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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 5, 2009 at 11:17 AM

Tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct

Wishful thinking, not true planning

Now that we have had some time to consider the decision of the governor, the county executive and the mayor to dig a deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, it becomes clear that this tunnel option makes as little sense as the surface-street alternative others proposed.

First, a tunnel was roundly rejected by 70 percent of Seattle’s voters. A deep-bore tunnel is still a tunnel.

Second, the proposed tunnel will handle 85,000 of the current 110,000 daily trips on Highway 99. Thus, by the proponents’ own admission, a tunnel is inadequate to handle existing daily trips, let alone the daily trips when the tunnel is finally completed.

Once the tunnel is used, there is also no potential for its future expansion. This hardly makes any sense. The proponents apparently believe 25,000 daily-vehicle and truck trips through the Highway 99 corridor will magically disappear.

Wishful thinking does not replace true planning.

The three executives are making an unstated policy choice: They want to make auto traffic as congested as possible in Seattle, hoping to force people to use public transportation.

Third, a tunnel will cost at least $4.25 billion. This, too, is likely wishful thinking, as construction costs very seldom resemble the actual costs of a project.

The state has committed $3.1 billion to the viaduct replacement. This means local taxpayers will have to make up the difference, paying tolls, property taxes, motor-vehicle-excise taxes and any other taxes within the imagination of the mayor and city council.

Finally, there are safety and environmental issues associated with a tunnel. Tunneling creates significant air pollution. And, if a single truck jackknifes in the tunnel, all traffic will back up and will not be able to be rerouted.

One need only look at the problems encountered with the Big Dig in Boston to understand how tunnels are problematic.

As recently reported [“New look at how viaduct shimmies,” page one, Feb. 25], a deep-bore tunnel will be severely tested by seismic issues in our region, as well. Personally, I would feel uncomfortable driving through a tunnel during an earthquake.

The tunnel option seems to be born of political expedience, a nonsolution to Highway 99 traffic, crafted by three executives who have been embarrassed by their inability to resolve the Alaskan Way Viaduct question.

There are better alternatives. This proposal does not answer the problems and creates so many of its own that Seattle citizens and our region should reject it.

— Philip Talmadge, Tukwila

New alternative: a second bus tunnel

With all the debate swirling around the proposed tunnel to replace the viaduct, there is another option that no one has suggested: a second bus tunnel.

I’m a regular user of the current bus tunnel and I think it works great. Why not add another set of bus tunnels running under Second Avenue and take most, if not all, of the remaining buses off the downtown-surface streets?

I think this would have a lot of advantages. It would increase the utility of the bus system by allowing buses to move faster through downtown.

It would free up surface streets for private and commercial traffic and, without busses on surface streets, might make the surface option for the viaduct replacement more practical.

It would also lay the groundwork for a second light rail line that would serve the western half of Seattle (roughly similar to the route of the defunct monorail project).

— Luke Jennings, Seattle

Communication and compromise are crucial

The Times’ Feb. 28 editorial, “Viaduct project should not be casualty of bad blood,” states there is a lack of communication between state legislation and the governor. Good communication is essential, but the best solution, while maintaining maximum benefits, is leaders willing to compromise and come to a united decision.

If roughly $5 billion of reconstruction is needed and projects were reduced 25 percent, there would be $1 billion available for projects not being funded, allowing jobs to be spread over a wider area.

Projects can be scaled down in size so all can be built. Seattle needs these projects because traffic will worsen after the viaduct is torn down.

To keep additional traffic from flowing onto Interstate 5, the Mercer and Spokane street projects should start before the deconstruction of the Viaduct. The amount of traffic won’t disappear; it will flow into downtown, clog city streets, hurting retailers while frustrating shoppers. Gov. Chris Gregoire made a promise to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and she should keep it even if downsizing other projects is a consequence.

These politicians need to look at the ways they communicate and fix something because these problems aren’t going away.

— Elizabeth Roush, Seattle

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