Tunnel Visions

Let’s face it. The Alaska Way Viaduct (AWV) is ugly and noisy. It seriously detracts from the aesthetics of the Seattle waterfront. A stroll from the upper city streets down to the waterfront includes traversing the unsightly bit under the viaduct. I’ve never liked it.

Now we have a chance to do something about it—we can stuff the whole thing underground. It is a brilliant idea; and, an idea that should pay off many times over again by making downtown Seattle more attractive to tourists and natives alike.

We have to replace the AWV anyway; it is no longer cost effective to keep patching it up. That there is any debate at all about replacing it with a tunnel simply floors me. It is incredibly short sighted to go cheap on this one.

There are other arguments for replacing the AWV by a tunnel. I argue on aesthetics, but Andrew at Northwest Progressive Institute discusses the safety advantages of the tunnel option.

There is also a WSDOT AWV FAQ that discusses the advantages of the tunnel option. For a preview of what the tunnel option will look and feel like, check out this simulation.

The big question is how to pay for the tunnel option. It is expected to cost $3.7 billion to $4.1 billion.

About $2 billion dollars will come from State highway funds (thanks to the 2005 Transportation Package and the failure of I-912). Additionally, $220 million comes from the National Highway Bill passed this summer. Additional funding includes $200 million offered by the Port of Seattle. The City of Seattle may be able to provide up to $300 million for the relocation of utility lines and up to $200 million from the city’s transportation fund. Additionally the Army Corps of Engineers will provide up to $250 million for replacing the seawall. Those amounts bring us to $3.17 billion, leaving the project in need of less than one billion dollars.

How will we raise the rest of the money? Goldy at HorsesAss.org suggests a special taxing district for the downtown waterfront businesses whose property values will increase drastically by the tunnel option. That is an interesting idea, but we can be pretty sure there will be a Seattle or King County tax package put to the voters in a future election.

The State has already ruled out a toll solution. There are just too many alternative routes to make a toll road feasible for SR 99. No sweat…I hate toll roads.

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3 Responses to “Tunnel Visions”

  1. Daniel K Says:

    Burying the roadway would provide Seattle with a unique opportunity to remake a waterfront that today is a ramshackle combination of weeds, warehouses, and parking.

    Few established cities ever have such an opportunity like this, and the resulting open space would be a public treasure the whole area could enjoy.

    Move the cars underground. Put a lid on the noise. Give us sight lines and green spaces. Seize the day Seattle!

  2. Geni Says:

    One thing that’s too often left out of the tunnel/replacement debate is that the waterfront MUST be dug up anyway, to replace the crumbling seawall. If that seawall goes, we lose most of the Port of Seattle, which means Hanjin Marine and their millions of dollars goes elsewhere.

    Well, as one former Port of Seattle director puts it, “dig it up, replace the seawall and build the tunnel AT THE SAME TIME. Do a cut-&-cover – basically, lid over the tunnel construction with a surface roadway to permit some low-speed traffic, and don’t demolish the AWV until the tunnel is complete.”

    One of the advantages of this scenario is that it’s the ONLY one that can actually ADD any lane capacity. It wouldn’t be much – just a couple of low-speed lanes each way on top of the tunnel – but it’s still the only one that adds capacity.

    We have to do a “big dig” no matter what, so why on earth not kill two birds with one stone?

  3. John Hull Says:

    I wish you guys would take a good look at the drawings. Most of the land the footprint of the viaduct sits on is going to be developed privately. If you told me we were going to have some grand park from the market to Pioneer Sq. I’d say dig away. This is a simple land swap. Birds eye view for worms eye view. Follow the money. Our politicians are pavlovian over the opportunity.

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