The state violated environmental-impact regulations by seeking bids from potential contractors for a $4.2 billion tunnel under downtown without studying tunnel alternatives, says a lawsuit filed this afternoon in King County Superior Court. Elizabeth Campbell, 57, who ran a low-key campaign for mayor but lost in the primary, says she filed the suit against transportation department head Paula Hammond as a last-ditch effort to stop a deep-bore tunnel that costs too much money and diminishes traffic capacity.
“Going the legal route—that’s the only way to put a halt to it right now.” Otherwise, Campbell says, “It can’t be undone.”
The State Environmental Policy Act requires the state to study a project's effects and issue an Environmental Impact Statement “before government decisions are made that commit … to a particular course of action,” the lawsuit says. The state won't complete the impact statement until 2011, according to the suit. But on September 15, the state issued a 31-page request for qualifications from companies that want to design and build the tunnel. Seeking proposals from tunnel builders but not seeking proposals for alternatives, such as a rebuilt elevated freeway or a surface-transit option, the suit says, “predisposes decision-makers to choose the tunnel option.”
The suit says that the Washington State Department of Transportation is “making a mockery” of the process required to rebuild the downtown leg of Highway 99, which is now completed by the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Campbell, a Magnolia resident, filed the suit along with her nonprofit, Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel—known as SCAT. Campbell calls herself the “titular head of SCAT.”
Although Campbell wants to rebuild the viaduct, a scenario the Stranger finds appalling, the lawsuit seems reasonably grounded. Seeking bids from contractors without following state procedure for gauging the tunnel’s costs, traffic impacts, and environmental impacts seems both hasty and gives the tunnel an unreasonable advantage over alternatives, like a surface-transit option. However, the viaduct is crumbling—it threatens to collapse on drivers if anyone sneezes—and the state has an urgent interest making sure people aren't caught in a human juicer.
“The state seems to be trying to ram through a project without doing an Environmental Impact Statement and explaining the costs, risks and negative community and environmental impacts to the public,” says Cary Moon, director of the People’s Waterfront Coalition, which is not involved in the lawsuit.
“If the state isn't going to voluntarily share information about the costs, risks and negative impacts of a mega-project before they commit the public's money, then someone needs to remind them of the rules,” Moon adds. “The Seattle public deserves to know what the state plans to do before the contracts are issued and it's too late.”
The suit concludes by asking a judge to block the state Department of Transportation from taking any action that would “pre-judge” the decision on how to replace the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct. Campbell, who has hired the law firm Bricklin & Newman, says, "It has a chance of winning."