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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Local Control

posted by on December 28 at 11:30 AM

City Council Member Jan Drago, chair of the council’s transportation committee, sent out a letter on the viaduct today. She dismisses the Governor’s call for a public vote between the elevated rebuild and the tunnel and reiterates her support for the tunnel.

Last September, the City Council vetoed the elevated rebuild option by voting 7-1 in favor of the tunnel—with the boulevard/transit option as the city’s back-up plan.

Here’s Drago’s letter.

December 28, 2006

Dear Friend,

I want to thank you for contacting my office regarding the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Project. We have received hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls representing every point of view on this issue and stirring incredible debates. I truly appreciate everyone who took the time to contact me. I would like to quickly review the progress of the project and update you on where things currently stand.

There is no disagreement that the viaduct needs to be replaced. The question is how and with what option. Since 2001, the City has been working with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to determine what alternative should be selected to replace the aging and deteriorating viaduct. After many briefings, meetings, and long discussions, the Council voted in January of 2005 to select a tunnel alternative as the preferred alternative.

During the 2006 Legislative Session, the Legislature did two things regarding the Viaduct project:
it directed the governor to convene an expert review panel to look at the feasibility of the financing and implementation plans, and it delegated authority to the City legislative body (City Council) either to adopt by ordinance a preferred alternative for the Alaskan Way Viaduct or to place the selection on an advisory ballot to the voters of the City of Seattle.

On September 1, 2006 the Expert Review Panel (ERP) released its report which stated that the finances were sound and reasonable for the cut-and-cover tunnel. The ERP accepted the project’s funding assumptions as reasonable and stated there were no fatal flaws in the cost estimate. Following the release of ERP’s report the Council voted to select a tunnel as the preferred alternative. We also noted that if it is determined that a tunnel is not feasible, then we would begin to look at a surface + transit option. This decision was forwarded on to the Governor for her review and final decision.

On Friday December 15, the Governor released findings on both the Alaskan Way Viaduct and SR 520 projects. She stated in opposition to her Expert Review Panel that the finance plan for a Tunnel Alternative was not feasible and sufficient. The Governor stated her preference for a “cut and cover” tunnel as she shares the belief that there is a value to the community and environment. She also believes that an elevated structure has problems of its own.

Instead of making a final decision the Governor is sending the issue back to the citizens of Seattle asking them to select an alternative through an advisory ballot measure. The Governor would like this vote to occur in the spring of 2007.

I was surprised and disappointed by the Governor’s decision. It is one thing if the advisory vote is clear and decisive, however a close vote on a complicated issue may create more problems than it solves. Advisory ballot votes on the monorail project did not determine its fate. The project was canceled after four votes endorsing it. In addition, holding a special election by spring as requested by the Governor will cost Seattle taxpayers roughly $1 million.

My position has not changed. I believe that we have the ability to move forward with a tunnel plan at this time. We have heard from the Expert Review Panel that the financing plan is feasible and that delay is not our friend. We need to move forward with a tunnel alternative.

The Council is preparing to move forward. A decision to hold a special election in March must be made no later than January 19, 2007.

I appreciate your active interest in this project and look forward to hearing your thoughts as we proceed.


Jan Drago, Chair
Transportation Committee
Seattle City Council

Footnote: It’s true that at her December 15 press conference, Gov. Gregoire expressed her preference for the cut and cover tunnel. Although she endorsed the tunnel with a hefty caveat: “This would be an easy decision for me if cost was not a factor…” She goes on to say the tunnel option is consistent with the city’s goals, but then adds: “But cost is a factor I have to consider…The finance plan for the tunnel as described in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is not feasible and sufficient to complete the project.” In the same statement, Gregoire described the elevated rebuild option as “feasible and sufficient.” Gregoire took the surface option and the retrofit off the table.

So, Gregoire wants a vote between two options: An imaginary one and the elevated rebuild.

Given that a vote between an imaginary option and a feasible option seems like a rigged vote, I think Drago’s acid letter is a laudable response to Gregoire… as in: “Yeah, thanks Chris, we’ll take that into consideration.”

RSS icon Comments


If we must have a vote like the Gov. calls for (rebuild vs tunnel), at least put the right kind of cost information out there so voters can make a meaningful decision.

