Slog - The Stranger's Blog

Line Out

The Music Blog

« Re: DJ DV-One Assaulted By Pol... | Overheard »

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bad News for Nickels

Posted by on September 20 at 16:57 PM

As we predicted two days ago, the state’s new numbers for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with either a cut-and-cover tunnel or a new aerial rebuild are significantly higher than the original estimates. The new estimates put the cost of a “core tunnel” (that is, a tunnel that does not include fixing the northern seawall, lowering Aurora, or any other improvements north of the Battery Street Tunnel) at a range of $3.56 to $5.54 billion—an increase between 18 and 54 percent over the previous range of $3.0 to $3.6 billion. Put another way, the high estimate on the tunnel has increased nearly $2 billion. (The daily papers, taking a cue from Nickels’s press release, are reporting that the cost estimates have risen from “a range of $3.0 to $3.6 billion to $4.63 billion”; but that $4.63 billion estimate is actually the middle number. The real new range is $3.56 to $5.54 billion.)

Nickels looked visibly shaken at today’s press conference at City Hall, where he tried to spin the hugely inflated numbers as no big deal. “I remain committed and confident in our vision of reconnecting the city to the waterfront,” Nickels said. He blamed the much higher new numbers on the state department of transportation’s “desire to have a large range of cost estimates to cover any possible contingency.” He then added that the cost increase was due to “a $3 billion insurance policy.” The truth, however, is that the original numbers grossly underestimated construction-cost inflation, assuming an inflation rate of just 2.4 percent, versus current construction-cost inflation rates between 6 and 10 percent. (The state’s expert review panel called attention to this discrepancy two weeks ago, in a report that warned the council that the state’s original cost-inflation figures were “overly optimistic”. Still, even the new numbers assume much lower inflation than the current rate: just 4 percent.)

Nickels has a major problem. He barely had enough money (real and “anticipated,” including hundreds of millions that were shaky at best) to pay for the old “core tunnel.” (Indeed, the expert review panel called the city’s projection of $40 million in federal funding “optimistic,ā€¯ and said it was “skepticalā€¯ that another $153 million in anticipated state funding “is viable, given that sales tax revenueā€¯—the source for the presumed $153 million—”is typically earmarked for the state’s general fund.ā€¯) Now that cost estimates have ballooned between $560 million (the low end of the range) and $1.94 billion (the high end), the only way Nickels can build his tunnel is if he gets all the “anticipated” funds and the true cost is near the low end of the range—a scenario the city’s own estimate says is very unlikely, with a “strong prospect that risks will emerge beyond this level.” (The new low end, incidentally, is almost identical to the old high end).

And forget about the fully lidded tunnel and a reconnected street grid in South Lake Union: If the range of cost increases reflected in Nickels’s new core tunnel estimates are applied to the full tunnel, the new cost for a full tunnel will be between $4.4 billion and $6.9 billion—way outside anybody’s range of possibility.

Given all this bad news, it’s not surprising that Nickels, who had been pushing to put the viaduct question on the November ballot, had a sudden change of heart, declaring that now is not “the time to put a question about the viaduct on [the] ballot. We need to pick a preferred alternative and move it forward.” Nickels then echoed a majority of the city council, calling the viaduct question “the kind of thing elected officials need to dig into and make decisions on. When we have large policy issues we need to make decisions on them… It’s very confusing for the voters.” (Asked whether the cheaper tunnel proposal might also contain lots of confusing numbers, Nickels said something about the goalposts shifting, and went on to the next reporter’s question.)

Nickels, as he typically does, painted the viaduct decision as an urgent matter of public safety, calling the viaduct a “crumbling, deteriorating” structure. However, he declined to say whether he would close it down, saying only that “we hope we don’t get to that point.”

CommentsRSS icon

Kudos to the Stranger for applying some proper fiscal scrutiny to major public works projects.

The Mayor's line of talk on the Viaduct seems strikingly reminiscient of the now defunct SMP.

