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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

City Study: Traffic Impacts from Proposed Tunnel Worse Than State Estimates

Posted by on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 3:56 PM


Nelson/Nygaard, a traffic analysis firm that has worked for both Mayor Mike McGinn and the Seattle City Council, has issued the results of city-commissioned study on the proposed deep-bore tunnel that finds traffic impacts on downtown city streets will be worse than the state has admitted and that claims of the tunnel's purported ability to support freight traffic are unfounded. Meanwhile, the state has cut off the city from consultation on the controversial $4.2 billion project.

Peter Hahn, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, had requested the study to determine the impacts of traffic diversion of the subterranean downtown bypass to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But today Hahn says in a letter to the city council that that state transportation officials have cut off city officials—the state's co-leads and co-financiers for the project—from discussions about traffic concerns and the project as a whole. "WSDOT has indicated that it will not consider any further input from SDOT, and it will not share a draft of the Final [Environmental Impact Statement] until it is presented for signature," Hahn writes in the letter to council members (.pdf). Although possible unprecedented, it comes as no surprise as Mayor McGinn has persistently attempted to stymie the project.

A few highlights from the Nelson/Nygaard report (.pdf):

Drivers Will Have an Incentive to Avoid the Tunnel: If the tunnel were built, the state would have to connect Alaskan Way to the Elliot/Western Avenue corridor on the waterfront—essentially creating a parallel, free, surface-street alternative to driving in the $4-per-trip underground tunnel. The state omitted this connection when evaluating traffic diversion impacts in its own study. The state's draft Environmental Impact Statement has estimated a tolled tunnel would carry 42,000 vehicles a day, but that number is knocked down to 38,000 trips daily with the Elliot/Western connector in place. In other words, the tunnel would accommodate roughly one-third of the 110,000 vehicles that currently use the viaduct. That said, much of the diversion will reportedly occur during midday, when surface-street congestion is relatively low.

The Tunnel Wouldn't Help Freight Mobility: Nelson\Nygaard notes that the freight most directly affected by a viaduct replacement will be trucks commuting from the SODO industrial area to the Ballard/Interbay industrial area. For these commuters, a deep-bore tunnel and a surface/transit plan produce roughly the same travel times.

For other freight paths, the surface/transit option makes more sense because it invests in I-5 improvements. For example: A tolled tunnel would divert approximately 15,000 vehicles daily to I-5 and make no improvements to I-5 for the traffic dump. The surface/transit/I-5 option would increase I-5 volumes by 34,000 daily vehicles; however, the surface/transit model invests in new I-5 lane capacity to increase daily throughput by approximately 30,000 cars. (In short: Tunnel, +15,000 cars to I-5. Surface/transit, +4,000)."

And there are other problems: The northern and southern portals will cause traffic to bottleneck in narrow street grids already plagued with congestion, and there's no funding set aside to resolve this issue. In addition, Nelson\Nygaard's report says, the state's preliminary traffic analysis "has shown that a tolled tunnel is the worst of all evaluated scenarios for greenhouse gases."

"We strongly believe that the information in the report should be considered and addressed by decision-makers before the [final study] is complete," Hahn writes in his letter to council members. With his letter fresh on their desks, Seattle City Council members have three options: stand with SDOT and demand that state officials work collaboratively to address these problems; stand up and admit the deep bore tunnel fails to meet nearly every challenge it was designed to alleviate; or continue to do absolutely nothing. I have calls in to Council President Richard Conlin and Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee. I'll update when I hear back.


Comments (42) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Drivers will have an incentive to avoid the Tunnel - duh. $10 roundtrip to ride the same route and have it take 15-20 minutes LONGER? I mean of course we'll be avoiding it. Faster to just hop across the Fremont Bridge or take an exit after the Aurora Bridge and use one of the other arterials.

Kind of hard to help freight mobility when it literally cuts off 40 to 50 percent of the current freight trips taken on the existing Viaduct. Especially with the other two CHEAPER alternatives having 50 percent MORE VEHICLE AND FREIGHT CAPACITY than the Tunnel Of Debt.

Next month is volcano month, after this month being quake month. In the event that Rainier goes, the hot molten mud and scurf will literally burn out the air vents and the resulting disaster that we can't even rescue school kids by airlift from, will mean anyone trapped below in the Deep Burial Tunnel will die cold and wet alone when the power is cut (see devastation) and we won't even get to the bodies for two weeks (if ever). The doors will be frozen shut (no power, covered in up to six feet of ash while all crews busy with the hundreds of thousands of victims still alive) and you'll be left there.

