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C200: The Viaduct And The Vision

2011 March 23
by Sally Bagshaw

< The Alaskan Way Viaduct; photo: Dan Bertolet >

The tunnel debate which has raged for years is getting old. It should not distract us from three important objectives.

First, the viaduct needs to be replaced because it will not sustain another mega earthquake. Replacing the viaduct is the region’s #1 priority safety issue, and controlled demolition on the south part of the viaduct is already underway.

Second, after ten full years of discussion and debate, we are finally moving forward with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall project. The State, not the city, has entered into contract with the tunneling contractor. Extra insurance and a performance bond cover the City from risk of loss. The biggest risk of loss at this point is delaying progress.

Third, moving the majority of cars and trucks off our Waterfront allows us to address multiple quality of life issues which are within our grasp: our maritime and local economy will be enhanced; a premier green promenade will stretch from our sports stadiums to the Olympic Sculpture Park and beyond; pedestrians and bicyclists will be separated from fast moving and noisy cars and trucks; our seawall will be rebuilt to keep Elliott Bay at bay, and it will be designed to provide shelter for salmonids heading out to sea. Opportunities for connecting all of us to the water abound. In other words, people, businesses, and our environment will all benefit.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Project provides us with the opportunity to multiply the value of our expended transportation funds and do much for our City and region. We’re already moving, and I am excited—at last—to move beyond the tunnel debate and focus our positive energy on what we want our Waterfront to become.


Sally Bagshaw is a Seattle City Councilmember.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Matthew 'Anc' Johnson permalink
    March 23, 2011

    “a premier green promenade will stretch from our sports stadiums to the Olympic Sculpture Park and beyond;”

    Honestly, this is what turned me from tunnel agnostic to anti-tunnel. If we were actually going to get something for our risk and investment (ie development along the waterfront) I don’t really care. A ‘Green Promenade’ on the otherhand is the last thing we need.

  2. Melinda permalink
    March 23, 2011

    Replaced? Or just plain torn down? It’s an important distinction to me.

  3. Cascadian permalink
    March 23, 2011

    First, the viaduct needs to be replaced because it will not sustain another mega earthquake

    Wrong. The earthquake risk is a reason to tear down the current viaduct, and has no bearing on whether and how we replace it.

    Second, after ten full years of discussion and debate… [t]he biggest risk of loss at this point is delaying progress.

    We haven’t had a full debate. Transit and surface improvements have not been detailed, even though they are necessary regardless of whether or how we replace the viaduct. Elected officials have agreed to a plan without gaining consensus from the voters. Beyond tearing down the viaduct as soon as possible (which can happen regardless of what happens with regard to viaduct replacement), there are just as many risks from acting too soon or making the wrong choice as not acting. There’s a major city and state budget crisis and this is potentially the most expensive project in city history, so it actually makes sense to delay action until we have a better fiscal position, and institute only those changes that are necessary regardless. That includes tearing down the viaduct, adding transit-only (i.e. BAT) lanes in the corridor, and increasing bus service through additional bus rapid transit. A freeway is a luxury that should wait for full analysis of the alternatives and an interim period without a freeway to see what the true, non-induced demand is in the corridor after the necessary surface and transit changes are made.

    Third, moving the majority of cars and trucks off our Waterfront allows us to address multiple quality of life issues

    The tunnel removes only 40,000 of the more than 100,000 vehicles that currently use the corridor. The other 60,000 cars must either be handled by transit, eliminated as unnecessary, or accommodated on the surface. If this is your primary goal you’re better off supporting a rebuild, but I don’t think it should be our primary goal. Our primary goal should be a livable, walkable city that primarily encourages access by people, and not their cars.

  4. Cascadian permalink
    March 23, 2011

    I should add that as far as transit goes, we need a Link line in this corridor in the long run (and actually could use one right now). But like a decision on building a new freeway, this is a capital-intensive project that should wait for a better fiscal climate, and real-world data about how many trips need to be accommodated after the basic transit and surface improvements are made and some of the induced trips disappear. The same goes for a streetcar in the area. Tear down the viaduct, wait a year or two, and then plan Link, a streetcar, and a potential freeway replacement based on the congestion that exists after people have had time to adjust.

  5. When's the next election? permalink
    March 23, 2011

    Can’t Seattle do better than to elect Sally Bagshaw?

    Say what you want about Michael McGinn or Mike O’Brien, but they represent a refreshing break from Bagshaw’s generation’s backward thinking.

  6. Wells permalink
    March 23, 2011

    That the AWV could collapse in a major earthquake is a given, and the promise of a fine new waterfront likewise means little while the question of how to manage displaced traffic has not been settled. Many serious concerns about the deep-bore tunnel have not been discussed nor debated, let alone settled to the satisfaction of the public who must know beforehand what is coming down the pike. Will the Mercer Mess get messier? Is the new Alaskan Way boulevard design really viable? Is a bored tunnel appropriate technology through watery fill soils below building foundations and surface streets?

    Ms Bagshaw’s opinion piece represents the extent of the debate: Transportation planners with a glaring record of failure in Seattle, along with public officials suspiciously unable to answer detailed questions, have conducted and supposedly settled a contentious debate behind closed doors, and all the public has the right to know is that the debate is getting old.

    The deep-bore tunnel is a terrible mistake of monumental proportions. Its engineering is ludicrous, its environmental impact, egregious! Such glaring incompetence within unaccountable department of transportation planning agencies is outrageous, immoral, unethical and probably illegal. I’m hoping a technical illegality is uncovered and heads roll. Mayor Mcginn is correct about surface/transit/I-5 hybrid being the best option. I’m not sure even he knows exactly why because DOT experts are averse to providing full explanations to anyone about this fiasco.

  7. Adam Parast permalink
    March 25, 2011

    Sally I like you but these are bad arguments all around, like most of the arguments for the tunnel.

    1. The tunnel keeps the viaduct up the longest. Both sides need to drop the safety argument because it really is just a front. If we really cared about safety more than anything else we would close it today. We obviously do not.

    2. State law and state legislators have made it abundantly obvious that they intend to make Seattle pay for any cost overruns. If it isn’t enforceable and state leaders really don’t mean it why hasn’t the state law been changed?

    3. Tolls used to fund the tunnel will cause close to 50% of traffic that would use the tunnel to divert onto surface streets increasing conflicts with non-motorized users and transit. Also the tunnel poorly serves commercial trips to interbay, the only manufacturing center north of downtown Seattle bar Boeing in Everett.

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