A worker inside the University Link Extension light rail tunnel, which will connect UW and Capitol Hill to downtown.
  • Sound Transit
  • A worker inside the University Link Extension light rail tunnel, which will connect UW and Capitol Hill to downtown. After Bertha's done, Mayor Murray wants more transit tunnels like this one.

On Thursday, Mayor Ed Murray made comments to KIRO 7 about "a tunnel," or "some other type of tunnel," or maybe "some other type of arrangement" to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in case this whole Bertha thing doesn’t work out. Or in case it does. Or something. (We were confused.)

This afternoon, the mayor elaborated on his tunnel hopes and dreams in a call to The Stranger. If completing the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel doesn’t succeed, the mayor said, the failure of that tunnel may gum up early-stage planning for another proposed tunnel from West Seattle to Ballard. This one would feature light rail and possibly run right underneath 4th and 5th Avenues in downtown Seattle.

The dream of a fourth tunnel—the first three being the existing downtown freight train tunnel, the tunnel Bertha's not currently working on, and the University Link light rail tunnel—has been bounced around for some time at meetings of the Sound Transit Board, on which both the mayor and Council member Mike O’Brien sit.

"My fear around Bertha isn’t so much that the current tunnel can’t be built," the mayor explained, "but I believe [its failure] will kill any opportunity to build a fourth tunnel through Seattle. The ultimate answer to transit through downtown Seattle is for light rail to come through downtown Seattle from West Seattle or Ballard.”

He continued: “If we can’t build one tunnel, then we can’t build another tunnel. If for some reason we’re a jurisdiction that can’t build this tunnel, then I suspect that the state won’t be able to pay for another tunnel, and that will massively damage our ability to bring the high capacity transit that we need from West Seattle through downtown.”

Sound Transit, the mayor added, would need authority from the state legislature to put a West Seattle-to-Ballard light rail tunnel plan in front of voters. This is something that could happen in the “next few years” or “maybe 10 years out.” The timeline’s sort of hazy. What’s clear is that the mayor’s hoping Bertha doesn’t grind up whatever trust citizens have in the state and city’s ability to make more tunnels—and more mass transit—happen.