Amen to that. I hope the hard nosed realists who were so instrumental in killing the monorail line up behind the only affordable replacement option: surface boulevard.

"I hope the hard nosed realists who were so instrumental in killing the monorail line up behind the only affordable replacement option: surface boulevard."

With a new proposal for a right of way subway or "monorail" to immenently follow.

What a knob. Pick a preferred alternative that is manifestly unaffordable and unfunded and move forward? Same as ever - Nickels wants to start digging before he has cash in hand in order to commit the public to the entire cost of this project (which is gonna get a lot higher before they even break ground, I'll fearlessly predict).

BTW - the City and State still plan to do the entire project north of Battery Street for either the proposed tunnel or elevated replacement (look at the video images WSDOT put out last week - it's depicted in both of them) - they're just trying to lowball the initial cost by using the "core project" figure because they know they couldn't justify the extra $500+ million even with the lower original cost estimates.

Millions of dollars that could have actually accomplished something have instead been pissed away to keep tunnel studies alive. Judging by this press conference, our Mayor clearly hasn't learned a thing from this misbegotten process....

Nickels is pissed that he's not going to get his brass plaque with his name on it in big letters on the entrance to this thing. And he's not going to get to run for governor if this plays out the way it looks to be playing out.

Chad Maglaque: The Mayor's line of talk on the Viaduct seems strikingly reminiscient of the now defunct SMP.

Yes, the major conclusion that we should take away from today's news events is -- drum roll, please -- monorail supporter vindication!

Chad, I'm with you on Nickels' gross hypocrisy concerning the monorail. But the future of this city's downtown waterfront is at stake now, and I kinda think that topic is important enough that we could stay on topic.

Superb reporting, Erica--light years better than the dailies.

"But the future of this city's downtown waterfront is at stake

Future?? What is the future of the waterfront?


Governor Nickels? Please don't scare me like that...

Now, perhaps we'll get the "no replacement" option that has served San Francisco so well. (no sarcasm) It will certainly be scads cheaper than the other two.

Or hey! Let's get Paul "Moneybags" Allen or Bill "I'm a Philanthropist!" Gates to pony up the cash to fix their hometown!
They are rich. They fucking owe us.

(For the stadium fiasco, if not Windows OS itself...)

You haven't been paying attention. The khaki porn spread in Vanity Fair? The puffy kisses in the New York Times? Greg has big ideas. He's got at most one term in City Hall, then what? High-price consultant, but aside from the millions of bucks what's the fun in that? Who else do you see on the horizon? Ed Murray? He's gay, he can't win statewide, and besides, he's going to rock the senate so hard he may stay for fifty years. Any Seattle councilmembers? With their record? I don't think so. The only one who isn't totally embarrassing is Licata, and he's also unelectable statewide.

Greg's going to run, mark my words. Unless disaster strikes. So far, out of the four identified viaduct options, I see at least six guaranteed disasters.

Fnarf -

Mark my words: when Gregoire decides she's done being Gov, you'll see a Primary election between Jay Inslee and Aaron Reardon (Sno. Co. Exec).

Nickels couldn't win King County, much less state-wide. His ambition miiiight be Jim McDermott's seat - and that's a big miiiiiight.

FNARF said "Greg's going to run, mark my words. Unless disaster strikes."

I had the then-head of the Seattle Police Guild tell me (in a bar, as it happens) that they didn't much like Nickels but they were endorsing him anyway because "he hasn't stepped on his dick."

He's probably unelectable statewide - but that won't stop him from trying.

Greg's a big projects guy. That's a good fit on the state level. Imagine his clench, watching all that money pouring into Iraq. That's a lot of tunnels and choo choos.

I can't understand why McGavick hasn't brought the emerging Viaduct fiasco into the Senate race ...
as in running against Seattle where he can't possibly win anyway...
as in "Ms. Cantwell's party has a Democratic governor, two Senators, half the Congressional delegation, both halves of the State legislature, the Mayor, the City Council, the County Exec etc etc -- all Democrats. And 5 1/2 years later they still don't even have a plan for the Viaduct. The 'D' in Democrat must stand for Dither into Disaster."