Given that the funding for the tunnel under the present scheme is dependant on passage of both RTID and ST2, something like the following set of numbers might be called for on the Seattle advisory ballot in the spring:

- cost of tunnel construction (plus financing costs and accurate description of taxes/tolls);

- cost of new viaduct construction (plus financing costs and accurate description of taxes/tolls);

-cost of RTID projects with (and without) tunnel (plus financing costs and description of taxes/tolls);

-cost of any Seattle-only taxes for tunnel; and

-cost of ST2 projects (plus financing costs and description of taxes/tolls).

After all, Seattle voters should be given enough cost information to enable them to make a rational decision about whether it would be worth it to them to have a tunnel, given the full package they'd need to buy off on in order to get it.

Posted by Fred Williams | December 28, 2006 11:52 AM

ok fred williams, i am assuming, though you didn't mention it, that you also think the ballot should have information about the added width of the viaduct over the present one, the amount of sunlight blocked, the noise decibel levels from traffic at various times during the day, the amount of public land that would be lost if we choose a viaduct over a tunnel, etc.? or do you only want information on the ballot that will influence people to vote the way you want them to vote?

Posted by cite | December 28, 2006 12:11 PM

Look, I just want people to vote based on accurate cost information. Monorail did not do that, and those advisory votes sent our region backwards in transportation planning.

And what you are alluding to (physical differences) everyone has a basic feel for. Those don't need to be mentioned. To be accurate though, you should add to your list: In a tunnel if there's a quake the seawall could rupture and rushing water would send you to a watery grave where crabs will feast on your bloated flesh." Hey, I'm ALL for balance on these things.

Look, CITE, do you have any idea how much the whole RTID and ST2 package (plus tunnel) would cost in year of expenditure dollars? I'm curious what information you know about that, and where you got it.

There seems to be a huge blind spot regarding transportation megaprojects: the political leadership wants to lock in permanent taxes NOW, but they don't want to be held to what they say the costs on our generation (and the ones that follow) are likely to be. Local politicians are worse than the feds when it comes to putting bloated projects on our collective "credit card."

Given the repeated useless, ultimately very damaging votes on monorail, I'm shocked the Gov. is calling for an advisory vote. Those things do more harm than good. What we certainly don't need is a fuzzy ballot measure along the lines of "would you feel greener if there was a tunnel and not a new viaduct." That's why the whole cost picture should be painted, in my opinion.

Posted by Fred Williams | December 28, 2006 12:26 PM

What we should do is have a ballot initiative forcing the resignation of any politician putting projects like this to a public vote. It's time we get some leaders who can lead.

PS - the rebuild option is an incredibly bad choice for the future of Seattle - but hey, if you're an elected why think beyond the next election - hell if we did that we might end up with projects like Millennium Park in Chicago.

Posted by Meinert | December 28, 2006 12:31 PM

If we end up rebuilding the viaduct, I nominate we call it the Chris Gregoire Memorial viaduct so we can remember the crappy decision she made.

Posted by mattro2.0 | December 28, 2006 12:46 PM

1) I actually agree with Drago- and I think she sees as well voters are getting fed up with a lack of leadership

2) Put costs on there. We have basic numbers- and what we're talking about are "comparisons". We know the tunnel will cost more than a rebuild, which costs more than a retrofit, which costs more than surface transport. A separate issue is what public transport will be included, whatever project is decided on... Maybe given the circumstances we should just separate that out for now.

3) No matter what happens, the seawall needs to be replaced. It's not a transportation piece, and should be accounted for separately.

4) As for megaprojects being funded by future generations- yep that's what happens. They'll be the beneficiaries of it so I have no problem saying lets have them contribute. We already do that everyday- with our roads, our sewers- every piece of infrastructure we have. Nothing is completely paid for- there is always maintenance, etc. It's a mistake to believe otherwise.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 28, 2006 12:58 PM


I hate to break it to ya, but shitloads of people will avoid businesses in places such as Lower Queen Anne like the plague if they have to drive on I-5 or downtown streets to get there.

