Port of Seattle commissioner Rob Holland wrote a letter to his colleagues this week advocating that the port's $300 million commitment to the proposed deep-bore tunnel be used partly for transit, not solely roadwork as previously defined by the state. During the commission's summer budget deliberations, he says by phone, "I will be working with my colleagues to see if there are moneys we can set aside—I will need two other votes on this—to allocate toward transit options for the entire system."
For example, Holland explains, $155 million could extend a streetcar line from South Lake Union to Ballard, according to a city streetcar expansion study in 2008. By Holland's argument, that sort of rail investment—or funding for buses— could increase mobility on the waterfront by relieving congestion along the port's most vital arterials.
However, siphoning money from roadwork could leave a hole in the state's $4.2 billion overall budget for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct (which includes $2.4 billion from the state, $930 million from Seattle, $400 million in tolls, and $300 million from the port). For instance, lacking port money for tearing down the old viaduct, rebuilding Alaskan Way, or other final-stage work, it's unclear where funding would come from.
Pro-tunnel forces have taken aim at Holland's ambition. The group Let's Move Forward sent an "URGENT ALERT!" yesterday, saying that Holland wanted "to reconsider Port's contribution to tunnel project and instead funnel that money to transit." The group asked its members to attend port meetings where the commissioners would discuss the proposal and "show support for our cause."
Yet it's unclear that Holland can find two more votes.
Commissioner Bill Bryant says that the port's $300 million will pay for "the tunnel and reconfiguration of Highway 99, and I have never heard of doing anything else. We have a project and contract and I am moving forward with that."
In his letter to commissioners, Holland wrote. "I'm on record for supporting the tunnel concept. As a compromise, however, I will be advocating for a portion of the remaining $273 million contribution to be used for a transit option that reduces the number of single-occupancy trips from Ballard/North Seattle and West Seattle."
The resolution approved last year by the Port and state commits the money to the state's "program elements"—which don't include transit funding—but the resolution doesn't mention specific roadwork. Rather it commits the money the more vague freight mobility and access. The resolution doesn't commit the port to any funding mechanism, and contains the caveat that the port could back out completely for a variety of reasons.
Part of Holland's grievance, he says, is that the state has never articulated what components of the tunnel project the $300 million would actually fund (only that most of it must be paid between 2016 and 2018). I've asked the Washington State Department of Transportation how that money would be used or what would happen if it was diverted to transit but haven't heard an answer yet.