Keep surface-subsurface option alive for Alaskan Way Viaduct
The surface-subsurface option for the Alaskan Way Viaduct maximizes new open space on the waterfront, preserves the ability to bypass downtown, reduces construction and operating impacts, reduces freight traffic on our city streets, creates jobs and provides a long-term return on investment.
Special to The Times
TWELVE months ago, Gov. Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels created a new decision-making process for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. They asked 30 members of the community, representing neighborhood, environmental, labor and business groups from around our region to come together and develop a consensus so we can finally get this project under way. Dec. 11, we did just that. Twenty-four of the 25 participating stakeholders asked the city, county and state to keep a surface-subsurface option in the mix.
This is an incredible feat. Instead of the bickering and conflict that we're so accustomed to on the viaduct project, there is now discussion of a "grand compromise" and a "peace treaty." It is imperative that we give this grass-roots compromise a chance so we avoid the political train wreck of two years ago. If we keep a surface-subsurface option alive we can find common ground.
The elevated and surface options presented by the public agencies last week both have pluses and minuses, but without consensus support they will have a hard time moving forward, and any further delay on this project is a safety hazard. It has been more than seven years since the Nisqually earthquake — we can't afford to wait any longer.
The surface-subsurface option is merely a combination of many of the best elements of surface-street proposals with a bored tunnel, but it accomplishes what other hybrid scenarios may not be able to do — it benefits both our economy and our environment. It maximizes new open space on the waterfront, preserves the ability to bypass downtown, reduces construction and operating impacts to businesses and residents, reduces bypass and freight traffic on our city streets, creates jobs and provides a long-term return on investment.
It's attractive for those who desire a world-class open space, a welcoming place for pedestrians, bicycles and transit, shoreline restoration, reduced surface-water runoff and reduced vehicle miles traveled.
And it's equally attractive for those interested in preserving a fragile urban landscape with a rich and vibrant center city, stadium area, port, Pike Place Market and waterfront that encourages commerce and supports small businesses.
The stakeholders who arrived at this consensus understand that replacing the viaduct is a 100-year decision that will have an enormous influence on the character of our city and our region. After enduring several years of painful construction and spending billions of taxpayers' money, the region deserves a replacement that pays economic, environmental and aesthetic dividends for decades to come.
The looming state budget shortfall has understandably made everyone cost-conscious. But the lowest-cost option is not a bargain if it represents a major missed opportunity and doesn't fulfill the urgent needs of our region and economy.
Simply put, we believe a surface-subsurface option could provide one of the best long-term returns on investment for our economy and our environment. Our top economists say it can provide up to $2.7 billion in regional economic benefits and will pay for itself in the next 10 to 20 years. And through congestion pricing and other funding sources, we can generate revenue for the project while encouraging a reduction in single-occupancy vehicle traffic and its associated greenhouse-gas emissions.
Moreover, a surface-subsurface option will keep the economy moving. It provides some of the fastest throughput and some of the fastest freight-travel times to and through downtown. It also has the fewest construction impacts and can be built for the most part while the existing viaduct continues to move traffic, thereby minimizing the enormous costs of construction and mitigation to surrounding residents and businesses.
Retaining a surface-subsurface option will not add a cent to the 2009 state budget. Like the other options on the table, it will take at least two years to complete review and design; thus the Legislature will not need to address many of the associated costs until 2011. All we ask is that the public agencies treat this project the same as all other large projects in the state, like Highway 520 and Interstate 405, by building and funding it in phases.
The governor, county executive and mayor asked representatives from the community to form a consensus, and we're as close as we're ever going to get. In arriving at our recommendation, stakeholders studied mountains of data and listened to labor, environmentalists, neighborhood groups, industrial groups and downtown and waterfront businesses. Now we hope the decision-makers will listen to us: Keep the surface-subsurface option on the table.
Todd Vogel is an environmental advocate and vice president of Allied Arts of Seattle. David Freiboth is executive secretary-treasurer of the M.L. King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Tayloe Washburn is a land-use attorney with Foster Pepper PLLC and Chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
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