The future of Seattle ought to include preserving the ability of all of its residents to get around, and not be limited to tearing down and not replacing functional transporation infrastructure so a relatively few affluent downtown residents can reap the benefits (caveat - I think a tunnel will actually go so far over budget that the plazas and open space now promised will never materialize, but I'm willing to assume for the moment that some of them do. It still benefits relatively few people at the direct expense of many, many more).

Oh, and Fred's right about the need to disclose actual costs of the respective projects on the ballot vs. putting subjective editorializing as suggested @2.

You can leave the latter to the DSA when they run their mulit-bajillion dollar campaign and write the Voter's Guide statement.

Posted by Mr. X | December 28, 2006 1:00 PM

Oops - that was directed to Dave M., not Dave C (who was evidently working on his post at the same time I was).

Posted by Mr. X | December 28, 2006 1:45 PM

Mr. X, what do you base your opinion of business traffic to lower queen anne on? Or is it just another baseless opinion?

Personally, I am of the mind that the tunnel is the best option. And the cost shouldn't be the main issue (though an important one for sure) other than what the options are with the money. If we build the tunnel, would other transportation projects remain unfunded? If so, then we should consider what the surface option would cost with the same upgrades to the waterfront as the tunnel plan, while considering what other transportation project the surface option would afford us. I haven't seen this analysis yet. The council should immediately fund such a study if they haven't already.

But good god, let's not do another silly ballot initiative, and for damn sure let's not rebuild that horrible viaduct.

Posted by Meinert | December 28, 2006 1:46 PM

Including that laundry list of costs would be a bad idea (or even the sum of the list, for the simple purpose of “comparison shopping”). That was done for the monorail. The monorail, over the 10+ years it was being publicly and politically debated, the costs were made public and eventually included on the ballot (at the insistence of the anti-monorail camp). It was the change in costs which drove Mayor Gridlock to put it to another vote (the final vote) and spin the campaign issue into one which undermined the "pro" voters’, thereby killing the monorail just like the city councils and mayors had been trying to do for those 10 years.

People like "Fred Williams", just an anonymous internet poster, make me skeptical that they have a handle on politics (and a grasp that most politicking takes place away from the public/reporters) and not just issues they WANT to pay attention to (people like that are always "anti-any type of tax" when all is said and done at the end of the day, because the operate under the assumption that NO ONE really wants to pay MORE in taxes. That assumption is simply false.). Any public official, on the other hand, who wants to take an "all costs on the table/ballot" approach, should not be taken seriously. They should be taken as a suspicious person.

The reason is that once the costs which are one the ballot are voted on, and the ballot locked into a passed/failed status, the line-item costs will still be subjected to the natural free market cost adjustments which WILL (not maybe) cause the final price to rise. Saying construction costs will not go up goes against the same wisdom which says the sun will set tonight and rise again in the morning. That rise in costs will then "invalidate" the ballot measure (which was the line the anti-monorail folks handed to the citizens of Seattle last time around and the Mayor thought, “gee, I have a magic in.. one more vote then”)... which will simple 1) generate the need for the politicians to hold a re-vote (delay the project even longer), or/and 2) cause the politicians to ignore the results of the ballot, since it is only an advisory vote and not a mandate. Which will happen if the "vote" doesn't go Mayor/City Council's way.

Posted by PHENICS | December 28, 2006 1:46 PM

Basically, the electeds are chickenshits. I say plan big (ie tunnel, good public transport) and lets put funding together for it.

What's not being talked about is all the good that will happen if we are adequately able to get around. Density is being increased (which I think is a good thing) without one iota of thinking about the transport ramifications for the future. Nickels, Sims, Gregoire--- they all see this city of the future but not one of them has come up with a plan other than to increase density.

It's gonna cost tens of billions of dollars. We're going to need the federal government to help out with it. They're spending 1/2 billion a day in Iraq- but tremble at the thought of putting that in a year towards domestic transportation infrastructure. It's time the debate is changed.

To further my point, look at Murray's latest quip- ie don't expect much from the Washington federal legislators now that we're in power- our hands are tied. That's bullshit. The debate isn't the the budget isn't big enough, it's where we spend the money.

Back in the 50's, the interstate highway system was built in part as a "defense" measure. I would argue that getting around (and the ability to leave a place) is no less valid today in a world of bio/chem terror than it was when we were supposed to speed down the highway away from the H bomb.

