alternatives for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct is bad news for those, like the People’s Waterfront Coalition (currently getting good press in the Times), who want the city and state to at least study a third, no-highway alternative. (The viaduct will be shut down for at least four years during construction anyway: Proof, the PWC argues, that we can live without it permanently.)

Narrowing the choice to two alternatives—the mayor’s $4 billion-plus Big Dig-style tunnel and a rebuilt, 50-percent-wider elevated viaduct—effectively eliminates the no-highway alternative from the debate.

A public vote on the viaduct is a bad idea anyway. The debate about how to replace the crumbling viaduct is complex, and misinformation about the alternatives is rampant. How many people know, for example, that the mayor’s “tunnel” would dump six lanes of elevated traffic straight into the north end of Pike Place Market, ruining one of Seattle’s most beloved landmarks? Or that a rebuilt viaduct would actually be 25 feet wider than the current structure, and include eight-foot-wide columns and taller guard rails, eliminating West Seattle commuters’ beloved views? Giving ill-informed voters the choice between two bad alternatives, and spending billions based on that choice, is lousy public policy.


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How about another alt #3 - retrofit the existing structure (per the Twelker and Grey report)? Oh yeah, no one makes a killing in real estate if we do THAT...

BTW - some of what expands the width 50% is the stated need for 12' wide lanes. Been on the W.Seattle Bridge since they restriped it for buses - the lanes are back down to 10' or so - so just how "necessary" is that anyway (breakdown lanes are a good idea, though)?

"Eliminates the no-highway alternative from the debate?" It was never in the debate. That's the problem with the no-highway alternative. When Seattle voters killed the monorail and state voters simultaneously upheld the gas-tax increase, any chance of the surface-route option getting into the debate was effectively eliminated.

It's time the PWC folks overcame their desire to rebel against Greg Nickels and united with other supporters of urban living to prevent the worst/worse alternative: another (even bigger) viaduct. What if we spent our energy pressuring Nickels and gang to come up with a tunnel proposal that didn't have so much capacity?

"Oh yeah, no one makes a killing in real estate..." Yes, in pseudo-socialist Seattle, it is a sin to make a killing in real estate. Let's have all those developers make a killing in real estate somewhere else, like the suburbs where they can do a heck of a lot more to destroy the environment. But hey, just so they're not destroying Seattle's environment and we can keep everything the same as it has always been.

Well, so long as you know that profit is what is driving this bus (as opposed to silly criteria like cost effectiveness).

So how many billion is too many for a one-mile stretch of road? Or should we just pay whatever it costs cuz a pretty downtown waterfront for tourists and condos is just that important?

Mr X

Do some research, and get off the no growth cart - it will never be possible to re-create the Seattle from the 1960's - too late.

All the new space created by the tunnel is public open space. No condo sites. THAT is why so many of us like it. - plus there is the Sea Wall thing. Big trench already to replace.

The space gain is in strips, no new 5 acre site.

You have a bias about the Seattle of the future - too bad.

But at lest admit it , and if folks want to go back in time- they need to think about smaller, less booming places.

Spokane, Othello?

Tourists? Ho - my friend, I take the ferry to Bremerton for the sheer thrill at least once a month. You are jaded and cynical.

I'm half-amused that The Stranger is happy to gobble up a Danny Westneat column as evidence of the PWC's progress. How quickly we forget that Danny Westneat was the Times' good-cop columnist who would ever-so-cloyingly put up straw-man arguments in favor of the monorail. The moment we see Danny Westneat giving good pub to Cary Moon, that's the moment we should realize that the Times has finally made the calculation that the surface-route option can help knock down the tunnel in favor of another viaduct.

Hasn't anyone else noticed that the Times' news story about the recent viaduct development out of Olympia quoted only two City Councilmembers, Licata and Della, the two who just happen to be viaduct supporters? Gee, what are the odds of that?!

U Smith wrote: "All the new space created by the tunnel is public open space. No condo sites. THAT is why so many of us like it."

U Smith, I think you're wrong, and I hope you're wrong. I had a funny encounter with a fellow former monorail supporter at the viaduct-replacement open house last week. He turned to me and, as if he had uncovered some shocking scandal, told me, "They say all that land that gets opened up by the tunnel is going to be public open space. But the truth is, most of it is going to go to development."

And this is a bad thing? So we've become such socialists that we will begrudge others a great view because it is not a common view? By those standards, how did we ever allow Medina to exist? Unlike Medina residents, though, those people living in those condos enjoying those views will be pouring property taxes into Seattle's coffers and, more important, they will be living just the kind of lifestyle that we urban environmentalists have been striving to create the conditions for.

