Councilmember Mike OBrien, rockin' out with his amendments out.
  • E.S.
  • Councilmember Mike OBrien, rockin' out with his amendments out.
You half expected Councilmember Mike O'Brien to grab one of the TV reporter mics in his fist and belt out his new tunnel amendments in song, what with the sounds of a rock band performing in the City Hall courtyard filling the second floor conference room to which he'd summoned reporters earlier this afternoon. (And at least one of those summoned reporters would have found that a far more entertaining way to receive the latest news on the deep bore tunnel debate.)

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You can hear the drum track the band added to the press conference here. But anyway, the news!

O'Brien has five amendments he wants the council to add to its resolution next Monday on how to move ahead on the tunnel.

1. The state should follow through on its stalled efforts to get $205 million made available to the City of Seattle to pay for downtown transit improvements that would help mitigate the impact of the tunnel project. Last year, state, county, and city leaders gave a lot of lip-service to this idea, but didn't make it happen. “This should be a critical component [of the agreement] before we proceed on a path we can’t back out of," O'Brien said.

2. The state legislature has to remove its requirement that Seattle property owners pay for any tunnel cost overruns, otherwise the project does not move forward.

3. The state needs to fully study the impacts of a tolled tunnel on traffic movement through downtown, and particularly along First Avenue.

4. The Port of Seattle, which has pledged $300 million to the tunnel project, needs to outline this year how it plans to raise that $300 million. A bake sale? New property taxes? What? “I don’t want to be committed to this project before we realize that they’re going to be on board,” O'Brien said, implying that he's worried the port might plead poverty down the road and force the city to come up with that $300 million instead.

5. The state needs to do an assessment of the risks in the final contract (which is bound to be somewhat different than the current hypothetical plans being floated).

“We’re about to head down a path that’s going to be really hard to back out of," O'Brien said, again drawing people's attention to the potential for a kind of one-way-ticket-to-financial-hell that's embedded in a project of this size and uncertainty (and, in a rhetorical two-fer, also evoking the warnings about the future tunnel boring machine—which will only be able to travel in one direction, forward—getting stuck beneath downtown with no way for it, or us, to back out of the suddenly very problematic hole).

"I just want to get firm commitments—to make sure the city has firm commitments from all the players in this project before we get beyond the point of no return,” he added.

The question is whether O'Brien has support from his council colleagues for any of these amendments. And the answer, so far, is no. “I cannot tell you that I have five votes on any single one," he said.

Asked by a TV reporter whether he wasn't just trying to insert a "poison pill" into the tunnel planning process, O'Brien replied: “These aren’t nefarious moves to trick someone into doing something they don’t want." Rather, he described his efforts as "prudent management."

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Oh, and I said I would ask O'Brien for his feelings about SCAT, but someone else beat me to it (without using the acronym).

O'Brien's answer: “In general, I think the opportunity for citizens to vote on this type of commitment is really important.”