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Originally published May 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 2, 2008 at 10:32 AM

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Guest columnists

Solve the Alaskan Way riddle with multidimensional thinking

As Seattleites go about their daily lives, it might surprise some to learn that crews are busy working on the Alaskan Way Viaduct right now.

Special to The Times

As Seattleites go about their daily lives, it might surprise some to learn that crews are busy working on the Alaskan Way Viaduct right now. Yes, the center span — the "riddle in the middle" — gets the attention, but construction is now under way on sections of the route that need to be fixed no matter how the riddle is solved. Indeed, this first-phase effort will replace 40 percent of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

After completing repair work on two columns, the state, King County and the city of Seattle are moving ahead on both the south and north ends of the Highway 99 corridor. This work, which begins with electrical-line relocation this fall, is the first step toward tremendous long-term benefits for our region.

In addition, more buses will travel downtown, and construction projects to create a wider Spokane Street Viaduct and stadium-area ramps to Interstate 5 and Interstate 90 will begin this fall.

But we know the mile in the middle is the real challenge.

To some, it's straightforward and simple. They say replace it, either with a new viaduct, a tunnel, or surface street. Failure to pick one and move forward is seen as a failure of leadership. But deciding what to do with the viaduct is more complicated than just looking at traffic and deciding whether to pour concrete and lay pavement. That's just one dimension, and maybe the easiest one.

In 1950, one-dimensional thinking made sense. Gas was cheap and there was land enough to live where we wanted. Today, we live in a multidimensional world where gas is increasingly expensive, and few can afford to live near where they work and play. For their pocketbook and the planet, more people want alternatives to their cars. Seattle is a prime example.

The viaduct cuts through the heart of a major metropolitan city, a city known for its innovation and commitment to cutting greenhouse gases and improving the health of Puget Sound. Seattle holds the promise of becoming a model city for the 21st century.

In the year 2008 — not 1950 — we need a viaduct solution that not only moves traffic but addresses these larger issues so our children and grandchildren don't have to wrestle with the legacy of shortsightedness.

By pulling together transportation, climate pollution and environmental health, many voices and interests are shaping a path to success. A joint recommendation for the future of the central portion of the viaduct will be presented at the end of this year.

We have learned a lot in the past few years, and we are no longer focusing solely on the Highway 99 corridor. We are also considering the larger question of how to keep people moving throughout the region and Seattle without sacrificing the need to protect the environment and quality of life.

Today, we are looking at the existing transportation system as an integrated whole and determining how to make better use of what we have. We are looking at improvements to I-5, downtown streets, transit service and the existing Highway 99 corridor. We're also contemplating policy changes. We believe a combination of solutions will bring us more bang for the buck.

The 10 options referenced in a recent Seattle Times article ["Viaduct alternatives have expanded to 10," Local News, April 30] are just one dimension of the challenge. We have multiple options for what could replace the viaduct on the central waterfront. However, equally important are other considerations that will influence the future of this vital waterfront travel corridor.

We're working hard to reach a solution that makes the most sense. We have until the end of this year. We cannot and will not spend the next five years debating and studying.

We're getting letters and phone calls from residents eager to share their thoughts; we encourage the public to keep it up. At the end of June, we will start narrowing down the list to a handful of potential solutions, so the time to get involved is now.

As much as we'd like a simple solution, there are tough choices ahead. But with your help, we will determine a fiscally responsible solution for the central waterfront that is acceptable to the community, provides transportation choices and preserves public safety.

Please join us in developing a future we can all be proud of.

Christine Gregoire is governor of Washington, Ron Sims is King County executive and Greg Nickels is mayor of Seattle.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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