On the Viaduct Replacement: Jean Godden

viaduct_mamapajama97.jpgLate to the party but determined not to be left out of the metrobloggy fun, Jean Godden put in her two cents on the viaduct replacement. Summary: The city has been clear on its preference for a tunnel. The other options have different goals and “significant flaws”. The tunnel is the only option that allows the city to accomplish all of its goals. Oh, and the $4.6 billion? We’ll figure that out later.

Dear Aaron,

I appreciate your interest in the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and seawall. I also want to thank you for your patience and apologize for my delayed reply.

It is clear that replacing viaduct and seawall is the highest transportation and capital improvement priority for Seattle and for the region. After several years of continued settling following the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, it is also clear that Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) can no longer continue to repair the viaduct and seawall and expect them to survive another major earthquake. These structures are past their design life and repairs can no longer extend their use and keep the viaduct and seawall safe.

The City of Seattle has been clear in its preference for a tunnel replacement. In January 2005, the Seattle City Council voted 7 to 1 to endorse the tunnel as the preferred alternative. That choice has also been affirmed by Mayor Nickels as his preferred option. Other ideas range from retrofitting the current structure to eliminating the Downtown Seattle link of Highway 99 altogether. But I believe these alternatives have significant flaws.

Assessment of alternatives must recognize that the City of Seattle and WSDOT have different goals for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct segment of SR99. City of Seattle priorities center on SR99 as a route through downtown Seattle and as an opportunity to reconnect Seattle with its waterfront. WSDOT’s priorities, however, center on SR99’s value for inter-city transportation. Thus, the option of retrofitting the existing viaduct was rejected by WSDOT because a repaired viaduct would not improve inter-city transportation, repairs would cost nearly as much as a replacement structure and would not provide sustainable assurance of public safety. Another alternative, an Elliott Bay Bridge, is estimated to cost more than the tunnel. That solution would nearly bypass downtown Seattle, and would not satisfy Seattle’s intra-city needs. Finally, WSDOT and the state have made it clear that there are no funds for replacing the viaduct with a combination of improved surface streets and improved transit service.

Given the choice between a tunnel and a new elevated structure that would be 50 percent larger than the existing structure, I still favor a cut and cover tunnel as the best replacement option we have before us today.

On March 8, 2006, the Washington State Legislature approved a transportation package giving Seattle two alternatives for deciding its preferred replacement: going to the voters with an advisory ballot measure or deciding by a vote of the council. On September 22, 2006, the council passed an ordinance adopting the tunnel as the preferred alternative. The ordinance states opposition to a rebuilt viaduct and notes that, if a tunnel “proves to be unfeasible” the city recommends development of a “transit and surface street alternative”. Ultimately, Governor Christine Gregoire will make the final decision.

In the same session, the Council voted against calling for a public advisory ballot in November. While my decision to choose the tunnel option was straightforward, the decision on whether or not to call for an advisory ballot was much more difficult. There were several reasons for opposition to the public ballot: there is not enough time to present to the voters technical information and recommendations from the Governor’s Expert Review Panel; it is not clear that a vote could generate a clear preference for a replacement option; and, in any event, the public vote could be only advisory, and the Council would still have to make their recommendation.
In sum, an advisory ballot would result in considerable delay in reaching any decision on replacing the viaduct. For a project of this magnitude, a delay would undoubtedly increase costs.

Funding for a project of this magnitude is an issue of continuing concern to the Seattle City Council. Approximately $2.45 billion has been appropriated by the Washington State Legislature and the U.S. Congress for this critical project. But it is up to local and regional partners to come up with the remainder of the funds. Nearly $700 million has been committed from City of Seattle and Port of Seattle. With the core tunnel project estimated to cost approximately $4.63 billion to build, an expert review panel concluded the feasibility of a tunnel is within reach. The council will require reasonable assurance that the additional funding necessary for the project will be available. Keep in mind that plans and funding for San Francisco’s Embarcadero project occurred over a 20-year period and that Seattle is at least three years away from ground breaking on this project. We have time and options to fill the gap.

I see this project as a precious opportunity to create improvements that broaden our pedestrian connections to Seattle’s historic waterfront. That is why I continue to support a tunnel as the best replacement option we have before us.

As always, I appreciate your interest and the time you are investing on this issue. Please contact me again if you have further concerns on this matter.

My regards,

Jean Godden
Seattle City Councilmember

1 Comment so far

  1. David Sucher (unregistered) on November 15th, 2006 @ 4:41 pm

    I want to be polite because I know that Jean Godden is a good-hearted woman who means well, but that letter is just not an example of either urban design smarts or basic practicality.

    Oh Jean. Where’s your commonsense these days?

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