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Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Retrofitting Viaduct: 400 Gazillion Dollars

posted by on December 5 at 16:31 PM

According to the state:

Repairing Viaduct would cost $2.3 billion, state says

Retrofitting, rather than replacing, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will cost $2.3 billion, according to a study by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The new numbers, released today, say the cost of a retrofit would be almost as much as a new elevated structure. It said T.Y. Lin has developed a plan that could retrofit the viaduct, but the costs are prohibitive.

“For an earthquake of serious severity likely to have a one in 10 chance of occurring in the next 50 years, the standard would require that the viaduct, though it might be damaged, would still be usable after repairs,” said the new state report. “T.Y. Lin’s report outlines what would be necessary to meet this standard, including new bracing and other improvements, and also strengthening the footings and piers located in the weak and earthquake vulnerable soil on which the viaduct rests.”

WSDOT estimates that replacing the viaduct with a new elevated structure would cost between $2.2 and $3.3 billion; replacing it with a scaled-back cut-and-cover tunnel would cost between $3.6 and $5.6 billion.

Backers of a retrofit have long described their preferred viaduct solution as the sensible, money-saving option. It’ll be pretty hard for them to claim that now.

RSS icon Comments


Y'know what, I'm sure I'm far from alone in saying that, even if the retrofit costs just as much as the rebuild, it's a better choice. With a retrofit, we won't:

  • See the waterfront scarred by an even bigger (50% wider) elevated highway.
  • See the waterfront scarred by an elevated highway for a century or more. Yes, if the retrofit has a more limited lifespan, then consider that an advantage. It gives us time to transition toward a truly permanent solution, like the PWC teardown option.
  • Suffer the disruption to business and traffic/transportation that we would get with the rebuild.

Now, does this make me a retrofit supporter? No, I'm partial to the teardown or, if money were no object, the tunnel. But above all, for anyone who cares the slightest bit about public transportation or density or the environment, the onus should really be not so much on supporting a particular plan as on opposing the rebuild. Seattle's downtown waterfront deserves to be a destination, not just a place to be passed through.

Posted by cressona | December 5, 2006 5:02 PM

Um, now ECB, this IS the same WSDOT whose methodology for counting AWV trips you just spent a whole column trying to impugn, right? Victor Grey was basically the lead highway engineer for the State of Washington for a long, long time - and I think he knows just how the bureaucratic numbers bullshit game is played, so I take his call for a truly independent review seriously.

That aside, let's also add the cost savings in hours lost to congestion because the AWV can remain open to traffic during a retrofit (govt. always likes to figure the cost of doing nothing into the equation when they support a project, so what good for the goose, etc). Eliminating 7-10 years of monumental congestion and traffic delays surely has some positive dollar value that can be assigned to it.

On the other hand, it is nice to see you finally owning up to supporting the PWC plan, Cressona. Can I have my apology now, or will it have to wait until you've unleased 10,000 words about how terribly I'm misrepresenting your position?

By the way, the downtown waterfront has been a tourist destination for a long, long time with the existing AWV in place, and you won't be able to get one inch closer to the waterfront if it's torn down than you can now (I say bring back the Washington Street Boat Landing - now THAT really let you get closer to the water).

Posted by Mr. X | December 5, 2006 5:19 PM

Consider this line from the WSDOT statement condemning the retrofit: "We also would be left with a structure that has no shoulders and narrow lanes."

We keep hearing this mandate that any solution has to preserve capacity, and it has to preserve vehicle capacity, but when you get right down to it, the rebuild means expanding capacity. When you make the structure 50% wider to accommodate wider lanes and shoulders, well, that's what you get.

WSDOT has built this house of cards of assumptions, one on top of the other, which piles up to what they hope is an inevitable conclusion: the taxpayers of Washington need to spend billions of dollars for a new and expanded highway for a route that, as of now, is of secondary regional significance. It's a wonder they haven't found a link between earthquakes and al Quaeda.

