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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

No-Highway Option Gains Traction

Posted by on December 27 at 12:22 PM

Seattle’s seeming unanimity on the $4 billion “tunnel optionā€¯ for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct continues to crumble. The latest defector: the local Sierra Club, whose political committee chair, Kevin Fullerton, editorialized in favor of the People’s Waterfront Coalition’s “no-highwayā€¯ alternative in Sunday’s P-I. The PWC option, which would improve traffic connections throughout downtown and leave just four lanes of traffic on the waterfront, would cost hundreds of millions less than the city’s “preferredā€¯ six-lane tunnel. City and state officials oppose it because they want to maintain the viaduct’s freeway-level traffic capacity on the waterfront.

“The local Sierra Club supports the [PWC’s] work and calls on the mayor and City Council to shelve the freeway options until the city has had a real debate about alternatives,ā€¯ the op-ed says. “A progressive city will realize that the real threat to its long-term health isn’t the failure of the [viaduct] —it’s the car dependency that such infrastructure fees. Let’s start solving that problem rather than waste resources on another highway our children will regret.ā€¯

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I have bounced this around for quite a while. I never liked the idea of the expense of a tunnel, and I was more in favor a replacement of the existing structure. I am less so now, and I wonder too if we couldn't do away with it entirely and save ourselves a lot of

What changed my opinion was the fact that a tunnel or aerial structure would require shutting down the waterfront portion of Hwy 99 for significant periods of time. How were we planning to deal with traffic
revisions during that time? I haven't seen anything from the city or anyone else that indicates traffic would come to a grinding halt. The city traffic department, Metro and daily drivers will compensate and change their behaviour to accomodate the closure
as they have past when 99 was closed
for repair and/or inspection or foot races. New surface lanes could be built on Alaskan Way far more readily than a tunnel or aerial structure. The downtime would be significantly less. We would also benefit with potentially better access of trains to the port for intermodal container transport which now is retricted or cut off
from access by the current viaduct. This would greatly reduce the volume of 40' tractor-trailer truck traffic on the streets.

I honestly don't want to listen to the "connect the people to the waterfront" matra. It's a bullshit
slogan. The people of Seattle have never been connected to the central waterfront in a "let's walk on the beach and dig clams" sort of way...
at least not since the unrecognized Duwammish Nation lived in the area.

City councilman David Della whined in his letter to the Seattle Times dated 27 December

that an aerial structure is the option to the tunnel. Well, he is wrong. There's one more option---Tear the
bastard down and don't replace it. Mr. Della, why didn't you put that up for consideration or even mention it in your letter to the Times? Why Mr. Della do you and the other council members not consider it germane? If safety and jobs are your primary concern, then you need to demonstrate to us that the viaduct replacement
you crow about in the Times article is better than a surface street option.


Personally, I still favor a tunnel. If the money doesn't materialize, then go with the no build "option". Politics is like poker, why not hold out as long as you can until you fold.

One of the problems with not replacing the viaduct is the pinchpoint that is downtown Seattle--very few lanes on congested I-5. Fullerton and others compare the viaduct to SF, Vancouver, and Portland. Let's look at each. SF--the Embarcadero was a deadend freeway which stored cars from North Beach. Vancouver chose no freeway because they could. About 23 people live north of the metro area. Portland ripped up their waterfront freeway at the same time they conveniently built an interstate loop in a ditch about 18 blocks away. The viaduct carries 120,000 cars a day, many to downtown, but many through downtown to other destinations north and south.

Seattle is about as constrained topographically as is possible. The viaduct provides an important link for the western edge of the town. One of the problems I have always has with the PWC no build option is that it hasn't been fully modeled to my knowledge. Street improvements are fine, but I think the investments to serve West Seattle are especially expensive. The Spokane Street bridge to I-5 needs to be replaced to accomplish the PWC plan.

I am all in support of getting folks out of their cars as much as possible. But for many of us, there are trips we can eliminate with transit, and there are trips we cannot. We have two jobs and two kids and one car. We are forced to drive often just to make life work.

All I am saying is if you really want to tear down the viaduct and not replace it, show real modeling and proposals for making it work. Lobby for more study money on that option.

But whatever we do--don't do what David Della suggests. We simply can't put up another hideous monument to the auto that blocks our waterfront.

Why does everyone keep calling a no-tunnel/ no-viaduct option a "no build" option? We'd be building something fabulous! A major waterfront boulevard for tourists and locals and pedestrians and drivers alike. It would be a major, worthy undertaking that would add serious value to the waterfront.

Although, I think it should be six lanes, not four, and edged by mature trees and 5+ story buildings designed to compliment the historic architecture of Pioneer Square.

It's still a stupid idea, for reasons I've gone into (at length) elsewhere. A four lane highway right next to four lane Alaskan Way is redundant and does nothing to handle the viaduct's heavy traffic flow.

That IS the point, Gomez. We want
to make it redundant. As Westside
requested, let's see a study. Have
you seen a study of the effects of
traffic dispersal, Gomez? I haven't
and I can't find one on WSDOT's or
any city website. Got's to be one
one somewhere. Do you think the City and WSDOT would have already concluded a tunnel is the best alternative without a study of the impacts of a surface alternative? I hope the
aren't that stupid. Show me a
study, dammit.

--- Jensen

Kevin Fullerton's column is very compelling, but it fails to answer the one overriding question facing the surface-route supporters: What prospect is there of garnering support from the public and from the people who are actually making the decision? We elected Christine Gregoire and Ed Murray and Patty Murray; our elected leaders appointed Doug MacDonald. What do these
officials have to say about the surface route? What does the general public
have to say about the surface route? Likewise, $2 billion-plus has already
been secured to rebuild the viaduct. There's no poison pill like with the
Green Line monorail. Are all those contractors going to just roll over and say,
"Whatever you want; we'd happily do a $750 million project instead?"

I'm reminded of the phrase, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Well, I'm afraid that the next viaduct will be paved with the good intentions of the People's Waterfront Coalition. If there's anything local activists should have learned from the Green Line's failure, it is that all the noble intentions in the world can't make up for strategic blunders. Someday when the next viaduct is being built, the no-builders might suddenly have the same kind of realization George Custer must have had just before he got scalped: "Hey, maybe we made a strategic blunder!"

Even this blog entry doesn't cite this piece as evidence of momentum FOR
the surface-route. It cites the piece as evidence of momentum AGAINST the

By the way, there's nothing in principle I disagree with Kevin Fullerton about. If I had my druthers, we would just do the surface route. But if I had my druthers, we would also be building a new monorail.

The one thing that troubles me about the discourse in this region--or maybe
anywhere--is that nobody quite thinks things through. And y'know, I'm not
sure it's in Kevin Fullerton's interest to really think things through
anyway. He gets a piece published in the Sunday paper establishing his green
cred. Cary Moon gets to make a name for herself with PWC. They all get credit for being forward thinkers, and this city gets stuck with another eyesore that prevents new, high-density development in the very place where
such development is most desperately needed.

It's not as black and white as you make it out to be, Interceptor. It's not only a tunnel or no highway. They could just, say, rebuild it above ground.

And no one ever said it was meant to increase capacity. It's only being rebuilt to replace our current crumbling safety hazard of a viaduct. The capacity we would lose from displacing it, however, would be catastrophic in the long term.

And I've elaborated on this at length elsewhere. The examples used to defend this idea are like comparing apples and oranges.

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