(I'm glad to know Mr. X considers the profit motive an indictment. Next thing, I guess he will indict the male half of the species for being motivated by the desire for sex.)

"Open space" = worthless, wasted wasteland, windblown, dirty, smelling of pee and on the way to nowhere. We built enough goddamn plazas in this country in the 70s to convince everyone with a clue that empty space DOES NOT equal people space. If it's not buildings or streets, it has no business clogging up the center of a major city. Park? Yeah, right. Crime scene, more like.

I still haven't seen any good explanation of how a tunnel enables the port to continue operating.
I know that when everybody hears "viaduct" they think of the part that runs from the Battery Street tunnel to Pioneer Square, but the real function of the thing is to let the trains, port traffic, and ferry traffic pass under. If you look at a map, you'll see that the "scenic" or "antiscenic" (depending on your point of view) portion of the viaduct is less than a third of the whole thing.

I know Stranger readers don't care about things like our tax base, but when the port and Jacobsen Steel and all the other businesses between the ferry and Harbor Island go away, this city is in big, big trouble.

FNARF Wrote:
"I know that when everybody hears "viaduct" they think of the part that runs from the Battery Street tunnel to Pioneer Square, but the real function of the thing is to let the trains, port traffic, and ferry traffic pass under."

Actually the current viaduct has and continues to be an impediment to trains, port traffic and ferry traffic. There are only two east-west access points that allows port traffic (I'm talking 40 foot container capability here) to go under the viaduct. These are located at Royal
Broughm and much further south at Columbia street. These have always been choke points to port access. True inter-modal service to the eastern docks located in the port has never been acheived because the viaduct stops rail tracks from going to these docks. Next time you are driving north on 99 take a look at the rail tracks on your right and the lack of them on your left.

Contrary to what Nickels is suggesting, I believe dismantling the viaduct and going with a no build option will free up and give better access to the port for rail and trucked container service.

Unfortunately the state and Nickels have continued to bury their head in the sand and not do their due diligence by studying the feasibility of the no-build option. I might go so far to suggest they are putting additional port jobs at risk by not doing so.

--- Jensen

Because nothing makes rail transport easier than grade crossings right in a major downtown. Right.

Because two access points is the same thing as no access points at all. Right.

I love the way no-build people just assume that there won't be any cars there anymore. Killing the viaduct is probably going to kill all of Sodo as well as the port. Great, that's really great. Unless of course killing the port means there won't BE any more trains.

Having followed this process for over 10 years (in case you didn't know, WSDOT first tried to make the AWV a toll tunnel back in the early/mid-1990's as part of a 5 project package. The Hwy 16 Tacoma Narrows project was the only one that survived in the legislature), read most of the EIS material to date, and gone to at least 5 WSDOT dog and pony shows in the last few years, I think I can safely say I've done the research.

With regard to your point - it's an open question just how much of the vacated land will be open space and/or parks if the Viaduct is replaced with a tunnel (the surface blvd option would leave precious little open space, I think it's safe to say). There is no guarantee that as much park as you see promised now will ever materialize, particularly given the likelihood that the project will wind up being more complicated and expensive than first thought. Westlake Mall was going to be a park. How did that turn out?

To the extent that pocket parks are built, keep in mind that they compete for limited parks funding that could go to other projects throughout the city, and that there will be costs to maintain them. Without new construction, you won't be able to try and get developers to pay for this through impact fees, so it will mostly fall on the general fund budget to pay for them.

On the other hand, it is said (I think in the EIS) that there is relatively little developable land that results from replacing the Viaduct with a tunnel. The EIS also says that the potential revenue from tolls on this route is relatively poor - which is why they can't finance the project with them.

Of course, if you tear down the Viaduct without replacing it, you wind up with a 4-lane road along the waterfront (along with an unholy shitload of new vehicle traffic on downtown streets and I-5).

While the planning on this option is limited (and I didn't follow it as closely because I knew it was mostly regarded at the time as a non-starter) my recollection was that they were considering putting the through road in a shallow trench or something like that.

Either way, you still have the ferries and pier businesses there, which means there will need to be a surface frontage road, also.

By the way, I would never indict anyone (male, female or other) for wanting to have sex - but I would recommend avoiding it in South Dakota if you're a woman unless you plan to get pregnant.

And, having followed the promises made and broken and lies told during the Comprehensive Plan, neighborhood planning, and more public planning processes than I can count, I just prefer to think of myself as experienced - but I don't particularly regard cynical as an insult, either.