Posted by cressona | December 5, 2006 5:26 PM

Wouldn't a monorail have been a wiser use of funds?

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 5, 2006 5:30 PM

Yes, Will.

Posted by Dan Savage | December 5, 2006 5:34 PM

Mr. X: On the other hand, it is nice to see you finally owning up to supporting the PWC plan, Cressona. Can I have my apology now, or will it have to wait until you've unleased 10,000 words about how terribly I'm misrepresenting your position?

Truth is, I've vacillated from being more of a PWC supporter to being more of a tunnel supporter (and fearing that the PWC option would have a Ralph Nader effect) to being maybe now a little more of a PWC supporter. To carry on with the presidential election analogy, it's a bit like choosing between Democratic candidates in the primaries to face George W. Bush in the general election. Compared to Bush, any Democratic candidate looks like the second coming of Abe Lincoln, and the choice becomes not just who's best but who might have the best chance of beating Bush. For me, a new, expanded viaduct really is the Bush here -- the one unmitigated disaster to be avoided at all costs. That's why I'm even willing to talk nice about the retrofit of all things -- at least in comparison.

Posted by cressona | December 5, 2006 5:36 PM

Oh, now, we all realize the tunnel folks have been praising the Surface Plus Transit as they figure that one won't get public support and it will help them kill off the Viaduct rebuild ...

Interesting if we actually get a public vote or get the other viable choice (besides the elevated modern rebuild) of Surface Plus Transit, though.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 5, 2006 5:40 PM

I think the waterfront is a destination now, although I agree it would be better without the double decker.

I'm not in favor of a rebuild at all. That to me is throwing money away and delaying the resolution of the problem.

I'm in favor of the tunnel first, but recognize it's expensive. I have to say that in a contest between a rebuild and the teardown, I guess I'd go for the teardown if there was corollary money put in for proper rapid transit.

Somehow other governments are able to build transportation infrastructure and protect the environment. Look at the new Swiss tunnels going in for rail- they're being built (and are very expensive) to deal with transport problems. One of the requirements of the project was that it had to be built to a 100 year standard. This was done in part because it is a very expensive thing to do. Some thinking outside the box with regards to funding needs to occur, no matter what the project. We have too many transportation needs that have been put off and will effect the region for years to come. I don't have any problems having us and those in the future pay fairly for those transport improvements that those in the future will derive benefit from.

I don't think it is set in stone that the Seattle waterfront where the viaduct is located has to be this "showpiece". This is a working city, with a working port and so on. There are many beautiful things in the city and the state, and I'd rather see commerce and people be able to move than a big park the utilization of which is subject to debate. If we can do both, then so much the better.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 5, 2006 5:40 PM

The part of the waterfront along the viaduct is not really the "port." It's some badish restaurants, ferry terminals, and some depressing tourist attractions.

Oh, and that streetcar to nowhere.

Posted by Dan Savage | December 5, 2006 5:43 PM

Do you truly believe what WSDOT says?
Or do you only believe when it is convenient to further your own program?

Posted by David Sucher | December 5, 2006 5:43 PM

OK, so in other words, you were full of shit when you accused me of all kinds of horrible misrepresentations of your position when I said you supported tearing down the AWV without replacing it.

Glad we've cleared that up.

Posted by Mr. X | December 5, 2006 5:46 PM

I'd agree about the badish restaurants Dan, but I'd say that Colman Dock and most everything south of there is a part of the working port.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 5, 2006 5:48 PM

Stopped clocks, David S.

Posted by Dan Savage | December 5, 2006 6:00 PM

By the way, to anticipate Cressona backpedaling - I offer you this blast from the (recent) past when he responded to my calling him a 15-percenter who is out of touch with most of Seattle's residents...

"It's funny though that you should identify me with the option that polled the worst, the PWC option, rather than the tunnel, which didn't do so wonderfully either but still did better than 15%."

Posted by Mr. X | December 5, 2006 6:05 PM

In the Draft EIS WSDOT said a surface highway would cost $2.8 billion. And that’s before they jacked up the cost estimates for the other options.