At least with surface plus transit or an elevated viaduct rebuild you'd have a chance of escaping. But not in the tunnel. No downtown exits, remember?
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 20, 2011 at 4:08 PM · Report this
Gus 2
Blah blah blah, Billionaire's Tunnel, blah.
Posted by Gus on April 20, 2011 at 4:08 PM · Report this
Baconcat 3
A tunnel for 38,000 or fewer trips? What the...
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 4:16 PM · Report this
That SDOT freezeout is troubling. I can't wait to read the full report - I really enjoyed seeing Tim Payne's presentation in january.

And Will, your Mt. Rainier eruption-apocalypse fantasy story gets more baroque every time. Maybe in the next version you can add in scantily clad vixens or something.
Posted by gloomy gus on April 20, 2011 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Mrs Jarvie 5
Thank you, Stranger, for not giving up on this. The Tunnel is tragedy and to stop it is to care about the future of Seattle.
Posted by Mrs Jarvie on April 20, 2011 at 4:27 PM · Report this
Will Waggener-Edstrom break out its comment spammers this late in the day?
Posted by SoSea Resident on April 20, 2011 at 4:42 PM · Report this
care bear 7
More traffic = more interesting Traffic Reports.
Posted by care bear on April 20, 2011 at 4:43 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
@6 they would if i'd posted a short link on my twitter feed. Unless they're at some all-day crab feed for PR peeps.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 20, 2011 at 4:45 PM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 9
What about the personal-jetpack alternative? That has the same funding mechanism as surface/transit (= none). Does anyone else find it odd that this report neglects to mention that the only significant source of funding CAN be used for a tunnel but CANNOT be used under our State Consitution for surface or transit? Cienna, how can you put up a post of this length without at least mentioning that surface/transit is just an unfunded fantasy?
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on April 20, 2011 at 4:54 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
@9 everyone knows that's not true. look at the DBT tunnel plan - that includes transit.

try another lie.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 20, 2011 at 5:00 PM · Report this
Fnarf 11
Wait, Will is talking about Rainier erupting and burying the tunnel now? Do you even know what a topographical map is, Will? Rainier could blow in the biggest eruption and mudslide of all time and it wouldn't reach the Seattle waterfront. Puyallup, Auburn, Kent, Tacoma, yeah; Alaskan Way no. Of all the possible disaster scenarios, that one isn't even on the list.
Posted by Fnarf on April 20, 2011 at 5:02 PM · Report this
NaFun 12
So if we kill the Tunnel there won't ever be another chance to fix this in a SMART way?
Posted by NaFun on April 20, 2011 at 5:06 PM · Report this
Joe M 13
The surface-transit option you describe is a Unicorn-- it assumes the state would be willing to widen I-5. I don't see that happening.
Posted by Joe M on April 20, 2011 at 5:13 PM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 14
@12: There won't ever be a way to spend a billion dollars of gas tax revenues on surface or transit, since our State constitution prohibits it. If you can figure out where to get a billion other dollars, then you should be working for the Legislature, cuz we're about five billion short at last count.
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on April 20, 2011 at 5:18 PM · Report this
I will pay the toll and I'm not a millionaire or a billionaire.
Posted by Smell on April 20, 2011 at 5:23 PM · Report this
Shorter study summary-


Posted by Mr. X on April 20, 2011 at 5:24 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 17
@11 you do know where it ends, right?

each time you express surprise at what I say and then later some engineer admits that technically I'm correct.

seriously, Fnarf ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 20, 2011 at 5:27 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 18
@12 @14 that's what they said when we killed the Wetlands Destroying Carbon Emitting "Roads plus Transit" plan (3/4 roads, 1/4 transit).

and they came back with a Transit with minor bridge/onramp plan instead.

never underestimate how much they're pretending they "can't" do something.

We can't afford the Deeply Borrowed Tunnel - that's for sure.

So a CHEAPER alternative?

Yeah, we can afford that one a heck of a lot more.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 20, 2011 at 5:30 PM · Report this
Baconcat 19
@14: What are you talking about? They spend hundreds of millions on state roads statewide, even in the middle of the city. Numerous roads in the city are signed as state roads like SR513 and SR523. Since those are surface you think the state is just going to ignore them?

As far as transit, there are equitable ways like this to use gas tax for transit upgrades.

@16: Yes, these people would overlook a gigantic chunk of the City of Seattle like West Seattle.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 5:37 PM · Report this
@16 - YEAH FUCK WEST SEATTLE! Now they'll have the same travel time to Downtown as every other neighborhood in Seattle without a Hill in its name(Queen Anne, Capitol, First, Beacon). Poor babies!
Posted by SoSea Resident on April 20, 2011 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Baconcat 21
@20: No, even conservatively speaking West Seattle will still have an advantage with numerous access points to I-5, I-90 and the ability to bypass the central city and head directly to other generally N/S thoroughfares like 23rd, Boren, a widened I-5 and so on.

