Governor Christine Gregoire is expected to come out with her recommendation on the viaduct fix in the next few weeks: $2 billion in state funding toward Mayor Nickels's preferred tunnel option or $2 billion toward a rebuild? Nickels's tunnel is supposed to cost between $3.6 billion and $5.5 billion; the rebuild is supposed to cost between $2.2 billion and $3.3 billion.
Gregoire, obviously, has to navigate some statewide dynamics on the issue. Namely, does she want to be seen by the rest of the state as giving the green light to yuppie Seattle's gold-plated tunnel/condo waterfront option—which is likely to end up sapping funding for other infrastructure projects?
However, the biggest opposition isn't coming from Eastern Washington, it's coming from Democratic state house speaker Frank Chopp, who hails from the heart of Seattle, the 43rd District—Capitol Hill, the U-District, Madison Park, and Wallingford.
In a move fraught with political overtones, Chopp sent a letter to Gregoire on November 16 signed by 30 Democratic house members. The money quote: "An aboveground solution is the only viable option... Simply put, the tunnel is a luxury the taxpayers of Washington cannot afford."
Chopp's implicit message to the governor: If she goes with the tunnel option, he can use his clout as speaker to rally the caucus against her whenever he feels like it. This is a serious threat to Gregoire. She's approaching her critical third session as governor and needs a record of achievement when she goes out for what's sure to be a tough reelection bid.
And Chopp's letter is certainly proof of his clout as speaker. Several of the representatives who signed it are vying for house transportation chair. Chopp's implicit message to the legislators is that if they didn't sign, they wouldn't get the spot. Even tunnel supporter Geoff Simpson (D-47, South Central King County), the darling of local environmental groups, signed the letter. (Greens abhor the rebuild option because, in addition to being a blight, it upends plans for downtown open-space development.) Simpson did not return calls for comment.
Three of the other four transportation-chair hopefuls—Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island/Issaquah/Renton); Bill Fromhold (D-49, Vancouver); and Jeff Morris (D-40, San Juan County/parts of Skagit and Whatcom counties)—also signed, along with Seattle-area representatives Helen Sommers and Mary Lou Dickerson, both from Ballard's 36th District, and Phyllis Kenney, from North Seattle's 46th District.
The only transportation-chair hopeful who didn't kiss up to Chopp was Dennis Flannigan (D-27, Tacoma). Flannigan says, "I understood the ramifications of the letter... that it would be a bad idea not to take note of it." However, Flannigan says he didn't sign because he didn't want to rule out any options.
Gregoire's office had nothing to say about Chopp's letter and gave no indication of Gregoire's position on the viaduct replacement.