The WSDOT surface highway is the surface option we’d actually get. Let me guess: WSDOT’s claims and cost estimates in this case are not to be trusted, right?

Posted by BB | December 5, 2006 6:16 PM

Note that this was basically the same justification for the almost total rebuild of the Opera House at Seattle Center. I don't recall the exact figures, but they were going to HAVE to do something to meet modern earthquake-standards, and it was going to cost something like @$80 mil? to retrofit and @$100 mil? to rebuild.

I'm fascinated that people keep ignoring/forgetting that no matter what option is selected, they HAVE to replace the old rotting seawall as part of the deal. If its a tunnel, the west wall becomes the (expensive) new seawall.

As someone who drives the viaduct several times a week, I'm terrified of the thought of the route disappearing for X years while its replaced. Anyone who lives in the north-end and needs to get south knows how incredibly nasty I-5 gets; it now backs up for miles even on weekends. The viaduct is a frequent lifesaver.

I was born in 1950 and have visited/lived in Seattle most of my life. What most people don't realize is that at the time the viaduct was built in the early 1950s, the working-waterfront / 1st Avenue area was a nasty, unpleasant, potentially dangerous place with a VERY bad reputation; there was nothing hip, fun, or edgy about being around there. I can't think of a good contemporary comparison; perhaps a fun-filled evening of shopping and dining in downtown White Center??

Sign me -
Still in Mourning for the Monorail

Posted by MarkyMark | December 5, 2006 7:12 PM

Adding onto 'what is the working port?' @ 12:

I think the port is a huge consideration in regards to the AWV question. So, just as a little snapshot, savor with me, if you will forbear it, a quick jog along Seattle's impressively packed, full-scale "Working Port":

The Working Port starts ramping up from South Park and merges with West Seattle's Harbor Way segment at Harbor Island. From here northward, the sort of stereotypical Port with the big boats, big cranes, and infinite containers ends more or less at Lander.

But then north of that, you have massive POS-associated trucking as well as the intersection with associated heavy rail. North of that, you have the Coast Guard. North of that, you have the Ferries. North of that, you have the Fireboats. North of that, you have the Argosies and such. North of that, you have the northern Cruise Ship terminal. North of that you have The Clipper.

The businesses along the west side of Alaskan Way are, to me, an improbably miraculous frontage for this "Downtown Waterfront" strip of the public-use part of the working port.

Then you get to Myrtle Edwards Park. Head north. The working port picks right back up at the grain elevators on Interbay and then, again, on the South side of Magnolia. And even then, it continues from Fisherman's Terminal all the way along the Ballard Waterway out to the Locks.

Pretty huge. So, the port is gonna factor into what happens with the AVW. No two ways (hehe) around it.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | December 5, 2006 7:18 PM

Tear that schitt down.

Posted by tear it down | December 5, 2006 7:35 PM

The bottom line is that we can now flatly eliminate the retrofit as an option. David Sucher of course will say the WSDOT is lying, but with nothing to substantiate that claim.

Posted by cite | December 5, 2006 9:18 PM
For an earthquake of serious severity likely to have a one in 10 chance of occurring in the next 50 years,

Hey Erica, what is "serious severity" in this case? How likely is is it that something "likely to have a one in ten chance if ocurring in the next 50 years" will happen in the next 50 years, anyway?

It might be 50% likely that these statistics could seriously be a joke. Are you likely to be listening to what these people may or may not be saying? They're not talking about an "N-year earthquake" (an earthquake of the magnitude that we have observed to occur on average once every "N" years); they're saying "an earthquake that we consider serious *might have* some chance of ocurring once in the next 50 years (i.e., we cannot say that it has no chance of ocurring in the next 50 years)... might have a 5 percent chance... or 38... or 15.9"

Posted by Phil | December 5, 2006 11:03 PM

Call bullshit, dammit!