And even then, they're also getting a bunch of transit investments and the city is paying pretty sharp focus on providing them with direct light rail access.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 5:47 PM · Report this
Mickymse 22
@9, Folks -- including Nick Licata -- need to stop repeating this fact... because it's not entirely correct.

The Tunnel Proposal is not funded solely with gas tax monies. There's an expected $300 million commitment from the Port, $190 million for transit improvements (presumably through a county/Metro funding mechanism to be approved by the Legislature), city funds to replace the Seawall, and more...

ALL of these things will need to be done under ANY replacement alternative. Plus, gas tax monies COULD be used for street improvements in the corridor as well as I-5 capacity improvements under a surface scenario.
Posted by Mickymse on April 20, 2011 at 5:51 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 23
@14 - So if they cancel the tunnel, they'll never, ever try to address the viaduct issue in a different way? That doesn't sound very likely. The state is still responsible for maintaining its infrastructure; they'll have to do something.

It's obvious to anyone who's paying attention that the tunnel is a horrible plan, but people still support it solely because the money is there to build it. I've YET to hear any pro-tunnel voice argue for it on its traffic-moving merits. It's always about the funding. I wonder why that is....
Posted by Free Lunch on April 20, 2011 at 5:59 PM · Report this
I wish you were still whining about the monorail instead of the tunnel.
Posted by ian on April 20, 2011 at 6:00 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 25
I want a pony.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on April 20, 2011 at 6:02 PM · Report this
raku 26
#9/22: It also ignores the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of the same gas tax that is going to the viaduct replacement, is TODAY going to Amtrak Cascades, ferries, bike trails, rural transit, transit centers, etc etc etc.

Saying the state constitution can only be used to build highways is like saying the US constitution says freedom of speech only applies to talking, not writing.
Posted by raku on April 20, 2011 at 6:08 PM · Report this
Baconcat 27
@25: I have 3, do you want one?

They're magic.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 6:13 PM · Report this
Fnarf 28
@17, no engineer has ever in the history of the world "admitted" or otherwise confirmed that you are correct. You ARE never correct.

"It" ends at the Tacoma waterfront outflow of the Puyallup River, and if large enough it could follow the White into Auburn and, I suppose, eventually Lake Washington via the Green River. But no mudflow is going to come down the Duwamish; the Puyallup will take it first. ALL of it. And of course the Nisqually and Cowlitz systems to the south (though few people live there).

If you live in Orting, you are deeply screwed. If you are in downtown Seattle, you will be fine (until the ash starts to fall). A little flooding -- WATER flooding, not lahars or "burning scurf", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean -- in the Duwamish valley, maybe, but that's not really that unusual.

The state and the feds both have prepared vast quantities of materials on potential lahar damage from a Rainier eruption. It's all available online, including some really quite nice maps which utterly contradict your claim.

You are, quite simply, WRONG. 100% wrong. Blatantly wrong. Obviously wrong.

And you won't find a single engineer anywhere on earth to back you up, just like you have NEVER found anyone to back up any of the hundreds of other stupid, anti-factual claims you make here all the freaking time. Even the crazies think you're full of it.

In short, on this topic as on all others, YOU ARE A TURD. Flush yourself.
Posted by Fnarf on April 20, 2011 at 6:13 PM · Report this
Fnarf 29
@27, I want a pony with an appetite for Will in Seattle's throat.
Posted by Fnarf on April 20, 2011 at 6:15 PM · Report this
Baconcat 30
@29: Her name is cinnamon, she's quite nice otherwise.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 6:21 PM · Report this
Fnarf 31
If she grants me this one wish, I will brush her hair every night FOR HOURS.
Posted by Fnarf on April 20, 2011 at 6:23 PM · Report this
Baconcat 32
I'll get her all dolled up, put on her pony mascara, add a bow, give her a finger wave, then send her right over. Can't have her looking cheap, she's gotta look like a My Little Pony or else she'll be completely unloved.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 6:26 PM · Report this
Kinison 33
Seriously guys, you need to compare both surface option and tunnel to gloat. If the state omitted facts or statistics, clearly thats fucked up, but it doesn't mean the surface option is any better. All this does is push the "Tear Down / Re-Build" option as a valid solution should voters reject the tunnel, should it be on the ballot this year.
Posted by Kinison on April 20, 2011 at 6:26 PM · Report this
Baconcat 34
@33: No, it doesn't.

