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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 13, 2008 at 4:18 PM

Alaskan Way Viaduct plans

Jim Bates / The Seattle Times

What will become of the Alaskan Way Viaduct? State and local officials will soon decide a replacement option for the aging elevated expressway.

Don’t hold your breath

Editor, The Times:

The proliferation of viaduct-replacement plans serve well the dreams of their designers and the narrow constituencies of their promoters. What they never serve are the needs of the people who use Highway 99 for work, for commuting or for pleasure [“Viaduct replacement: Down to just 2 options?, Times, page one, Dec. 12].

Public transportation works well for getting people to and from work during the morning and evening rush. It does not work for industry, shipping or for people running errands or visiting. We need a transportation system that transports people, goods and services. None of the viaduct-replacement plans thus far serve this purpose.

Unless you have been living in a bomb shelter during the past 20 years, the population of Seattle and environs is increasing. Replacing a six-lane highway with a four-lane highway is not only shortsighted, it’s stupid. Yet, this is what we are offered.

Surface-street “alternatives” make no sense at all. Perhaps the designers of this “alternative” are so accustomed to traveling the moving parking lot that is I-5 through downtown Seattle to have forgotten that highways are designed to move vehicles efficiently and quickly.

Impeding traffic might seem wise to those who believe the answer to urban issues is to remove people from their cars. Public transportation by bus, trail, trolley and monorail is one piece of the puzzle for moving people, along with bikes and walking. We need them all and we need to design our transportation corridors for all. It is stupid to cut quick and efficient transportation in favor of beautiful parkways. We can have both.

Surface-street alternatives also require stoplights. How does a stoplight help move people, goods and services? It doesn’t.

For those who would like to see a beautiful parkway running along the waterfront, imagine standing along I-5 at Madison. Isn’t it pretty to watch the stop-and-go traffic? To hear the big diesel engines whine? To smell the fresh auto exhaust or idling and speeding engines? That is the reality of a surface-street boulevard or parkway along the Seattle waterfront.

Until we have a viaduct-replacement plan that is designed to carry people, allows for the efficient movement of goods and services, and does so in a manner that encourages rather than impedes movement, we should keep what we have.

Perhaps it will require the viaduct’s destruction by governor or for the designers and promoters to realize that the needs of the citizenry trump their own narrow perspectives.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this. But I won’t be holding my breath.

— Peter Stekel, Seattle

Maintain the flow

It seems that the biggest objection to a surface option for the viaduct is that all the traffic will clog surface streets in the downtown area.

The people who use the viaduct to go downtown are already using the downtown streets. Loss of the viaduct won’t change that; they will just use a different route to go downtown.

The problem would be with people who use the viaduct to bypass the downtown area. If these people have to drive through downtown Seattle instead, this will contribute to congestion downtown.

Why not provide a lower-capacity expressway to handle through traffic and use a surface option only for traffic going downtown.

Build a lidded tunnel along the waterfront, with a widened Alaskan Way at the surface. There would be no exits in the downtown area except for transit and emergency vehicles.

In order to provide a faster route for downtown-bound traffic, Fourth Avenue South, which has a wide right of way, could have an expressway down the middle, with two separate lanes on each side for local traffic.

Due to anticipated rising sea levels, add a few feet of fill to the waterfront and build the tunnel and roadway higher accordingly. The fill would need to slope down to the existing waterfront structures, and they could be raised as needed over time.

— Bob Fleming, Seattle

Not good enough

Whatever we do, let’s not decrease Highway 99’s capacity to carry north-south traffic along the waterfront.

I’m a big-time bus commuter to and from downtown. But traveling to Sea-Tac Airport to catch a plane is another matter. When we lived on Queen Anne, going to Sea-Tac via Highway 99 was 15 to 20 minutes faster than trying to get across town to I-5.

And buses to Sea-Tac offer no reasonable alternative when it’s time to catch a plane during Sea-Tac’s early-morning departure peaks.

Residents of Seattle’s Western districts (West Seattle, Queen Anne, Ballard, Shoreline) rely heavily on Highway 99 for north-south travel. It’s much faster to use Highway 99 than to move all the way east to I-5 — whether via bus or car.

Present demand for the viaduct requires the state somehow match, if not increase, the present viaduct’s capacity. It’s not a solution to build a smaller viaduct, then try to send the “leftover” demand across to I-5. I-5 isn’t convenient to the Western districts. I-5 has its own problems serving other parts of Seattle.

Transit alternatives aren’t alternatives for that kind of demand.

— Don Gerards, Lake Forest Park

Do it right

Neither of the two options transportation planners have suggested for replacing the viaduct really replace it. Currently, we have three lanes in each direction on the viaduct and two lanes on each direction on Alaskan Way. That is a total of 10 lanes that, during rush hour and sporting events, are filled to capacity.

How does a new viaduct with two lanes in each direction replace three in each direction? Or how does a surface plan with only three lanes in each direction (and 28 lights) replace 10 lanes of traffic flow?

In a utopian city, more people would ride bikes, buses and trains resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. The reality is, more people will continue to look for alternatives to driving, but there will always be a large volume of vehicle traffic that will need to be accommodated by whatever viaduct replacement that is chosen. We need an option that moves us forward, not holds us back.

It seems that in a fast-moving world, we need transportation options that will keep up. We need transportation options that will handle the ever-increasing population of our region. We need to make choices that not only reflect the traffic needs of today, but also those of 50 years from now.

If we don’t, we are wasting our time and taxpayer money. It seems one of the best alternatives for replacing the viaduct is to truly replace it with a viaduct containing at least three lanes in each direction. Or replace it with a tunnel that removes the eyesore from the waterfront, shores up the sea-wall infrastructure and provides a beautiful waterfront open space for all to enjoy.

My message to the governor and to the transportation planners is: Don’t consider plans that will be immediately obsolete. Look into plans that will help improve transportation down this vital corridor.

— Derek Mitchell, Seattle

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