Transportation infrastructure isn't in trouble just in Seattle. It's a national problem with national implications. Not only do we need local officials putting plans together, we need a plan for the future that benefits Seattle and the rest of the country. Time for Jim McD and Patty to pull their collective heads from their asses and actually do something for their constituency other than whine. Be leaders.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 28, 2006 2:35 PM

Line up the funding for the floating bridge work FIRST. Everything else in RTID and ST's proposals can WAIT.

Lock in a balanced sales tax, MVET, gas tax, per-capita employee tax, and toll package (people and businesses on the hook to the same extent) for the bridge replacement. Collect that money in as short a period of time as possible! This last point is critical, and it is the lesson that we need to take away from what happened with monorail. What killed monorail was not rising construction costs (as the know-nothing who posted above asserts), it was inadiquate revenues which caused the financing period to stretch out to five decades. For every six dollars that the monorail authority wanted to spend, five would go to repay bondholders - a completely unacceptable ratio that was caused by poor revenue forecasting.

Posted by realist | December 28, 2006 3:03 PM

Dave M. - While I soundly reject the PWC fantasyworld that says that tens of thousands of AWV vehicle trips would just disappear if it's taken down and not replaced, there is one catagory of trip that probably would be reduced - discretionary trips for shopping/recreation/etc. I base my opinion regarding that on the decades-long decline of neighborhood business districts as retail destinations because their customers have chosen to instead drive to malls (both urban and suburban) because it is more convenient to do so. There are 80,000+ people in West Seattle (not to mention those just south of there) who rely on the Viaduct to get to and through downtown. If they can no longer do so in a reasonably convenient way, they will do business elsewhere.

Dave C. - it is not leadership to "think big" when there are no funds available to build big. If it were, Greg Nickels would be thought of as a leader rather than a spendthrift bullying jerk. I don't disagree with many of the points you make, but money doesn't grow on trees, and I'm glad that at least Patty Murray (and Frank Chopp) realize that.

Posted by Mr. X | December 28, 2006 3:05 PM

Mr. X, so you assume how many of those 80,000 plus people from west seattle are now visiting lower queen anne to see films, go to bars, go to Seattle Center, and restaurants? And what % of those will lower queen anne lose? And do you have stats on the decline in neighborhood business districts, because it seems in Seattle they are expanding not shrinking - see Fremont, Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, Belltown, Pine-Pike Corridor, Georgetown, West Seattle for examples.

Posted by Meinert | December 28, 2006 3:19 PM

Dave C. @ 11 says:

"Time for Jim McD and Patty to pull their collective heads from their asses and actually do something for their constituency other than whine. Be leaders."

Their constituency? Which constituency is that, pray tell? Would they also be "leaders" if they were to say "Look, the money is there to rebuild the Viaduct. Now rebuild the #$%^& Viaduct and STFU, and don't demand that we create money out of thin air for your beautification project when poor kids in this state don't have health care!"

Whether you or Josh Feit or anybody else likes that or not, if they were to do that, one hell of a lot of people in this area and this state would stand up and cheer, starting with me.

Posted by ivan | December 28, 2006 3:26 PM

The legislature should start right off acting like good Dem's should - and it isn't like a "R" gov. is going to veto anything. A tax on employers, three bucks per employee per month. That'd go a long way to paying for the floating bridge and associated rampway work. An exemption for employers with less than six employees. Businesses have gotten rich in the past five or so years, and they'll be primary beneficiaries of that road and bridge work. Then the other half of the costs can be allocated among taxes that predominantly impact people.

It is WAY WRONG for the legislature to put highly regressive taxes on people, and these are DEMS who are planning on sticking the burden on people for the most part.

Hey you representatives of the people: act like the Bolsheiviks (sp?) you are supposed to be! Slam the businesses that are kicking out gobs of reduced-rate dividends, not families, for all these transportation projects that will benefit businesses far more than any of the individuals paying a sales tax increase.

Posted by realist | December 28, 2006 3:40 PM

Meinert, I'm a person that goes from W Seattle to QA and Ballard a lot. There are a lot of us. And Queen Anne/Ballard will lose some of that if there's not a way through, including me. It's a financial reality that has to be thought about.

