This guest Slog post is by Cary Moon, director of the People's Waterfront Coalition.
Today at 2:00 p.m., the Seattle City Council will consider contracts for the flawed proposal to build a deep-bore-tunnel. Voice your opposition at the council chambers at City Hall (600 Fourth Avenue), because we have a better option: I-5/surface/transit.
But Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, who has done a lot of good for our city, is wrong about about that alternative in his recent post. He’s not looking at the whole picture.
I don’t doubt that the legislators he talked to didn’t jump to support surface/transit. Because (a) like Nick, they are in the dark about the tunnel’s deteriorating financial viability, and (b) no one has pitched them a win-win solution yet.
And quit trying to mislead people, Nick!
The proposal on the table for surface/transit is not the six-lane waterfront highway from the 2004 study—no one (literally, not one person) liked that. It is not the No Replacement option WSDOT trashed in 2006; that was not a credible or constructive proposal, it was a “Watch what happens if we do nothing” study. To trot out these straw arguments and imply these had any connection to this discussion is lazy.
The I-5/surface/transit proposal PWC and our allies advocate has been the same since 2005: fixes to I-5 to improve flow; high-speed transit between downtown and Ballard, Aurora Avenue North, and West Seattle; a four-lane connected street on the waterfront; demand management and pricing tools; and grid improvements throughout Seattle to increase connectivity. The only apples-to-apples comparison of all the options was done in 2008. This rigorous analysis showed all solutions worked for mobility, serving the same trip demand, +/- 1 percent.
And remember, that analysis used exaggerated figures for "demand" in order to test worst-case scenarios, not reality. Their computer modeling posited a 20 percent increase in travel demand by 2015 and tested performance in that unreal condition. In the actual world, there has been a DECREASE in Seattle’s car travel since 2000, even though our population grew. So it is no problem to meet actual need with this approach.
Here’s the money picture:
First: The city is already committed to pay for the seawall/shoreline project, and the waterfront park. These costs aren’t known yet, but the city and local partners are paying the bill whether the tunnel tanks or not. So let’s set that aside.
Second: The State has ALREADY spent $1,148 million, with or without the tunnel. ($164 million has already been spent on engineering and design work to date. $483 million is budgeted for the Holgate to King segment, $290 million for viaduct removal and replacement of the 4-lane surface street, $181 million for other Moving Forward projects, and $30 million for central waterfront mitigation.)
That means the State has $1,252 million left.
If they pursue the $1,960 million tunnel, they are short about $700 million. Their proposition to get these funds seems shakier every day. Has anyone verified with Frank Chopp and Lisa Brown that floating a $400 million bond on future tolling revenue is even a remote possibility, given (a) the constitutional debt limit, and (b) the low usage of a highly tolled tunnel, and (c) other more pressing priorities for state spending? The Port’s promise of $300 million was supposed to be allocated in 2010, but nothing has emerged beyond arm-waving yet.
But the shortfall is probably worse, because unresolved problems with the tunnel have no budget and are likely to be really expensive:
· The project doesn’t have approval to go under the old federal building, and may not get it. What if they have to reroute? What if they have to buy the building?
· The project is required to pay to retrofit ($30 million?) or replacement ($?) of the 619 Western Building, according to the Ordinance protecting Pioneer Square, but WSDOT has only budgeted $2 million for demolition.
· The project is responsible for mitigating the traffic effects caused to City streets caused by putting a suburban scaled interchange next to the Historic District, but has not budgeted that yet either.
· There are many risks — damage to underground infrastructure, buildings, public facilities; flooding due to uncontrollable ground water; machine getting stuck — that don’t have solutions identified or funded yet. Many of these must be resolved before the final EIS. The historic preservation world is fully engaged now in birdogging WSDOT, and aren’t letting them get away with shenanigans.
· The project must purchase rights to build under 137 buildings, but has not negotiated these yet. They already have an impasse with two buildings; what if other property owners are not willing? What if $152 million is insufficient?
WSDOT is already short $700 million, and still have some really expensive solutions still to fund.
It’s time for Seattle City Council and the legislature to shut down WSDOT’s shell game with this project’s budget, and get a full explanation of all the unresolved risks, new costs, and available funds. Then we can do an apples to apples comparison, and see whether the proposed tunnel or I-5/ S/ T looks more viable.
Overall, the cost of I-5/surface/transit is cheaper by (at least) $700 million. ( I can share the details if you can stand more numbers.) It’s lower risk. As Nick says, it’s incremental to build, and it’s faster to complete. It actually improves access to Seattle urban neighborhoods instead of worsening it. It avoids risk to historic building and brittle infrastructure. It avoids dumping 50,000 cars a day in Pioneer Square. The jobs to build it are local jobs, because all the money is spent on construction and not on importing an automated machine. For you waterfront mavens, the street design and volume of traffic on the waterfront would be the same either way.
The obstacles to doing I-5/surface/transit are political. First, by convincing the legislature it’s in their best interest to take the $300 million cash and get out while they’re ahead, and second, by securing local funding authority for transit.
Every solution has its pros and cons, there is no one-liner answer. But the most disturbing problem with Nick’s argument is how shallow his personal, un-expert view of this situation. He quotes WSDOT’s former hit pieces against the option preferred by the City’s technical experts SDOT, and ignores the only comprehensive technical data from 2008 in favor of voicing his own gut-feelings. But if legislators had a clear picture of the proposed tunnel’s actual costs and funding shortfall, and were offered a $700 million savings and freedom from the looming aggravation, that’s a deal they might just take.
Cost-effective solutions are looking more delicious all the time.