The incompetent manner in which this Viaduct matter is being handled has political implications far beyond Seattle as it makes (with reason) Democrats look like bumblers.

Really, the monorail and viaduct fiascos really only make Seattle democrats look like bumblers... which they are. Too many meetings, not enough progress. Says it all about Seattle in general, really.

Fnarf @ 11 -

Better stick to tracking down Cyndi Lauper cover vehicles as you're clearly way out of your depth when it comes to commenting on politics.

"who else do you see on the horizon?" Someone needs to let you know that the Governor is elected statewide and that possible candidates need not necessarily come from within the city limits of Seattle..

Tear that schit down.

Only a Republican could link the viaduct fiasco to the Democrats, and only a retarded Republican would believe it.

It's ALL about the money kids. And it always has been when it's come to downtown Seattle. A prime swath of view property worth millions of dollars stands in the balance. That's what this is about - not transportation.

If we had Retardlicans in charge it wouldn't be an issue because the town would be Omaha with views, and they probably would have put a refinery on the downtown waterfront.

Jay Inslee for governor? Dreamy!

This does for me... Nickels wants to hear from the public, as long as he and only he can set dialog and they will tell him what he wants to hear. Stienbrueck is catering to the interest of the people who own (or he has a partnership in, HE does have something to gain, beyond a mere tunnel) all those oh-so-quaint brick buildings legend says his daddy saved. The rest of the council have absolutely no, none, zero, drive to tell those two shut the fuck up, vote TODAY and build what will cost the least in the least amount of time.

not one of them will get my vote when the time comes back around. yeah, I got a long memory and so does a great number of the local electorate. The state needs, has to, step in now. Fuck the mayor and the council, that bridge is done being debated... since 2001 it has been going on, and that bullshit needs to stop. now. peoples lives are being risked everyday the old viaduct stands. They can't all be that stupid that they don't realize that.

Deaar Metro Driver: Brush up on your reading comprehension skills (preferably not while driving your bus). I didn't say Greg was going to win, I said he has ambitions to run. And while it is obviously true that candidates can come from outside of the city limits of Seattle, it is also true that they will almost certainly all come from the three or four county Puget Sound area, because that's where the people are. I'm sure your favorite candidate is a bus driver from East Bumfuck, but it's not going to happen.

Fnarf -

Did I write anything about driving a bus? Did I write anything about doubting Greg's desire to run? You're right about someone needing a remedial reading course. Perhaps if you focused on contributing a few quality comments per day rather than attempting to write something (however misinformed) about everything your comments might occaisionally provide useful or thought-provoking information.

My point (and it is sad that I have to explain this to you) was that your claim that there are no other (or even few) candidates for governor on the horizon is just plain stupid. To limit your suggestions to Seattle-only figures shows your naivete. To even float the idea of one of the current city councilmembers as a candidate is laughable and indisputably displays how little you know about politics.

Again, stick to Cydni Lauper. With a little self control, you might be able to avoid the "jack of all trades, master of none" syndrome.

So, who wants to sign my recall petition on the Mayor and City Council if they shove a non-voted underwater tunnel we clearly can't afford (but pay 90 percent of the inevitable cost of) down our throats without a public vote?

Talk about Seattle not ever fucking being able to get shit done. I'll still take Nickels over ma-ma-ma man Paul Schell.

With all the do-nothinging and wah wah that always goes on here, Nickels has paved roads, fixed bridges, re-did the end of I-90, got the port moved and cruise ship terminals in place -- a lot of stuff on his watch.

You may not like all the above, but they're DONE. I give him a lot of credit for trying to get things done that have been wahmbulanced around and around forever. Although I still think he should still hurry the fuck up!

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 45 days old).