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Originally published July 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 9, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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6-part plan in works to fix sinking viaduct

News that the Alaskan Way Viaduct has sunk another quarter-inch along Seattle's central waterfront came as no surprise to the state Department...

Seattle Times staff reporter

News that the Alaskan Way Viaduct has sunk another quarter-inch along Seattle's central waterfront came as no surprise to the state Department of Transportation (DOT), which has been closely watching that section of the elevated roadway near the downtown ferry terminal.

Though the structure is still considered safe, a fix is in the works, part of a six-part plan that will commence this fall:

• First on the list is stabilizing the viaduct footings near Colman Dock, the area near the ferry terminal where the columns have been sinking. The state will put an additional reinforcing layer of steel and concrete around the existing footings. The project is expected to be completed by next spring and cost is estimated at $5 million.

• The second project is relocating two electrical transmission lines and five feeder lines from the viaduct to Western and First avenues. This will occur between 2007 and 2009 and is expected to cost about $65 million.

• The state will add lighting, fire-suppression equipment and ventilation systems to the Battery Street Tunnel between 2008 and 2010.

• Also between 2008 and 2010, the state will strengthen steel structures from Lenora Street to the tunnel.

• A new Highway 99 will be built at the south end of the viaduct, from Holgate Street to Royal Brougham Way. That should be competed by 2012.

• Last on the list are improvements to arterials, bus lanes, signals and transit to help manage traffic when the viaduct is replaced.

The viaduct's future was supposed to have been decided in March, when Seattle voters were faced with a nonbinding choice of replacing the structure with either another elevated highway or what was called a hybrid tunnel. Voters said no. And no.

More than half of the voters opposed a new elevated highway, and 70 percent opposed the tunnel, pushed by Mayor Greg Nickels.

After the election, city and state officials tried to save face by announcing a $915 million plan to start work on supposedly noncontroversial parts of the viaduct while postponing until late 2008 a decision on how to replace it. Some of that work is included in the six-part plan.

No one can predict what the final replacement might look like, but a plan pushed by crusading environmentalists to dispense with the viaduct in favor of a surface street is gathering steam.

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The Seattle City Council in May approved a measure to spend $8 million to look at the surface option. "Our voters rejected an elevated structure and hybrid tunnel by wide margins," said Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck. "We, as leaders and as a community, need to rethink the approach to this project."

Costly delays

Ron Paananen, viaduct project manager with the DOT, said he doesn't know when a decision might be made about how to replace the viaduct, but he guesses it will be in late 2008 to give the 2009 Legislature time to evaluate it.

Delays, he said, cost $10 million a month — largely the result of inflation.

"If we can successfully do work in the south end, we'll tear down 40 percent of the viaduct," he said. Adding the areas the state plans to strengthen, he said, half of the viaduct will be replaced or strengthened without a decision on how to replace the rest.

While other ideas continue to be floated about viaduct replacement — including a tunnel under Western Avenue, a bridge over the water and repairing the existing structure, Paananen said the state isn't taking any of them seriously. "People got tired after March," he said, "and are starting to wake up again."

Retired structural engineer Victor Gray is still pushing his retrofit idea, even though it's been dismissed by the DOT. He said he's writing a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire saying a retrofit should be considered.

"The retrofit is being totally ignored," he said. "We'll do our best to make sure it's not ignored."

Cary Moon, with the People's Waterfront Coalition, who has pushed a surface-street replacement, said the replacement plan is now on a slower track.

"They're opening the table back up to other approaches and rethinking the whole system," she said. "They're looking at city streets as a solution."

Critics

The work the state plans to start this fall isn't without its critics, said Katherine Stanford, leader of the Downtown District Council, which represents five downtown neighborhoods.

"We're part of the group of folks talking about what we'd like to see in the process: that it's inclusive, transparent, credible and impartial," she said.

Of particular concern, she said, are plans to move transmission lines and relocate them on First Avenue, tearing up First Avenue during the busiest time of the year.

The planned retrofit of the Battery Street Tunnel is also of concern, she said, because the state is planning to put up a building to handle ventilation, and that could block view corridors and take up open space.

The Belltown community recently sent a letter to Gregoire saying, "this work would preclude the very desirable option to reconstruct the highway approach to the Battery Street Tunnel underneath Elliott and Western avenues, thus reducing the effects of highway noise, dust and visual blight on the Belltown community and allowing for better pedestrian connections between Belltown and the Seattle waterfront. Since voters said no to an elevated freeway replacement option, it seems inconsistent with their wishes to be spending money on this elevated highway section."

The letter said the proposed ventilation building would be at Battery Street and First Avenue, "which happens to be one of the most dramatic and sweeping public viewpoints in Belltown."

The group asked that work be delayed until the preferred option for the full viaduct replacement has been decided.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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