There are nine blank spaces at the end of a letter that's being circulated and is supposed to be signed later today by the governor, state legislators, the port CEO, the county executive, city council member Tom Rasmussen, Mayor Mike McGinn, and others. It's a "Letter of Commitment" to complete the deep-bore tunnel, which concludes, "We fully endorse this partnership and are each personally committed to invest the time and resources needed to ensure this program reaches a successful conclusion."
But Mayor Mike McGinn isn't going to sign it at the first meeting of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Program Oversight Committee today, convened by Governor Chris Gregoire.
His office says that the letter, in essence, is a pledge to complete the deep-bore tunnel no matter the costs. No matter the engineering problems, no matter the cost overruns, no matter the unresolved issues of who would pay for those cost overruns. That's unacceptable, the mayor's office says. Seattle taxpayers shouldn't pay cost overruns on the tunnel—a state highway—when the state has already insisted that it won't pay for overruns.
The pledge of commitment seems to deliberately obfuscate who will supply the "resources needed to ensure this program reaches a successful conclusion." In its first sentence, the letter (which appears in full below the jump) outlines one aspect of how the tunnel came to be. "The State of Washington, City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, and King County reached agreement in January 2009" that commits each government body to cover its part of the project. The city, McGinn argues, would be responsible for paying cost overruns on replacing the downtown seawall; the state, therefore, would pay for cost overruns on the tunnel.
But the oath elected leaders are supposed to sign today says nothing about the state cap on spending ($2.8 billion) and what would happen if the budget exceeds that cap. While the governor's signature suggests that she would, as part of her end of the deal, commit the state to spend as much money as required to pay for the project, she can't make that commitment. The legislature—not the governor—controls the state cap on spending. And while the letter commits to proactively secure funding, if need be, it doesn't explain where that money would come from.
The committee is also starting off on an ironic foot. It is—according to the pledge headline—"A Collaborative Approach to Ensure Transparency and Accountability." But the meeting, which begins at 1:00 p.m. at Union Station 401 S. Jackson St., will only allow the public for a few minutes of remarks from the governor and a 30-minute project overview. Then the public is kicked out of the meat of the meeting, which again, is designed to "Ensure Transparency and Accountability."
A Letter of Commitment Between the State of Washington, City of Seattle, Port of Seattle and King County
A Collaborative Approach to Ensure Transparency and Accountability in the Delivery of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program
The State of Washington, City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, and King County reached agreement in January 2009 to replace the seismically vulnerable and aging Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall through a series of investments in transit, city streets, a new central seawall, waterfront open space, and SR 99 improvements including the construction of a proposed bored tunnel.
The parties are committed to implementing this program on schedule and on budget and achieving our critical transportation, safety, environmental and community goals. To this end, we are establishing a program oversight committee made up of representatives from the executive and legislative branches of each of the four agencies responsible for implementing the program. This committee will facilitate discussion and information sharing related to cost, financing, schedule, contracts, project delivery, and risk management. The committee will address issues proactively that may affect delivery of the program, such as securing funding and permits.
The oversight committee will meet quarterly to receive updates from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Port of Seattle, and the implementing the following projects as agreed to in January 2009.
Proposed SR 99 Bored Tunnel Project (including Alaskan Way city street, connections to city street grid, and utility relocations)
S. Holgate to S. King Street Viaduct Replacement Project
Seawall Replacement Project
Mercer Street Project (Elliot Avenue to I-5)
Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project
First Avenue Streetcar (under evaluation)
Central Waterfront Plan
East Marginal Way Grade Separation Project
Investments in Bus Service to Downtown and Related City Street Improvements for Bus Operations
SR 99 and Arterial Intelligent Transportation System
Agendas will be4 developed by staff from the four jurisdictions. Presentation information provided to the committee will be made available to the public. We may at time elect to meet in a closed session, after public briefings from the transportation agencies.
We fully endorse this partnership and are each personally committed to invest the time and resources needed to ensure this program reaches a successful conclusion.
Christine O. Gregoire
Mary Margaret Haugen
King County Executive
King County Councilmember