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Originally published March 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 23, 2007 at 8:46 PM

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It wasn't all "no" on new viaduct

Most West Seattle voters chose a new elevated freeway in last week's election on how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a sign that public...

Seattle Times staff reporters

Most West Seattle voters chose a new elevated freeway in last week's election on how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a sign that public officials might have a lot of work to do to win their support for another option.

The March 13 election, in which proposals for a new viaduct and a new tunnel were both handily defeated by Seattle voters, prompted more discussion about whether the viaduct could be torn down, with traffic then routed onto surface streets with improved transit.

Not surprisingly, many in West Seattle, a neighborhood dependent on the viaduct, just wanted the elevated highway rebuilt.

"People want to put the same thing up there because anything new is different, and people are concerned because it would be different," said Mark Wainwright, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association.

Stranded by the death of the monorail and Sound Transit's plan for light rail on the eastern half of the city, Seattle's western neighborhoods, such as Magnolia and Broadview, supported a new viaduct in the election.

The advisory ballot asked voters whether they preferred replacing the viaduct with a $3.4 billion tunnel or with a new $2.8 billion viaduct. Seventy percent of voters rejected the tunnel option. A new viaduct was rejected by voters 57 percent to 43 percent, based on ballots counted through Thursday.

In West Seattle, by contrast, more than half of voters supported building a new viaduct.

City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck, who is campaigning to replace the viaduct with a surface road and added transit, said the pro-viaduct results on the city's west side were to be expected because those residents don't want to lose a route into town.

"Neighborhoods from Ballard to West Seattle are more likely to support a simple solution that ignores other goals besides transportation," he said, such as opening up the waterfront for posterity.

A Seattle Times poll conducted last fall by Elway Research found that the more people used the viaduct, the more they were inclined to want to replace it with a new elevated highway.

Leaders from West Seattle and Magnolia neighborhood groups say they have heard little support for the surface-street option.

"I'm absolutely opposed because of the ridiculously idealistic notion that that could maintain the same capacity," said Dr. Victor Barry, a Magnolia Community Club board member.

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"I'm not surprised that people are skeptical," said Steinbrueck, who has proposed spending $500,000 that had been budgeted to study the tunnel to study a surface option. "It's because it's not a plan that's been developed. It's a vision at this point."

He wants to explore a combination of surface streets, more efficient use of downtown arterials and lanes dedicated to bus rapid transit.

Mayor Greg Nickels, who supported a tunnel, has not yet announced support for a new option. He has been adamantly opposed to a new viaduct.

"The mayor has said he's got an open mind," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "The people who have concerns from how they travel from home, we just have to work with them and explain and understand their concerns."

Ceis and the mayor live in West Seattle, so "I can empathize with people, very much so," Ceis said.

Paul Fischburg, Delridge Neighborhood Association president, said he personally supports a surface road, as long as there's an "enormous investment in transit."

"If I could just wave a magic wand, it would be extending light rail in the southwest and northwest through downtown ... that would be the best-case scenario," he said. But "you know this city's history on mass transit."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Justin Mayo: 206-464-3669 or jmayo@seattletimes.com.

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