The Seattle City Council is working with the mayor's office on legislation that would obligate the state to pay for rebuilding the downtown waterfront—after the replacement to the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been built—even if any part of the replacement project runs over budget. The language doesn't go as far as Mayor Mike McGinn's past proposals, insisting that the state be liable for all cost overruns, but it does represent a shift on the council.

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Still in draft form, the provision would require the state to reserve $290 million of the project budget for tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and rebuilding the waterfront—and to complete the project regardless of cost. The council must approve a contract with the state (detailing funding, liabilities, and responsibilities for the city and state) before the state can begin formal work with construction contractors.

The genesis of the provision is Council Member Nick Licata, who is concerned that if cost overruns do occur on the project, money would by siphoned away from waterfront improvements. "It's conceivable that if there is a cost overrun on the construction of the tunnel, that they would use funds from the [waterfront] project," Licata says. If passed, the ordinance would provide a "critical assurance that the state won't spend our money on the tunnel when they should spend it on removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and providing the new street on the waterfront."

"The whole reason supporters picked the tunnel is because it gives them the waterfront back, but what if there is no money to pay for it?" says Cary Moon, director of the People's Waterfront Coalition, stressing the need to protect funding for the waterfront.

And Licata says there is enough council support to pass the provision: "The council members recognize the need to keep the state as a partner in getting the waterfront done and paid for."

However, the proposal raises questions about whether the state can realistically accept a contract that requires it to finish the project regardless of cost. The state has capped its commitment at $2.8 billion, saying Seattle property owners must carry any additional costs. If the council can say the state must pay overruns here, is it reasonable then to say the state must pay all cost overruns?

Unlike the mayor, Licata doesn’t foresee the need for any other clauses pertaining to cost overruns, calling this “the most critical provision.” But he says this language “gets us there the same way. Maybe it’s just a question of not being in your face.” recommended