It's time to end the pingpong match over the viaduct tunnel project
The city, state and county have haggled long enough over the deep-bore tunnel to replace the aging and dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct. At some point, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has to concede he lost this debate. The time to march forward is now.
"IF I'm elected mayor, though I disagree with this (tunnel) decision, it will be my job to uphold and execute this agreement. ... It is not the mayor's job to withhold the cooperation of the city government in executing this agreement."
— Mike McGinn, Oct. 20 2009, a few weeks before Seattle's mayoral election
That was then, this is now.
To outsiders looking in, Seattle leaders have nothing better to do than play political pingpong on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. State lawmakers approved the project, the governor favors it and the region — save for one activist mayor — considers the matter settled.
McGinn, who campaigned against the tunnel and then said he would not stand in its way if elected, stretches credulity with ongoing attempts to stall the deep-bore tunnel replacement for the viaduct. His relentless attempts to delay the project mean the City Council must spend an inordinate amount of time trying to be the city's earnest broker with the state.
At issue for the mayor is language in state legislation that attempts to lay potential cost overruns on an ill-defined group of Seattle area property owners who benefit from the project. McGinn seeks language in contracts with the state that delay the project until the Legislature changes the legislation.
The Legislature will not reconvene for certain until January and is not inclined to eliminate that verbiage because the governor, city attorney and most of the City Council consider it unenforceable.
The City Council, therefore, should muster at least six votes, eight would be better, to override a potential veto of legislation affirming contracts with the state. The strength of that vote — which is not expected to include mayoral sidekick Councilmember Mike O'Brien — will signal to the region the council is handling this matter.
Indeed, the city charter gives the council some authority over bridges, viaducts and tunnels.
If McGinn refuses to the sign the council version of contracts, the legislative branch can and should ask its president, Richard Conlin, to sign on behalf of the city.
It is interesting to note the state legislation attempting to take the unprecedented move of dumping overruns on a city through which one of its roadway passes never mentions the city of Seattle as a corporate entity. That more than suggests it would be difficult to sue the city.
It is one thing for the idea-a-minute mayor to state opposition, and then his flip-flop, and say he will not block the tunnel project in a political campaign. Not everybody loves the tunnel, which is an expensive and complicated endeavor.
Even those of us on this page who originally supported the elevated replacement took a while to recognize the tunnel works because it disrupts waterfront businesses for a limited time and accommodates sufficient north-south traffic so as not to clog Interstate 5 and the Highway 99 corridor.
The city, state and county have haggled long enough. The existing roadway presents a serious public-safety issue because it could come tumbling down in an earthquake.
At some point, the mayor has to concede he lost this debate. The time to march forward, and live up to his campaign rhetoric, is now.