Lawmakers support plan to get some viaduct work moving as debate goes on
A plan is emerging in the state Legislature to start work on expensive chunks of the Alaskan Way Viaduct project that people can agree on...
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — A plan is emerging in the state Legislature to start work on expensive chunks of the Alaskan Way Viaduct project that people can agree on while the larger debate continues over how to replace the central part of the structure.
The viaduct-replacement project has been stalled for months by a feud between state lawmakers and city officials over whether to replace it with a tunnel or a new viaduct. A citywide advisory vote is now under way with mail-in ballots that must be postmarked by Tuesday.
The election is not expected to end the debate, regardless of the outcome. The city wants a tunnel, while the state says an elevated highway is the only workable option.
But lawmakers seem to be getting behind the idea of moving ahead on parts of the project, in cooperation with the city.
For example, by some estimates, roughly $600 million worth of work on the south end from Holgate Street to Royal Brougham Way could be done without a final decision on a tunnel or another viaduct.
Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said starting some of the work is a good idea. House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, agreed.
"It's kind of calming to have something moving, and you don't want to come out of the session [saying], 'Well, we couldn't reach an agreement so we're not doing anything,' " Clibborn said. "You know that you can agree on some things."
Scott Merriman, an aide to Gov. Christine Gregoire, acknowledged that lawmakers and the governor's office are discussing the idea.
He said a lot of work needs to be done, including rebuilding a stretch of the highway on the south end, as well as detour routes and temporary connections.
"If you look at the components of the whole viaduct replacement, there are some significant investments that have to occur regardless of the central portion of it," he said.
"You still have to do a utility relocation; you still have to do the south end; you still have to do work in the Battery Street [Tunnel]; and you still have to do work on coming up to Battery Street, regardless of what option you do," Merriman said.
Seattle City Council President Nick Licata said he hasn't been involved in the Olympia discussions, but he likes the idea. "I think that would be the wise thing to do. The debate really is over this mile frontage in Seattle," he said.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said the mayor's office wants to talk to state officials more about the prospect of starting some of the work.
But he warned that certain parts can't be started without knowing exactly what is being built. "You don't necessarily put the utilities in the same place if you're doing an elevated, a tunnel or a surface" street, he said.
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