Tunnel to replace viaduct appears dead
Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel appears dead — at least for now — following a three-hour meeting between...
Seattle Times staff
OLYMPIA — Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel appears dead — at least for now — following a three-hour meeting between the state and Seattle city officials this afternoon.
Nickels on Wednesday unveiled a new, smaller viaduct proposal that he said would shave $1.2 billion from the $4.6 billion estimated cost of the previously proposed six-lane tunnel.
After a meeting between Nickels, Gov. Christine Gregoire, House Speaker Frank Chopp and other officials, the governor released a statement saying the proposal doesn't meet her timeline for a Seattle vote on viaduct replacement options. She has said the vote must occur before the Legislature adjourns April 22, but the city proposed an April 24 vote.
The statement also said the assumptions contained in Nickels' new tunnel plan hadn't been verified the state Department of Transportation.
As a result, the statement said, the state will either move forward with replacing the viaduct with another elevated highway or will move money dedicated to the project to replacing the Highway 520 bridge.
"I don't see how the tunnel can be revived given that there was unanimous opposition to the mayor's plan by all the House and Senate leaders," said Seattle City Council president Nick Licata, who attended the meeting. "I think Seattle residents are in the position of just trying to hold on to the money for the viaduct before it slips away into other projects."
Nickels, however, said he wasn't giving up and would continue to fight to place the smaller tunnel option on the ballot.
"I'm very disappointed by the statement from the governor, after asking us to put the issue to voters, that she's not interested in the opinion of Seattle citizens," Nickels said. "I find it hard to believe any other city in the state would be treated in this manner."
The four-lane tunnel, called "tunnel lite" by some, would have included 14-foot shoulders, so the northbound shoulder would serve as a lane in the morning rush hour for cars exiting to Western Avenue. The highway could handle slightly more traffic than the Viaduct does now, the city contends.
An expert panel appointed by Gregoire to review viaduct replacement options warmed to the concept last week, after a briefing with city and Department of Transportation staff.
"The best engineering judgment tells you it would work, but you have to go back and do the analysis," said panel member Don Forbes, a former Oregon state transportation director.
But that option appears moot today. Here is the complete statement from the governor:
"We all understand that we need to move forward. No action is not an option. Mayor Nickels and Seattle Transportation Chair Jan Drago believe that the city could place a ballot before voters April 24 on a new hybrid tunnel design and finance plan.
"Legislative leaders, transportation chairs and the governor rejected that timeline because it is beyond the scheduled Legislature adjournment. They are also concerned about the assumptions that have not yet been validated by the Washington state Department of Transportation.
"This leaves us with a very difficult decision. There are two remaining options:
"-- move forward with an elevated viaduct replacement or, "-- reprogram funding to the 520 replacement project. "We thank all parties for a candid discussion."
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