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  • Robert Ullman

On January 2, Mayor Ed Murray floated a curious proposition: If voters come to see Bertha as doomed and our downtown tunnel project as screwed, could future tunnels through downtown also be screwed?

In a phone call to The Stranger, the mayor explained his concerns: "My fear around Bertha isn't so much that the current tunnel can't be built, but I believe [its failure] will kill any opportunity to build a fourth tunnel through Seattle."

Wait. What? A fourth tunnel through Seattle? Turns out that when Murray, in the midst of the Bertha debacle, raised dreams of another major tunnel under downtown, he was talking about a tunnel for light rail. "The ultimate answer to transit through downtown Seattle is for light rail to come through downtown Seattle from West Seattle or Ballard," Murray said.

That much made sense. Seattle desperately needs more mass transit, and regional voters agree that expanding light rail should be a top priority. Sound Transit, the agency that can tax the region and serve up ballot proposals to expand light rail, has for months been exploring early proposals for building another transit tunnel through downtown. Sound Transit board members are considering light rail connections outside of Seattle, too. And the mayor, along with Council Member Mike O'Brien, sits on the Sound Transit board.

But could collective angst around Bertha really trash the opportunity to build a future transit tunnel that would fulfill the dream of light rail between downtown, Ballard, and West Seattle? To some, it seemed like the mayor was making a calculated play to get transit advocates on board with Bertha's car-tunnel program. After all, his statements could be read, essentially, as a light rail hostage situation. Tracks tied to the tracks, or something. Continue reading »