The south portal, where drivers will pay a toll or exit to city streets
  • The south portal, where drivers will pay a toll or exit

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Set to be released next week, a state study of the proposed deep-bore tunnel assumes the project will have no tolls and doesn't consider the impact of a toll, which would push an additional 40,000 to 45,000 trips per day onto city streets. But state law says a toll is required to generate $400 million in revenue to pay for the project.

Reading an advance copy of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) today to The Stranger, City Council Member Mike O’Brien paged through chapters that detail the tunnel’s impacts on traffic, noise, greenhouse gases, miles per trip, and air quality. The document first asserts that 22,000 vehicles will switch from Highway 99—currently the Alaskan Way Viaduct, tentatively set to be replaced by the tunnel—to city streets and I-5. However, O’Brien reads from chapter nine, “As currently defined, the project does not include tolls.”

Continuing in chapter nine, the document discusses various tolling scenarios but never factors their impact on the other sections about traffic, noise, etc. More than a source of revenue, tolls will drastically alter traffic patterns downtown. At over $4 per trip one way at peak hours, based on the state’s estimates, tolls would push an additional 40,000 to 45,000 trips per day onto city streets compared to the unrealistic scenario without tolls on the tunnel.

In other words, the impact study doesn’t measure the actual traffic impacts. The actual traffic projection—based on tolls we need to pay for the tunnel—appears to be over 60,000 vehicles a day.

“You open it up and it says there are going to be slight traffic changes and everything is going to be fine—it’s going to work,” O'Brien says. “Unless you go hundreds of pages into this thing, and realize that’s not the real scenario.”

“It’s a joke,” O’Brien continues. “I feel like this particular EIS process is a little bit of a sham.” The council is slated to consider a contract to let the state begin the project this winter. “Without studying the specific impact of tolling, we’re left to make decisions by waving our hands and guessing, which defeats the whole purpose of having an EIS."

More after the jump.

Without those tolls, the state simply can’t pay for its share of the deep-bore tunnel; state law says the $400 million from tolling bonds will make up a key component of the state’s $2.8 billion commitment to the project.

The SDEIS explains that it didn’t factor in the tolls for three reasons: (1) Other alternatives, like a viaduct rebuild, didn’t include a tolling study (“You didn’t need to toll the other options because you didn’t need $400 million,” O’Brien says of the less expensive alternatives); (2) tolls aren’t required to operate the tunnel (just to pay for it, O’Brien points out); the state isn’t certain how it would toll the tunnel (even though ideas are outlined in the document).

The state outlines five tolling scenarios—which, again, aren’t factored into the rest of the study—and under two that would produce the $400 million the state needs to pay for the project, traffic impacts on the rest of the city are remarkable. They go like this: 14-15,000 more vehicles a day on I-5, 16-18,000 more vehicles on downtown streets, 10-12,000 more vehicles per day east of I-5, and 6-7,000 more vehicles per day on Alaskan Way.

The state seems to think this is unworkable. “Slower vehicle times are modeled because vehicle volumes are expected to increase on these streets, resulting in increased congestion at specific intersections,” O’Brien reads. “These effects would not be acceptable as part of a longer tolling solution.”

Says O'Brien: “I think they need to go back and seriously study it and see how to protect the above-ground part of the city."