The Seattle City Council intends to introduce legislation next Monday that grants the state rights to build the deep-bore tunnel under downtown, and the council wanted to finalize those contracts by mid-February. That could essentially end debate at the city level about whether to proceed with the project. But portions of city law, according to rumors I’m hearing today, may require the council to vote twice—once next month and then vote again in June or later. This could drag the tunnel debate squarely into the summer election season, when five tunnel-supporting council incumbents will likely be fighting off challengers.

The problem, according to sources, stems from provisions in city law that requires the state to make its final decision first, before the city can sign-off on the project. For instance, this part of the Seattle Municipal Code states: "Until the responsible official issues a final determination of nonsignificance or final environmental impact statement, no action concerning the proposal shall be taken by a governmental agency that would: 1. Have an adverse environmental impact; or 2. Limit the choice of reasonable alternatives." The Washington State Department of Transportation, however, cannot reach its so-called record of decision until after it issues its Final Environmental Impact Statement in summer.

The draft of the tunnel contracts—three memoranda of agreement between the state and city that pertain to right of way and utility relocation—will almost certainly be introduced within the next week or two. At that point, these complications (again, if the rumors are true) will become more clear.