The interesting thing about this whole situation is that both alternatives include an expansion of road capacity, when 99 is rarely very congested to begin with.

Are the people in charge planning on expanding development in West or Northwest Seattle? Or are they also planning on expanding the West Seattle Bridge, or adding a connection to I5? Adding more downtown entrances and exits? Extending the limited access portion north of Green Lake? A bridge to Bainbridge Island?

Otherwise the whole scheme doesn't make much sense to me... but maybe I'm giving them too much credit by assuming they think ahead like this.

Geez, Mr. X, there's no room for sensible, informed commentary here, didn't anyone tell you?

I think your cynicism is quite appropriate, and very welcome. I wish the starry-eyed folks who believe in magic were interested in listening.

Christopher,

These projects don't expand capacity, they actually reduce it. The AWV has 3 lanes each way through downtown, and as far as I know, all of the alternatives would reduce this to 2 lanes each way (although, as I posted, I think the surface option may have a couple more lanes for local/waterfront-only access).

When they built the W.Seattle high-level bridge in the 1980's, planners did indeed focus more growth there (and W.S got more urban villages than similar neighborhoods, which gave rise to the mid-90's secession movement).

There are plans to widen the existing Spokane Street Viaduct between the West Seattle Bridge(s) and HWY 99, but there is no funding (side note, just saw a design plan, and you won't be able to get directly on westbound Spokane Street in Phase 1 without making a right turn onto 1st and then a u-turn to the new ramp. Oops!)

The tunnel option actually removes the midtown Viaduct entrance at Columbia and the exit at Seneca, along with the onramp right before the Battery Street Tunnel. I'm not sure if you'll be able to get off at Western from northbound as you now can, but it's an important truck route for vehicles bound for Ballard/Interbay.

The South Lake Union north portal improvements, which WSDOT are now taking out of the overall tunnel price even though they intend to pursue them, would sink SR 99 into a trench north of the Battery Street Tunnel and put new overcrossings over it (Roy, Aloha, and a couple of other streets, as I understand it) along with closing the Broad Street Tunnel and diverting traffic onto a new two-way Mercer Street.

No extensions of limited access to SR 99 further north, though. If anything, it would be the opposite.

FARNF Wrote:
"Because nothing makes rail transport easier than grade crossings right in a major downtown. Right."

I'll remember that next time I am sitting at the opened Fremont Bridge waiting for a gaggle of
sailboats to pass.

I wouldn't necessarily consider anything south of Lander "major downtown". After 7:00PM the place is a ghost town until 7:00AM the next morning....as is most of downtown south of Jackson St. Do you expect all this activity to coincide with business hours? Don't count on
it.

We really need to consider all the possibilities. Right now we can't because, as Mr. X pointed out, the planning on the no-build option was limited. You really can't criticise what has never really existed, and it is real shame that nothing outside of major construction projects have been promoted by city government and the state. Remember, this is the city executive who just gifted us a 40% increase on their estimated and our voted on cost of the Fire Levy. Frankly, I'd just as soon keep one hand on my wallet and ask for more evidence of alternatives with the other. Not to do so is plain foolish.

---Jensen

Jensen,

I mostly agree with what you've posted, but I think the rail lines themselves are the sticking point with regard to the current Viaduct and the existing Alaskan Way frontage road - they are the real barrier to traffic between 1st/4th Avenues (which carry a lot of trucks locally and from I-5) and the port/waterfront.

Also, no one is talking about tearing down the part of the Viaduct/SR-99 that flies down from the Spokane Street Viaduct after it makes the rise from E.Marginal Way - the part of SR-99 that turns and makes the climb over the tracks to become the Viaduct is at about Holgate Street - and even if you tear down the Viaduct, you've still gotta get traffict over the tracks to 1st Avenue South (presumably at Atlantic Street, where we now have an massive grade-separated interchange over the major rail tracks to I-5).

I can't imagine just putting all of that traffic on the surface/Alaskan Way to make a right onto Royal Brougham, which is the only through street now. I've been trying to get my brain around it, and all I can see is a huge overpass nobody will like that would have to take out the Bemis building - which I would definitely not support (I like the historic district, and wish we had more of them).

I'm not too sure much of this has gotten thorough study - and I am not up to speed on how the new south tunnel portal would affect Pioneer Square and the south waterfront, though I recall that people from that neighborhood didn't like what they saw when those options were under review.

Mr. X wrote: "These projects don't expand capacity, they actually reduce it. The AWV has 3 lanes each way through downtown, and as far as I know, all of the alternatives would reduce this to 2 lanes each way..."

