Anyone who tells you that the deep-bore tunnel is a done deal—that there's no debate or decision left—hasn't read the law. Not until state highway officials complete their environmental impact study in July 2011 can they legally make a decision. And until the Seattle City Council approves contracts to let the state dig under downtown, which they intend to do this winter, the debate is still alive for the city.

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Influencing those decisions and raising the political cost of proceeding is exactly the ambition of the Seattle Taxpayer Protection Initiative, filed on December 9. At face value, the measure attempts to ensure that any runaway costs from the tunnel don't get pinned on Seattle. (The legislature passed a now-infamous law saying that Seattle property owners must pay any cost overruns on the $4.2 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.)

However, without a time machine, the initiative will have a hard time achieving its stated aim.

The city council intends to approve tunnel contracts in the next few months for the state to begin construction in 2011, and the initiative can't be approved until next summer or fall, so the initiative's threat of not allowing tunnel contracts to go forward if the cost overrun language isn't dealt with first seems a little—well, out of time, in multiple senses of the phrase.

But proponents say the stated aims are not the whole point.

"The council members are going to sign those damned agreements in February no matter what we do," says Tim Harris, director of Real Change newspaper and one of the proponents of the initiative. "This initiative is about holding their feet to the fire and upping the political cost for them doing this."

Five members of the city council are up for reelection in 2011—all of them tunnel supporters. An initiative on the ballot with over 20,000 signatures could make reelection seem uncertain.

"All we can do is give them some second thoughts," says Harris.

Another initiative, organized by the group Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel, is attempting to stop the tunnel project completely by canceling the city's tunnel contracts. That one is so overreaching that many think it has no chance of standing up in court. recommended