I asked Seattle City Council member Nick Licata, who fortified his career by calling for a public vote on stadium taxes, if he supported a referendum on the tunnel. He wrote back with this thoughtful reply:

Do I support the proposal for a public vote on the tunnel? That's a question that I've been hearing from tunnel opponents.

First off, let's take a step back and ask: what is a proposed ballot measure for? Is it a tactic to stop an option you don't like or is it about a desire to let the people decide, and find a way to move forward?

The problem I have with the Mayor calling for a public vote is that he's only calling for a vote on the option he doesn't like.

If the Mayor wanted a public vote he should have requested it his first month in office while the State Legislature was in session, so they could see what the residents of Seattle wanted. He should have proposed placing all three options on the ballot along with their identified funding sources and major design elements. Wouldn't that demonstrate a clearer commitment to letting the people decide than just voting on a tunnel?

Licata continues after the jump.

We had three options for replacing the Viaduct. They ranked at 36% elevated, 35% tunnel, and 21% surface in the best 3-way poll I've seen during the last year (and that leaves an extra 8% likely supporting a retrofit). It's not hard to see that a ballot measure on any individual option is a smart tactic to stop it—as long as your option doesn't get the "ballot treatment."

Take for example, based on where we're at now, what an up-or-down surface/transit ballot measure similar to the tunnel and elevated measures in 2007 would look like. It would list the estimated construction cost as between $1-2 billion with no state funding available. So the City might need to fund it all. Meanwhile the estimated annual transit operation cost is $55 million, and state funding also isn't available. So the cost would mean an average $167 car tab fee for Seattle residents, if the state granted us that authority. Given the pre-existing 21% poll support, it would be a tough sell.

The Mayor had a chance to be a leader on this issue and he did not take it. Imagine if he had gone to Olympia and garnered a state commitment to funding construction and transit operations for a surface option, and proposed a public vote on a surface/transit option. That would demonstrate a serious commitment to letting the public decide, rather than just being a tactic designed to stop the tunnel. Instead he has chosen to simply criticize the only option that the State has agreed to fund.

In hindsight, the public should have voted on three options back in 2007: tunnel, elevated, and surface. That would have helped us move forward. At this point, after 10 years of debate, it's best to move on.