The tunnel would have four lanes and run less than two miles. The $4.2 billion sticker price for the underground freeway doesn't account for interest (financing is estimated to exceed $2 billion), and Seattle and the port still haven't come up with $1.2 billion of their share. And none of the hidden costs—like redesigning downtown streets and paying for "enhanced transit services and vanpools," which the state says are required—have any funding. All told, the costs will easily top $7 billion, making this the most expensive little chunk of road in the state. Meanwhile, traffic in Seattle is declining. And if the tunnel encounters cost overruns, as 90 percent of tunnels do, state law prevents the state from paying for it.
Get this: The state's final report shows that if we build a tunnel, it would have the same effect on downtown traffic, waterfront traffic, and traffic on I-5 as if we simply tore down the viaduct and did nothing. And we would have saved billions.
The tunnel would have zero downtown exits (it's underground), and it would have a $5 one-way toll at rush hour. The state's impact studies show two-thirds of the vehicles that currently drive on the viaduct would go onto I-5 and city streets, creating worse traffic than we have now. The tunnel, in function, would be a luxury for those who can afford the expensive tolls and want to avoid downtown.
Big cities—San Francisco, Portland, New York, Seoul, and many others—have torn down urban freeways they didn't need without creating economic havoc or gridlock. Traffic actually improved. In 1972, Seattle voters stopped the R. H. Thomson Expressway from being built through the Arboretum, even though the Seattle Times and others said was necessary for north-south mobility. Seattle can do that again. Instead of a freeway, we can implement surface/transit—an alternative the city and state have studied since 2008 that would bolster transit service, optimize streets, and add another lane on I-5—and it would cost only about $3.1 billion. Surface/transit would cause less congestion downtown, vehicle delay would drop by 9 percent downtown in the city center, and the average car trip between downtown and West Seattle would be a minute shorter than if we had a tunnel.
The pro-tunnel group Let's Move Forward has raised $380,000 to tell you to approve it, and the campaign's two leading backers are the international companies that stand to make $1.1 billion off the project. The group's ads claim the project funds bus service, but the price tag doesn't include a penny for bus service. The group claims that a surface/transit alternative will cause "gridlock," even though the tunnel causes more congestion. The group claims Mayor Mike McGinn is colluding with right-wing initiative trickster Tim Eyman, even though that's pure fabrication. The group even filed a legal complaint with the city ethics board against their opposition that was tossed out because it was baseless. The campaign's strategy is clear: Mislead the public all the way to the election. Don't let them get away with it. Reject Referendum 1.