The Seattle City Council's current plan to stick its fingers in its ears and "la, la, la" away rising calls to answer questions about cost overruns on the deep bore tunnel is, apparently, not going to work.
Today a group of 18 organizations is sending a letter to the council asking members to heed warnings about potential cost overruns on the $4.2 billion project that could fall on Seattle. The language in the letter is fairly tame: "We request that the Council clearly communicate their plans for protecting Seattle residents from the risk of tunnel cost overruns." But the political message is stark.
Sierra Club, El Centro de la Rasa, Real Change, InterFaith Task Force on Homelessness, and 14 other organizations that have shown political muscle in the last year are banding together to say that the council needs to explain itself. The letter is sent just before today's first meeting of the governor's oversight committee, which draws on state, county, and city leaders to commit to finishing the project.
Council President Richard Conlin has insisted, "We do not need more debate at this stage of implementation," an attempt to scuttle a debate challenge on the issue without explaining how, exactly, the state and city would deal with any cost overruns. City Attorney Pete Holmes has noted that Conlin “does not address the issue of what happens if there is a cost overrun. Saying that the city cannot be made to pay a cost overrun doesn’t address the problem of what we do if there is a cost overrun.”
In its letter (.pdf), the group of organizations writes, "Specifically, we urge you to ensure that the state will take full responsibility for tunnel cost overruns, or to develop clear and transparent policy that indicates exactly how the city will pay for any tunnel cost overruns that might occur should the city be responsible as the Legislature intends."
If Conlin has an idea of what will happen if costs do exceed the budget—what the governor has promised, where that extra money will come from, an indication that the legislature would remove its cap on contributing to the project—he needs to come out and explain it at Town Hall and on television. Or Tom Rasmussen, the council's transportation committee chair? Or Sally Bagshaw, who ran for city council because she wanted to see the waterfront improved? Implying "if you knew what we know" or suggesting that "we can cross that bridge when we come to it" won't cut it with these organizations. This letter demontrates that these groups aren't about to shut up. The debate is just getting started.