It actually does the opposite of what you said and completely contradicts the tired "if we lose, you'll get a rebuild" line of thinking you're so fond of. Read it again.
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 6:38 PM · Report this
Cognitive dissonance Seattle style, or how the elite get the rest of us to vote against our best interests: The Viaduct works great and rebuilding it is the only option that keeps the same amount of traffic and freight moving, doesn't cause lots and lots of people to avoid downtown and surrounding areas and would cost way less than the tunnel, but it's ugly/dirty/noisy/immoral/causes crime/blocks people from walking to the waterfront/makes us not a world class city/ gives people riding the ferries an unflattering impression of the city, SO it's even discussed any more.Boo.
Posted by Sir Bitchalot on April 20, 2011 at 6:52 PM · Report this
Baconcat 36
@35: The report points out that surface/I-5 easily accommodates our freight needs and doesn't need much help in managing traffic either. And this is just a summary.

Plus, it gives I-5 a pretty clear fast lane in the core and adds enough capacity to absorb most of the tunnel traffic. You know, if folks wanna bypass the core so badly ;)
Posted by Baconcat on April 20, 2011 at 7:03 PM · Report this
"Tear Down / Re-Build" is absurd. Voters won't go for it and the impacts too vast/stupid for even WSDOT to try.

Only solution remaining, folks, is to Repair the Viaduct.

"You heard it here first."
Posted by David Sucher on April 20, 2011 at 9:34 PM · Report this
Silver linings at the edge of seattle's dark cloud are brighter than other cloud form, speaking of Seattle's 'renown' landscape and mismatched transport & transit planners who don't do the best work here and there, but won't take advice from outside more successful engineering departments. I suspect the Righties won't listen to the Liberals whose plans however are succeeding. Hm. They also build highways fer a livin. S'mazing beeuteeful countree.

This outsider thinks you're all crazy-if-unable to SEE how badly the bored tunnel conceptually falls apart. Ack! It's amazing. "Hey, let's use twice as much new concrete and recycle less of the old fer this here tunnely-thingy. That be fishent nuf fer ya?

Good news finally got here. Engineering experts agree. The DBT design too bad to not oppose. Thanx to ALL & help is welcome round here. Thank you's to Mike & Mike. And thank you's to good engineers who always knew the dbt a rotter and not to be built. It's absurd. You've got to admit it -- the mayor is right -- Surface Boulevard +Transit + Fixes to I-5 plan is BEST. Hurray! Whatta guy. You done it !! Good for you, MIKE !! and for others nearby, which I'm now sure a suit could be drawn up on national grounds and validate my outside appeal and articulate undeniable explanations about route designs and vehicle technologies. Some of you know I'm good.

The ending of the dbt nonsense is nye. Sooner the better. The DBT is OVER or at least DOWN for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th? time and counting. -- We're past 5 on count of red flags -- 6, 7 -- we're at 8 or 9 on this count now.
I say ONE more count to go. Not long...til partee thyme..
Posted by Wells on April 20, 2011 at 10:24 PM · Report this
cressona 39
Raku @26, quit misinforming people about what state gas tax funds can and cannot be used for. You've done this before:…

And I've called you out on this before:…

If your case to stonewall the tunnel project is so rock-solid, one would think you wouldn't have to continually resort to deception to make it.
Posted by cressona on April 20, 2011 at 10:39 PM · Report this
It's coming down, Sucher because the boulevard design is survivable. Alaskan Way should go back to pre-AWV street configuration: 3 thru-roads+2 rail lines. Build nice medians between, 1 with out-of-traffic bikeway.

A new viaduct or a cut/cover are kept as future options if one or the other for higher capacity is unavoidable. A more elegant viaduct or an invisible cut/cover that converts the connector road past Steinbrueck Park into its grand landscaped pathway extension with no road or traffic.
It's possible. Who's got the vision, gehl? I know one.
Posted by Wells on April 20, 2011 at 11:40 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 41
@25 for the pony win.

All your tunnel is belong to #epicfail.
Posted by Will in Seattle on April 21, 2011 at 10:54 AM · Report this
The reason that many Seattle Councilmembers gave for signing ordinance 123424 was that they wanted SDOT to be a co-lead on the project. The fact that WSDOT is now cutting SDOT out of the process is not only highly irregular but should be an alert to anyone who cares about public process. The Stranger's slant that WSDOT's recent actions are somehow a result Mayoral politics fails to recognize that a transportation agency should not be engaged in politics at all, but should be following clear public process. The story that we've heard a thousand times is that the tunnel project could go forward, if only the Mayor would stop asking questions. The real question is: why are tunnel supporters so quick to disregard good public policy?
Posted by Cheryl dos Remedios on April 21, 2011 at 6:07 PM · Report this

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