CARY MOON - Forcing the city to tell the truth about the viaduct Annie Marie Musselman
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), which is working furiously to figure out just what to do if the ailing Alaskan Way Viaduct finally crumbles, has put together a plan that would tear down the deteriorating double-deck roadway and replace it with absolutely nothing, save for a progressive and cost-effective list of transit and surface-street improvements downtown. The total price tag for the plan is still unknown, but a preliminary estimate--minus some of the costlier items--adds up to a very reasonable $252 million, a fraction of the $4 billion or so the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) estimates it would cost to build a tunnel (even radically truncated) to house a rebuilt viaduct.

It gets better: The SDOT proposal, identified in documents obtained through a public-records request as the "4-Lane Surface Plan," is essentially the same as one proposed by the recently formed People's Waterfront Coalition (PWC), which is pushing viaduct planners to consider this radical no-replacement option ["Nothing Goes Here, Erica C. Barnett, April 5]. The proposal, which is still in the early planning phases, asks what would be done to improve mobility downtown if the viaduct was not rebuilt, and proposes some reasonable solutions.

So why haven't you heard about this plan? Because SDOT--citing the need, in the words of SDOT viaduct staffer Jemae Hoffman, for "more information and analysis"--decided to keep it under wraps until at least July, three months after the original planned release date of April 12. But backers of the no-replace alternative believe the release date was delayed for another reason: to keep the progressive no-replacement option out of the viaduct environmental impact statement. "It's a really impressive and beautiful piece of transportation planning," says PWC member Cary Moon, whose condo overlooks the current viaduct. "It's clear that the city knew this was a pretty good framework for what could be a sixth alternative, but because of the politics of the project they didn't want it public."

SDOT viaduct planner Steve Pearce says July won't be too late to include the no-replacement option among the viaduct alternatives; planners won't pick a preferred alternative until late summer. The problem is, WSDOT's environmental impact statement explicitly precludes any options that don't "maintain or improve mobility along the existing Alaskan Way corridor"--a tough hurdle for the no-replace option to leap. And state legislation passed last year precludes any options that "reduce roadway capacity" on the viaduct, which would appear to prohibit the coalition's ambitious plan.

"[Our] position has been that whether it's shut down for a shorter or a longer period, there's too much traffic to be absorbed onto city streets and I-5," WSDOT spokesperson Linda Mullen says. Therein lies the tension between the two transportation agencies: While WSDOT is in the business of building highways, SDOT is generally more open to considering more progressive and pro-transit alternatives.

Public opinion could help force WSDOT's hand in a more progressive direction. At a recent forum on the viaduct proposals, 86 people favored the no-replace alternative, which came in third among six proposals--despite the fact that transportation officials neglected to include the plan among the options.