Posted by Phil | December 5, 2006 11:10 PM

Cressona--I feel your pain. When faced with the utter stupidity of the rebuild, the retrofit looks smarter because at leas t that ugly hulk won't be around long.

Of course the retrofit is possible. And no doubt it will be expensive no matter what David S. wants to assert. The existing viaduct is a decaying roadway built to last fifty years with half the traffic and minimal earthquake standards. It is a miracle that it still stands.

So you spend billions and what do you get? An unsafe, narrow, decayed viaduct with the best baling wire money can buy.

No, tear the sucker down. But give Seattle a tunnel. Even if the Capitol Hill crowd says screw West Seattle and Ballard you still have to deal with freight. And freight don't take the bus. Each day on my viaduct death ride I look around and the mix of cars to delivery trucks, cement trucks, semis, repair trucks, etc. is close to 50-50.

Posted by i prefer a reality-based commute | December 6, 2006 1:11 AM

Erica C. Barnett: Backers of a retrofit have long described their preferred viaduct solution as the sensible, money-saving option. It’ll be pretty hard for them to claim that now.

I know Erica isn't one of the bad guys here, but wow, reading her is good for a laugh sometimes if only because she seems to be absolutely impervious to irony.

Erica has been the first to report why any conclusions coming from WSDOT should be treated with the kind of skepticism you'd have for Cheney or Rumsfeld. Just start with the inflated numbers for just how much traffic the viaduct carries. Erica reported that. Now she turns around and gullibly swallows whatever dubious cost estimates WSDOT throws out on the retrofit if only because the retrofit ain't her baby.

Of course, if you really want a laugh, read whatever comes from that Ron Paananen dude at WSDOT. Here's a good line: "What this shows is we've appropriately screened (the repair option) out and are narrowing down the alternatives, and basically, we're down to a new elevated structure or a tunnel." Gosh Ron, thanks so much for narrowing things down for us. And thanks for doing it "appropriately." But hey, if the civilian leaders at the Pentagon can make important decisions for the United States, WSDOT might as well make important decisions for the state of Washington.

Posted by cressona | December 6, 2006 8:13 AM

Cressona's likening of the tissue of lies around the Iraq War and the way the Viaduct has been analyzed is very apt.

Start with your conclusion and then work backwards, finding appropriate 'facts' as needed.

Posted by David Sucher | December 6, 2006 8:58 AM

Has Erica ever questioned the cost estimates from WADOT? That would be the only apt criticism in this instance.

If WADOT favors the tunnel option why did they increase the tunnel cost estimate so much more than the rebuild estimate? After all, they are just make this shit up, right? Something doesn't add up.

Posted by cite | December 6, 2006 9:57 AM

Adding to Lloyd's post @ 17

It is about 1.3 miles from where the Viaduct rises from ground level at its south end to the Washington State Ferry Terminal (for this segment - it runs between 4 or 5 BNSF train tracks that aren't going anywhere and Port properties that pretty much all entail heavy waterfront industrial uses)

The segment between the WSF Terminal and the Waterfront Landings Condos is about .5 mile.

The segment where it jogs east (away from our "precious Downtown waterfront") from the Waterfront Landings Condos and proceeds to the Battery Street Tunnel is about .3 mile.

To sum up - total length of AWV where it begins to be elevated to the BST - 2.1 miles. Amount of that that runs along exclusively industrial property/freight train right-of-way 1.3 miles. Amount that actually parallels a part of the waterfront people use .5 mile. Amount that runs by the Pike Place Market and to the north .3 mile.

Likelihood that Dan Savage will retract a factual misstatement because it will undermine the Stranger's anti-Viaduct Jihad - 1% (on a good day)

Posted by Mr. X | December 6, 2006 10:27 AM

Re #8: I actually DON'T think it'd be better without the viaduct. I can walk under the viaduct when I'm visiting the waterfront. If the surface option goes through I'll have to walk across a busy highway to get there.

Posted by Orv | December 6, 2006 11:23 PM

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