X: Thinking big doesn't necessarily mean build it all now. But it does mean thinking past the next election. Name for me one politician that does that kind of thinking.

Ivan: Their constituency is Washington State (for Murray) and basically the City of Seattle (McDermott). I actually like both of them, but let's face facts. Jim's ineffective because he's marginalized himself along the fringe, and Murray even after taking power now lectures like a schoolmarm about how they can't do anything even though they've taken over. They may be nice people but they're acting like political twats far as I'm concerned.

As for kids without healthcare, I agree, although once again I call bullshit on them because Murray at least (I don't know where Jim stands on this but I suspect his heart is in the right place) doesn't have the balls to put together a health care plan that will protect the kids, much less all Americans. So far as I'm concerned she can eat s*** on that one.

I think we're actually in the same place- the "lets get it done and move on camp". Correct me if I'm wrong...

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 28, 2006 5:04 PM

It is incredibly naive to accept as true a statement such as "There is no disagreement that the viaduct needs to be replaced."

Consider the sources, their motivations and follow the money.

Posted by David Sucher | December 28, 2006 5:06 PM


Nick Licata.

And I'll even add a second - Bob Ferguson, though elections probably aren't entirely absent from his thought processes when he makes decisions).

That said, though, electeds do mostly filter all decisions through that prism.

OTOH, you can't get a hell of a lot done in a single term, either, so doing any kind of long-term work does require that you get reelected.

Chicken or egg, anyone?

Posted by Mr.X | December 28, 2006 5:10 PM

True X, true.

However, I still haven't seen any visionaries. Licata is a nice guy and you're right- he's one not to look at an election if there was one, but visionary he is not in my opinion.

In a way, I appreciate what PWC has done (although I largely disagree with them) because they have actually attempted to put forth something that will direct us to a future point. I respect their tenacity and look to the future. There isn't a politico that is capable of that around here and it hurts us.

We need wonks like Conlin but we also need people in power that give us hope for the future. Gregoire could have taken the reins and driven the cart. A lot of people wouldn't have liked her plan, but at least it would be hers. She needed to be a "decider" and wasn't. That's a let down of leadership and it not only reflects on her but confirms to many that people elected from the D's don't stand for anything but getting along to the next election. I don't want to be that kind of D.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 28, 2006 5:44 PM

Josh's interpretation of Drago's letter is wrong. If Drago & Co. say “screw you” to an election, the Gov will be able to impose her own “screw you” on the City.

Posted by Deep Throat | December 28, 2006 6:45 PM

Good lord. These people are gonna cockblock and squabble over this until it falls down, aren't they?

Posted by Gomez | December 28, 2006 7:41 PM

As a daily Viaduct commuter who's likely to be on and off of it until it's knocked down, I'll happily take my chances driving on it until they stop letting me - particularly since there will come a time when the only section of the AWV that has significant damage -the one by Washington Street - shifts the final quarter inch that transcends the current debate and forces the State to actually spend a million or so bucks to keep the AWV up to snuff until the city/region/state makes a final decision.

And once they fix that section and declare the road safe again (which they will), all of this pie-in-the-sky/fake emergency/we must spend whatever it takes to build right-goddamn-now mania will dissipate, and suddenly everyone will learn to live with a reasonably priced retrofit that keeps the AWV standing through the next regular 6.5-6.8 quake (thought it may not be usable - which is the artificially high bar that was set in trying to discredit the Grey/Twelker proposal to try and make a functional retrofit look bad next to the WSDOT preferred rebuild), and which also doesn't suck every available local, countywide, state and federal road dollar into its not-so-loving teat and suck money away from every other pressing need in the State for the foreseeable future.

Hey, it's the holidays. A fella can dream, right?

Posted by Mr. X | December 29, 2006 4:40 AM


The expert review panel report referenced in Drago's letter also said there was a multi-billion dollar shortfall for the SR 520 project.

Would you consider it a good tax policy if the state were to impose "A tax on employers, three bucks per employee per month" as one of the funding sources for the SR 520 project?

Posted by Extemp. | December 29, 2006 8:43 AM

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