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Originally published Friday, December 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Viaduct group wants tunnel option on table

A viaduct stakeholder group added to the mounting pressure to continue consideration of a deep-bore tunnel as one option to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A viaduct stakeholder group Thursday afternoon added to the mounting pressure to continue consideration of a deep-bore tunnel as one option to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. For the stakeholders, the tunnel is far from dead.

Last week, when the city, state and county announced two finalists for viaduct replacement, the tunnel option was not on the list. The finalists were a so-called surface "couplet" that would use Alaskan Way and Western Avenue to carry traffic, and a new elevated structure. The deep-bore tunnel was excluded because of high cost estimates, said the state Department of Transportation.

But Thursday, at its final meeting, the 29-member stakeholders group — residents and businesspeople brought on board to advise the city, county and state — said the tunnel option should be subjected to the same environmental review as the two finalist options.

"We need to move forward with something we can afford now, but leave the door open (for the tunnel)," said stakeholder Cary Moon, with the People's Waterfront Coalition, a supporter of a surface-street viaduct replacement.

"We need to continue to study the tunnel if funding becomes available."

When the state evaluated eight options for replacing the viaduct, the deep-bore tunnel was the most expensive, at $3.5 billion. But since then questions have arisen about that cost estimate.

The Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, a nonprofit that explores transportation issues in the region, continues to push for a bored-tunnel option — just inland from the Elliott Bay shoreline, which would keep the viaduct in place during construction.

The institute has lined up tunneling executives to argue that improvements in technology have made tunnel boring more efficient and that a bored tunnel could be built for much less than the state estimate.

The loudest voice for a deep-bore tunnel has been the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. But stakeholder Tayloe Washborn, who represents the chamber, said the state shouldn't expect any more money from the Washington Legislature for viaduct replacement. The Legislature has set aside $2.8 billion for a viaduct replacement.

"We're not asking the state to spend one more cent," Washborn said. He said other financing options should be explored, such as regional tolling and a local-improvement district.

"This is a 100-year investment, and we've got to get it right. We, the region, need to take ownership with a funding package to pay for the bored tunnel."

Washborn said those who would benefit from a viaduct-free waterfront should help pay for a tunnel.

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Dave Freiboth, with the King County Labor Council, agreed.

"Any notion of going to the Legislature to ask for more than $2.8 billion is in a dream world. That's not in the cards and shouldn't be in the cards," he said.

Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago said the region is capable of paying for a deep-bore tunnel. The City Council officially supports the surface option, only because the tunnel was considered too expensive.

"We have the available tools and authority (to build a tunnel)," Drago said. The region should explore tolling on all area freeways, she said, creating a transportation-benefit district that could collect viaduct-replacement money, a special motor-vehicle excise tax for the tunnel, and a local-improvement district.

"I'm very optimistic," Drago said. "What's new here is the region picking up the funding."

The state said it will decide by the end of the year which option to select for viaduct replacement. But it's unlikely support for the tunnel option will disappear when that decision is made.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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