The current tunnel and viaduct plans are required to preserve capacity. That means three lanes each way. Here's a quick excerpt from the most recent Stranger article on the truncated tunnel plan: "On the north end, six lanes of traffic would roar out of the ground at Pine Street..."

Oops! You're absolutely right. Long day, several beers....

Jensen: "I wouldn't necessarily consider anything south of Lander "major downtown". After 7:00PM the place is a ghost town until 7:00AM the next morning....as is most of downtown south of Jackson St. Do you expect all this activity to coincide with business hours? Don't count on
it."

Do you even listen to yourself? Yes, in fact I do expect "all this activity" to take place during the time when the businesses performing the activity are open.

Look, I know that since none of the hundreds of Sodo businesses are involved with making lattes for hipsters, and thus are a bit below the radar of most Stranger readers, but they really do exist, and they really do matter. Most of them rely on moving big things around in huge trucks and trains. All of these businesses will move away if the viaduct is torn down and not replaced. A tunnel won't save them either.

So what we end up with is a lovely "boulevard", i.e., a windswept, deserted dead zone like the new "improved" Embarcadero, and our shipping and light industrial sectors are killed. That's going to make this city a whole lot worse in ways you can't even imagine, as the tax base and thus the budget dry up. It will hurt parts of the city that aren't anywhere NEAR downtown.

Imagine no Boeing, no Microsoft, no port, no department stores, just a few tourists wandering in terror around the Market wondering where the city went, until they give up and leave. Imagine Detroit.

Actually, all you have to imagine is what downtown was like during the bus tunnel fiasco.


FNARNF Wrote:
"Do you even listen to yourself? Yes, in fact I do expect "all this activity" to take place during the time when the businesses performing the activity are open."


Actually I do listen to myself. I also
ship a lot of ocean containers every year from Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver B.C. Intermodal transport of containers is a 24/7 business, The fact it is underutilized today at Seattle's port due in part to the obstruction posed by the current (and future?) viaduct likely makes Seattle's port one of the most inefficent in the world.

FARNF (and others),the point continues to be that we don't and cannot know if a No Rebuild is a suitable alternative because the state and the city have not done their due diligence. They and all of us here are making assumptions.
Assumptions are absolutely meaningless. We don't know and we should find out, however there continues to be mindbending blindness to this fact by city and state offcials. It's completely wrong.

---Jensen

Regarding the debate on capacity, both proposed alternatives actually add capacity to the corridor. While its true that both the tunnel and the aerial structure are three lanes in each direction, both would be built to current standardsRegarding the debate on capacity, both proposed alternatives actually add capacity to the corridor. While its true that both the tunnel and the aerial structure are three lanes in each direction, both would be built to current standards. This means wider lanes, and new shoulders which allow more cars to move through the corridor than the current structure. This also creates new bottlenecks at either end of the alignment which in turn may spawn future freeway expansion projects in Belltown and SODO.. This means wider lanes, and new shoulders which allow more cars to move through the corridor than the current structure. This also creates new bottlenecks at either end of the alignment which in turn may spawn future freeway expansion projects in Belltown and SODO.

Regarding the debate on capacity, both proposed alternatives actually add capacity to the corridor. While its true that both the tunnel and the aerial structure are three lanes in each direction, both would be built to current standardsRegarding the debate on capacity, both proposed alternatives actually add capacity to the corridor. While its true that both the tunnel and the aerial structure are three lanes in each direction, both would be built to current standards. This means wider lanes, and new shoulders which allow more cars to move through the corridor than the current structure. This also creates new bottlenecks at either end of the alignment which in turn may spawn future freeway expansion projects in Belltown and SODO.. This means wider lanes, and new shoulders which allow more cars to move through the corridor than the current structure. This also creates new bottlenecks at either end of the alignment which in turn may spawn future freeway expansion projects in Belltown and SODO.

The alternatives for the AWV should be expanded. The six-lane tunnel is not affordable and would actually increase the throughput capacity; the rebuild would be too big and ugly; the surface roadway would also be ugly.

Seattle and WSDOT should select the bypass tunnel (four lanes rather than six) with dynamic tolling and ramps to Elliott and Western avenues added.

The bypass tunnel may be affordable with funds in-hand.

By the time the AWV project is implemented, the region should have a tolling authority in place and most limited-access highways will have some or all lanes tolled. Toll revenue will not help much with the capital cost, but could pay for long-term maintenance and additional transit service. That happens in NYC.

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