The Friends of Seattle blog (FoS.blog) will be temporarily on hiatus while we focus on lobbying efforts to replace the Viaduct with the progressive transit + streets alternative. For periodic updates about our activities, please sign up for our e-newsletter by visiting our website.
Today the Times writes about the political battle between the City of Seattle and the state government over the Viaduct replacement (a month and a half after the P-I wrote the same thing). There is one new bit of information:
A city document shows the $2.8 billion cost of a rebuilt viaduct could
be pushed to nearly $5 billion by slowing permits, filing lawsuits and
using other tactics to oppose the project.
As the article points out, a legal fight likely will favor the state. Either the legislature will pass a specific new law quashing any potential legal objection or a judge will rule in favor of the state's legal authority to contravene local zoning and development plans. But lawsuits could help drive up the costs of the project. With the costs of 520 off the charts and the RTID/Sound Transit roads and transit package likely to rise in cost, the state might be forced to get serious and negotiate with the city. All in all, it's probably good news for transit+streets.
It's legally possible. Little noticed in the transportation bill passed by the Legislature last session (ESHB 2871) was a section that allowed local "transportation benefit districts" to be created after December 1, 2007. The city of Seattle (perhaps including some other pro-transit areas in King County but cutting out the areas that voted against Sound Transit) could form a special taxing district and contract with an agency like Metro or Sound Transit to build a city-wide light rail system (perhaps with routes similar to the old streetcar system). This could be a very desirable system for building out our mass transit system given the slow pace of Sound Tranist expansion and the ludicrous 40-20-40 rule that gives Seattle only 20% of new bus service in King County.
In the aftermath of yesterday's disheartening news about current voter opinion on the Viaduct, the Times has a good article overviewing the opinions of state leaders on the third option, transit + streets, ignored by the state but adopted by the city as plan B if a tunnel does not work out.
But Steinbrueck and state Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said it may be
time to reconsider the surface-street option. The poll showed that
roughly half of Seattle voters do not want a new viaduct, said Murray,
a tunnel supporter. "In my mind, we're not done with the discussion,"
Nickels said Saturday that the surface option is his preferred fallback plan.
Both the viaduct and tunnel are too expensive, Steinbrueck said. "I
think we should look for a more cost-effective solution that is neither
an aerial highway or tunnel," he said. A lukewarm supporter of a
tunnel, Steinbrueck has urged tearing down the viaduct and routing
traffic onto surface streets, with beefed-up bus service. He wants the
city, county and state to study that option. He believes it could save
money that could be used for projects such as a new Highway 520 bridge
across Lake Washington.
It could be a tough sell, though.
Gregoire said she thinks the choice is between a tunnel or new
viaduct. "I don't, candidly, see the surface option as viable," she
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate
Transportation Committee, agreed. "I don't want to start studying
anything more. It's time to put money into building something," Haugen
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said the poll showed only 15
percent of voters supporting a surface-street option, and he urged city
officials to reconsider a new viaduct. "The first thing we should do is
take the tunnel off the table because it's simply not affordable. Then
we should work together to see what kind of elevated highway could be
done that is affordable and decent in terms of design," Chopp said.
The governor will choose the rebuild. Then political blood will spill. Given the tools at the city's disposal (lawsuits, withholding construction permits, etc) it seems likely a new Viaduct will never be built. By the time this is over, it will be interesting to see which elected officials survive politically and which don't.
The poll of 400 registered Seattle voters was conducted Thursday and
Friday. Voters were first asked which replacement option they
preferred, including tearing down the viaduct and routing traffic onto
surface streets. Almost half — 47 percent — said they wanted a new
viaduct; 29 percent chose the tunnel.
The voters were then asked their preference after being given the
latest cost estimates, announced last month by the state. By a 2-to-1
margin, they said they wanted a new viaduct, which is now pegged at
This news does not make a new Viaduct okay. The voters in Seattle have spoken before on transportation issues (see Forward Thrust in 1968 and 1970 or the Bogue Plan in 1912) and chosen the wrong option. We certainly fear that the results of this poll could cause a similar calamity.
The City of Seattle plans to shrink Stone Way N from four lanes to two lanes with a middle turn lane. The benefits? Big-time. Added bike lanes and a street safer for pedestrian crosswalks. How do the business interests in the area respond? Predictably:
Karen Ceriello, co-president of the Wallingford Chamber of
Commerce, said her organization opposes the road diet because of what
it might to do to businesses.
"The pedestrian-safety issue is huge, and this won't help," she said. "Stone Way is not a pedestrian or bike roadway."
Well, no, it isn't a pedestrian or bike roadway. Because it's only designed to accommodate cars well, pedestrians and bikers be damned. And hers is a short-sighted perspective. Stone Way is targetted for additional infill development and has a lot of under-utilized lots north of 45th. Making it more friendly to pedestrians and bicycle users would be a boon for business, not a hinderance.
The Bridging the Gapcampaign website is up. Friends of Seattle has of course endorsed the package. Why? It will provide for badly-needed improvements to the efficiency and
safety of Seattle roads and bridges for cars, transit, freight,
bicycles, and pedestrians, and will help maintain mobility when the
Viaduct is torn down.
The P-I endorsesSally Clark for Seattle City Council. The other choice? Stan Lippman. Easy call.
The P-I editorializes against the crappy choices the state is presenting to the city for replacing the Viaduct - either an affordable and unnecessarily large tunnel or a monstrous new elevated highway.