Controversy Still Surrounds Seattle Tunnel Project

What future lies ahead for the damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle continues to stir controversy in the city. An upcoming ballot measure will ask voters to again weigh the project's feasibility.

The big question is whether the project should be replaced by a planned tunnel through downtown, which the mayor had originally opposed, then went agnostic and is now opposing again.

"Even as residents say they disapprove of Mr. McGinn, most seem to like his idea of holding a vote on whether the City Council was right to have approved the tunnel contracts. (The Council vote was eight to one, the one also being a former Sierra Club leader.)

The matter is scheduled to go on the ballot in August, except that the city attorney, the City Council, the governor and pretty much every other member of the exasperated political establishment say it has no business being on a ballot. They have gone to court to try to stop it from getting there. The decision on the tunnel, they say, has been made.

'Social engineering works in some places, like banning cigarettes in some places,' said Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. 'Telling people you no longer can ride in your car isn't going to work because this city is going to grow.'"

Full Story: Seattle Ponders (Some More) the Wisdom of Replacing a Roadway



re: Alaskan Way Viaduct

“Most, though less than 40 percent, said they wanted to repair the viaduct or replace it with another elevated highway”

For a city where residents make a big deal out of their “green” credentials and outdoorsy trappings, Seattle is paradoxically a city still stuck in the car age, witness how many decades it took to build a single light rail line, being the singular large West Coast city which stubbornly resisted building any kind of serious mass transit system for so so long.

Regarding that aging concrete monstrosity known as the Alaskan Way (I thought hideous-looking long ago as a student at UW), there are numerous examples of cities, surely well-known to readers of this forum, which have torn down similar elevated waterfront highways… Boston, San Francisco, and New York come to mind… and the results have been nothing short of miraculous. Whether they build a tunnel or (my choice) a waterfront boulevard ala the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the benefits to downtown Seattle will be immediate and dramatic. Repairing the existing viaduct or replacing it with another is beyond my imagination… I can’t believe that so many folks in “hip and green” Seattle still have their minds stuck in the 1960s. I thought that building elevated highways went out with 8-track tapes and disco balls.


Tunnel cost and Viaduct.

For a city where residents make a big deal out of their “green” credentials and outdoorsy trappings, Seattle is paradoxically a city still stuck in the car age


The issue isn't 'Seattle isn't doing anything because they are stuck in the car age'.

The issue is they aren't doing anything because they sit around and wring their hands all day long and talk about stuff endlessly, then discuss it some more. Then hold a neighborhood meeting to get more input. Then discuss the input. Then discuss the discussion of the input. Then talk about the discussion of the di...well, you get the idea.




Dithering in Seattle

You are correct about Seattle’s proclivity for endless dithering. However, they do the same in San Francisco with tons of lawsuits thrown in along the way by various factions of that huge and irritating contingent of highly politicized folks in SF who are against everything. Still, despite all, they do manage to get some big things done in SF… like tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway, replacing portions of the elevated Central Freeway with a surface boulevard, completing the Third Avenue MUNI Metro rail line, and now beginning construction of a new downtown subway line and central railway terminal, not to mention upcoming waterfront and transit improvements for the America’s Cup. Meanwhile, in Seattle, they dither and talk about how they live in God’s Country.

The car-age mentality persists in Seattle because, among other things, much of the city is more suburban in character than urban (at least in comparison to say, San Francisco), and also because many of Seattle’s movers and shakers live in affluent enclaves outside Seattle proper (e.g. The Highlands, Mercer Island, Medina, etc.) and these people like driving their SUVs very much and not much interested in the aesthetics of Seattle’s urban highways at the ground level. I’ll admit this doesn’t explain why Portland (a city with some similar characteristics) is so aggressive in building transit, but that is a whole other discussion.


Busing in Seattle

I don't know where you live, chris, but I lived in Sacto and Seattle & you can't compare SFO and SEA. Are you not aware that the bus service is pretty good in SEA? Do no you not ride the bus? Sure we can talk about Bellevue and Renton, but I didn't have a car when I lived in Sea.



re: Busing in Seattle

I lived in Seattle during my student days at UW, didn't have a car, and thought the bus service, which I used frequently, was dreadful... admittedly that was quite a few yrs ago and perhaps the bus service has since improved. I actually like Seattle, but the lack of public transport has, for me, always the big negative there. Yes... SF is way denser and, for the most part, more urban than Seattle, so perhaps a more valid comparison would be Seattle vs. Portland.

My current home is in SF but previously have lived in NYC (where I never owned a car), Miami Beach (had a car but mostly got around on foot in this compact and very walkable town), Doha-Qatar (no car - either walked or used cheap taxis to get around), Dubai-UAE (had a car but walked a lot and then used Dubai Metro on a daily basis after it opened in 2009), and most recently Tripoli-Libya (we had drivers there)... a mixed bag of transport modes but mostly I've been a user of various kinds of public transport wherever it was available; here in SF, I only use my car for trips out of the city; within SF, pretty much walk or use MUNI Metro... or BART for going to the East Bay. I've always chosen places to live within walking distance to public transport (Doha & Tripoli were the exceptions) because above all, I like to walk, while at the same time, don't like being hostage to the automobile as the only way to leave my house.


Blame Gov. Gregoire, Not Seattle

At this point, I think Gov. Gregoire is the main force pushing for construction of a new freeway.

Dithering along the way was caused largely by the powers that be rather than by the citizens of Seattle. During the entire controversy, Gov. Gregoire backed an elevated freeway, and Mayor Nickles backed an underground freeway tunnel. But when they put both of these alternatives on the ballot to see which the people of Seattle preferred, the citizens voted against both of them.

At that point, as I understand it, Gov. Gregoire unilaterally rejected this democratic vote and decided to go ahead with an elevated structure.

The citizens of Seattle voted out Mayor Nickles and replaced him with McGinn, who was a Sierra Club activist fighting against the freeway, showing again that they reject a freeway here - including the underground freeway that Nickles backed. However, by the time that he was elected, freeway construction seemed to be a done deal,and it was supported by the political establishment, so McGinn hesitated to oppose it because he did not want to look like an obstructionist.

Now, according to this article, McGinn is fighting the freeway actively by trying to put it on the ballot. Gregoire and others are trying to keep it off the ballot - because it seems likely that the voters will reject it again.

Gregoire looks like the Robert Moses of our time: arrogant, anti-environment, undemocratic, ignoring one popular vote and trying to stop a second vote, ramming a freeway down the throat of a community against its will.

Charles Siegel

Michael Lewyn's picture

Everything is relative (re busing in Seattle)

Based on ridership statistics, I suspect that Seattle is very car-dependent compared to San Francisco- but not at all car-dependent compared to, say, Jacksonville.

Of course, everything depends on where your job or other significant destinations are located. I find that a need a car more in Atlanta than in Jacksonville, for the simple reason that my parents are located in an area with no bus service. But as a statistical matter, I am sure that more people need a car more in Jacksonville (given the absence of a real rail system in Jacksonville, less frequent bus service, etc).

good bus system?

before i put my actual comment, i'd like to establish 2 facts:

1) Downtown Seattle is a central hub for loads and loads and loads of buses.

2) Boeing has a plant in Everett that employs 30,000 people there.

So, my comment is this:
I find it amazing that, considering the above 2 facts, there is no direct bus service between these 2 locations.

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