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February 1, 2011 at 12:13 PM

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Anti-tunnel vote likely delayed until fall

Posted by Mike Lindblom

After trying to earn a May ballot slot, campaign leader Elizabeth Campbell of anti-tunnel Initiative 101 now says the vote won't happen until fall.

King County Elections officials are busy preparing for a Feb. 8 special election for several suburban issues, and lack staff to verify I-101 signatures until that election is certified, said elections spokeswoman Katie Gilliam. So verification would stretch into March.

Campbell said she accepts the explanation, and doesn't believe elections workers are in cahoots with pro-tunnel governments.

Another issue is that under Seattle's city charter and codes, it could easily take until June for the city council to either enact I-101 (not likely), send it to voters or file a substitute measure. Or perhaps a pro-tunnel group would ask the courts to toss it out.

The timing is meaningful because a spring vote could have happened before any actual groundbreaking for the giant tunnel, currently scheduled to begin August or September. The I-101 campaign was tweeting that it "works for us" to hit the ballot before the tunnel can win federal approval this summer for its environmental impact statement.

On Tuesday morning Campbell and her colleagues delivered eight bundles containing what she said were 27,500 signatures, to the Seattle City Clerk's office. To qualify, they need 20,629 valid signatures.

The 1.7-mile, $2 billion tunnel, to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, would run from Sodo to South Lake Union. The state Department of Transportation recently signed a contract that would finish the underground four-lane road by Dec. 31, 2015.

Campbell said opponents will probably mount legal challenges against the tunnel, so she believes a groundbreaking still might not happen until after an I-101 vote anyway. She favors a new elevated highway. A separate anti-tunnel campaign, I-102, is just getting started, endorsed by the Sierra Club, the Real Change homeless newspaper and United Africans.

In other matters:

-- Mayor Mike McGinn said Tuesday he would veto agreements the City Council plans to sign Monday with the state DOT to allow city right-of-way and utility relocations for the tunnel. He argued city taxpayers still aren't protected from cost overruns, especially after the state offered contractors $210 million out of the contingency fund last year to cover inflation and insurance, and keep them interested in bidding. To bolster his view, McGinn showed video of a forum where four legislators hoisted green "YES" signs, when asked if Seattle should pay if the tunnel goes over budget.

-- State transportation managers and pro-tunnel elected officials have emphasized that the contract is between the DOT and the builders, paid by state gas and car tax funds, so Seattle isn't liable. House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, has told the Times that if the costs spiked or tolls fall short, the logical place to find dollars would be within a future statewide transportation package, which is needed anyway to finance the Highway 520 and I-5 Columbia River bridges, among other projects.

-- The council's 8-1 pro-tunnel majority is expected to override McGinn's veto. "In essence, the decision to build the tunnel is in the hands of the Legislature and City Council," the mayor said. "If they are determined to put a tunneling machine in the ground without a public vote, that's what will occur."

-- The city Department of Transportation just launched a new "Pothole Status Map", McGinn announced. The website shows where holes have been reported, where they've been fixed, and which are undergoing repair. McGinn said the city still has a backlog from the November freeze, and continues to send nine crews to catch up.

-- The mayor said "we are still pushing" toward a late 2011 ballot measure on a westside light rail line, serving Ballard and West Seattle, as promised in his 2009 campaign. Potential routes are part of a transit master plan effort now underway, but a decision to reach the ballot isn't solely up to him. Tom Rasmussen, Seattle City Council transportation committee chairman, said later Tuesday that the transit master plan won't be done for months, so a light-rail vote "could be in the pipeline, but I doubt it's possible to do it in 2011."

-- The city's tax requests are piling up: McGinn still favors a property tax vote this year to fund a waterfront seawall, as well as $231 million Families and Education Levy replacement. A $30 car-tab fee for transit, or other transportation taxes, could be enacted by King County, on top of the city's own $20 car-tab fee and parking tax increase this year.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.