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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 7, 2009 at 4:03 PM

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Considering alternatives

As a stakeholder for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Advisory Committee, I would like to correct a statement in your editorial on Dec. 31 [“A viaduct we can dig”]. You wrote, “The vote of the committee was nearly unanimous, except for one.”

I will say this: There has never been a vote at any Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) meeting in the past 12 months in support of a tunnel. It should be noted that eight of the 30 stakeholders did not attend the Dec. 11 meeting when this so-called vote took place.

The majority of the stakeholder comments at the December SAC meetings either supported the surface/transit, elevated or bored-tunnel option. (Readers can visit the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Web site for a summary of stakeholder comments on these issues.)

The push for the tunnel was a continual ploy brought about by downtown Seattle stakeholders who would not give up on the bored tunnel. The SAC Staff recommended that only the surface/transit and elevated options move forward.

The bored tunnel would take 12 years to build, cost the most and does not have a connection to Ballard, the T-91 Cruise Ship Terminal or Magnolia.

Your editorial also said, “The two options presented as the only options are quite possibly the worst options.” If you had attended all of the stakeholder meetings, you could understand how SAC came to the conclusion that the surface/transit and elevated options were the most viable.

After a year of stakeholders’ commitment and study, I believe the elevated option is the best common-sense solution for our state and region.

— Gene Hoglund, Seattle

Time to move on

Once again I find a local wonk deliberately confusing the viaduct issue by comparing it with San Francisco’s late Embarcadero [“Embarcadero, thy daughter is the Alaskan Way Viaduct,” James F. Vesely, editorial columnist, Jan. 4]. I hope to provide some clarification.

First and foremost, the Embarcadero Freeway, as it was called, was not a freeway at all. It was, for all practical purposes, a ramp to and from the Interstate 80 Bay Bridge. I drove that ramp on a daily basis for the better part of six years. Westbound, it dropped off in North Beach at the foot of Broadway. That’s where it stopped. It didn’t continue through the city, join North Highway 101 or connect to the Golden Gate Bridge northbound. It didn’t head west five miles to intersect with the Pacific Coast Highway. Southbound, it didn’t connect with the Highway 101 Bayshore Freeway or Interstate 280 South. It simply provided a means to access the bridge and I-80.

Another thing the Embarcadero ramp did not do was provide nonstop access for 110,000 cars per day. While it may have carried this many autos to and from the city itself, it was not a regional thruway, as is our Highway 99. The paragraph below, from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) own Web site, perfectly sums up the results of swapping the Embarcadero ramp for what our council members and others like to call the “Surface+Transit” option:

“Traffic from the Embarcadero did not disappear once the highway was closed. In fact, traffic from the Embarcadero shifted to more than a dozen parallel streets that serve the same neighborhoods. Traffic volumes on these streets before and after the closure show that an additional 112,000 vehicle trips per day — about the same amount of traffic displaced from the Embarcadero — were added to San Francisco’s streets in the area where the Embarcadero was removed.”

The report goes on to detail the difference between San Francisco, which had those parallel streets available, and Seattle, where we do not. “35,000-56,000 vehicles per day would clog surface Alaskan Way, compared to 10,000 vehicles using it today. Downtown street traffic would increase by 30-50 percent, causing congestion most of the day and into the evening. … Increased congestion in downtown and on the waterfront would degrade the quality of public spaces in these areas, impact transit, pedestrian and bicycle travel, and decrease mobility to and through the downtown area. The already congested I-5 route would be unable to handle the additional traffic, even with billions of dollars of improvements.”

I suggest everyone who still thinks we ought to tear down the viaduct and leave nothing in its place go read the report. It’s time for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Vesely and The Times editorial board to get over it. All of it.

— Jef Jaisun, Seattle

Apples and oranges

James Vesely wrote we need to replace the failing viaduct with something that’s right for “the city, the region, and the postcard in our dreams.” Although true, we won’t achieve anything by trying to emulate the Embarcadero.

Comparing San Francisco and Seattle, Vesely misses some important differences. Seattle is a major working port with Alaskan Way providing access to huge container ships constantly being loaded and unloaded. The smaller Port of San Francisco handles one-eighth the tonnage of our port. Frisco’s Ferry Building is home to passenger-only ferries while car ferries dock at Seattle’s Colman Dock.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is an alternative north-south route. Although originally intended to connect the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the Embarcadero Freeway was simply a spur providing access to downtown.

While waterfront condos and wide esplanades could work for Seattle’s central waterfront, we will still need a through route to handle high-traffic volume, to accommodate the vehicles that use the ferries, and provide easy truck access to ships if our port is to remain robust. If we can figure out a way to do all of this, we will have found a solution that is right for us, not right for another city.

— Pam Carter, Tukwila

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