Nickels: I'll fight viaduct "every possible moment"
A defiant Mayor Greg Nickels said Wednesday he would continue to push for a waterfront tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
A defiant Mayor Greg Nickels said Wednesday he would continue to push for a waterfront tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in the face of strong opposition from Gov. Christine Gregoire and legislative leaders.
Nickels said a new elevated freeway would create a wall between Seattle and its waterfront.
Then, borrowing a famous Cold War challenge from Ronald Reagan to Mikhail Gorbachev about the Berlin Wall, the mayor said his message to Gregoire is, "Tear down this wall."
Nickels said he was frustrated that state officials urged city leaders to ask Seattle voters how to replace the earthquake-damaged viaduct, then on Tuesday declared dead the tunnel option the city had put on the ballot.
At his weekly news conference, the mayor also labeled as "flimsy" the state's report condemning the tunnel option. He accused state officials of "changing the rules of the game."
Gregoire has complained that the city didn't follow her directive when it decided last month to put a slimmer, less-expensive four-lane tunnel on the ballot instead of the six-lane, $4.6 billion tunnel already studied by state experts.
Nickels said he would "spend every possible moment" campaigning against a new viaduct and for a tunnel before the all-mail election, for which ballots must be postmarked by March 13.
"We will listen to voters, then decide" what steps to take in the viaduct battle, he said.
Nickels did not directly answer questions asking if he would use lawsuits or regulatory obstacles to stop a new viaduct from being built.
If a tunnel is not possible, Nickels has said in the past that his preferred alternative is tearing down the viaduct and using existing surface streets and improved transit to replace it.
Nickels noted that San Francisco tore down the elevated Embarcadero freeway on its waterfront and replaced it with a surface boulevard and trolley. The result has been a thriving waterfront, which is "exactly what we're trying to achieve," Nickels said.
But he suggested one dilemma a surface option might face. In removing the Embarcadero, San Francisco made a decision that maritime industry and port jobs were not part of its waterfront's future, he said. He said those kinds of jobs are important to Seattle.
Nickels, who was in San Francisco on Monday for a conference on climate change, maintains a tunnel would be better for the environment than a new viaduct — even though the tunnel he proposes could accommodate roughly 110,00 cars a day, roughly the same as the existing viaduct.
A tunnel would not immediately reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help with climate change, Nickels said. But in 25 years a tunnel would be more beneficial than a viaduct, he contended, because the tunnel would not increase existing capacity for cars, while a new six-lane viaduct likely would.
Before last month, however, Nickels supported a larger six-lane tunnel plan that would have had similar traffic capacity to a new six-lane viaduct. A state environmental report concluded it would require more energy to construct such a tunnel than a new viaduct.
"It's a real stretch for the mayor to make this environmental argument," said Peter Sherwin, a Seattle activist, who favors repairing the viaduct.
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