Citing quake, McGinn wants viaduct closed next year
Devastating scenes from the Japan earthquake prompted Mayor Mike McGinn on Monday to say he wants the Alaskan Way Viaduct shut down next...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Devastating scenes from the Japan earthquake prompted Mayor Mike McGinn on Monday to say he wants the Alaskan Way Viaduct shut down next year.
McGinn called on other elected officials to reconsider the decision to leave the elevated highway open until a tunnel set to serve as its replacement is completed in 2016.
"I hope that after what they're seeing in Japan that they'll be asking themselves ... about whether we want to revisit the closure date of the viaduct," McGinn said.
The chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee questioned what would happen if the viaduct were closed without time to devise plans for handling the traffic. About 108,000 cars and trucks use the viaduct daily.
"Did he just wake up to the fact that the viaduct is vulnerable to a major earthquake?" Tom Rasmussen asked. "This is why we need to move forward with the tunnel. His alternative seems to be to take it down and create total gridlock."
McGinn made his comments during an interview on KUOW radio and didn't offer details about how the city would deal with an early shutdown.
"He doesn't have a detailed proposition on it," McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said later Monday. "He's just saying it's not safe" and that the state should stick with the original plan to close down the viaduct in 2012, Matassa said.
McGinn, a tunnel opponent, made his remarks as he and others wage a campaign to put the tunnel issue before Seattle voters later this year.
McGinn's repeated criticism of the tunnel project is that it leaves Seattle taxpayers on the hook for cost overruns. On Monday, he seized on the frightening images from Japan to advance another argument: that of all the replacement options, the tunnel leaves the viaduct standing the longest.
McGinn favors improving transit, surface streets and Interstate 5 to accommodate the additional traffic; there is no state funding for that plan.
The 2001 Nisqually earthquake exposed the viaduct's weaknesses and brought urgency to the effort to develop and fund a replacement.
A state highway official noted Monday that quarterly closures and inspections are now conducted on the viaduct to ensure that the double-decker structure remains sound.
"Our risk today is the same as it was Thursday before the Japan earthquake," said Ron Paananen, project administrator for the viaduct-replacement project with the state Department of Transportation. "We recognize it's vulnerable. We've tried to balance safety with protecting the economy of the city, too."
Closing the viaduct next year would allow some time for drivers to plan, so not every car on the viaduct suddenly would be pushed into downtown. Many drivers would change routes, work different hours or otherwise just avoid trips, said Ted Trepanier, public-sector director for INRIX, a Kirkland traffic-data company.
"If you go measure the system a year from now, you would not find 110,000 trips. You will find something like 80,000," he said. "For some in the environmental community, that's a good thing. A trip not made is a good trip."
Regardless of what happens politically with the tunnel, state contractors already are at work to remove the Sodo section of the viaduct next year.
The state plans to build a stadium-area interchange and widen waterfront Alaskan Way South from Sodo to the ferry docks, absorbing much of the traffic. However, a viaduct shutdown in 2012 would occur before even that partial relief is ready.
In 2007, as Gov. Chris Gregoire tried to accelerate plans to replace the viaduct, she vowed the structure would come down in 2012 "before it falls down."
In 2008, when neither the state nor the city had agreed on a new highway yet, she repeated that vow.
When state and local leaders in 2009 struck a $2 billion deal for the tunnel, state officials pushed the viaduct-closure date back four years, to 2016.
McGinn said Monday proponents of the tunnel are "proponents of leaving the viaduct up longer."
He added, "I think when you see what's going on in Japan, and you see the potential, you know, loss of life ... it's appropriate to evaluate whether it's right to just say we're going to leave it up kind of indefinitely or we're going to leave it up until we get this other solution in place."
Transportation reporter Mike Lindblom contributed
to this report.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or email@example.com
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