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Originally published May 23, 2012 at 9:19 PM | Page modified May 24, 2012 at 5:25 PM

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Traffic study gives arena a green light; critics see red

A traffic study released Wednesday by the city of Seattle said a proposed basketball and hockey arena would have no major effect on traffic.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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6,000: Added vehicles on area streets for a sold-out event at the new arena.

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A $70,000 traffic study released Wednesday didn't seem to sway anyone in the debate over a new basketball arena proposed for Sodo.

Arena investor Chris Hansen paid for the study, and it showed in numbers and graphs what arena supporters have said all along: The arena wouldn't worsen traffic in the Sodo neighborhood.

"We don't see a fatal flaw here," said Bob Chandler, deputy director for special projects at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Freight and Port of Seattle representatives said the study didn't do enough analysis to ease their concerns about the arena's potential effect on traffic, especially as the Port seeks to expand its hours over the coming decades.

Hansen is proposing an 18,000-seat arena to host NBA and NHL teams, with $290 million in private investment and the public investment capped at $200 million, to be repaid through taxes and revenue generated by the arena.

The four-week study by Parametrix was cursory, looking mostly at game-day schedules and how people would get to games and concerts at the new arena and nearby Safeco and Qwest fields. The consultant didn't look at data showing traffic flow by time on game days or recommend any major road improvements to accommodate the new arena. If the arena goes ahead, city transportation officials said, they'll do more extensive environmental reviews.

The study "doesn't pass the straight-faced test," said Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council.

"I think this thing was announced as a done deal by the mayor and the county executive, and I think it would probably be way more surprising to see them come up with information now that casts doubt on their original conclusions," he said. "I think they've put their spear in the ground."

In a statement Wednesday, a Port spokeswoman said the study was "understandably limited in scope" and "offers a starting point for the city and county councils."

Individually, Port commissioners have said they think the new arena should come with major traffic improvements, including new overpasses, since traffic in the area is already a problem.

Mayor Mike McGinn has argued that it's not fair to hold Hansen responsible for fixing problems that already exist in Sodo.

"I think the study speaks for itself. It's not meant to be a comprehensive study," said Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for McGinn's office. "It does give us a nice lay of the land of what a new arena in the stadium district would look like, as far as parking and transportation."

A Hansen spokesman said Hansen wouldn't comment Wednesday, but stressed that the study was ordered by the city and that Hansen simply paid the bill.

The Port this year is finishing a 25-year plan that would increase capacity by a third. Officials say the proposed arena casts a completely different vision for Sodo's future — one that threatens to interfere with Port operations.

A spokesman for the local longshoremen's union, John Persak, said the study is "inadequate and woefully incomplete."

"We knew that a study of such limited scope would do little more than provide talking points for arena promoters and sports radio," he said.

John Perlic, the consultant hired by the city to do the study, said projects that already are under way, including the Highway 99 tunnel and a new Atlantic Street overpass, would improve freight traffic.

The new arena would add about 6,000 vehicles to the area on the 52 nights a year that the arena alone had a sold-out event, the study says, concluding that "these are well within the existing parking/traffic/transit capacity in the area."

Things would get more complicated on nights when there is an event at the arena and at one of the neighboring stadiums, the report says. That could happen as many as 15 weeknights a year if one of the teams makes the playoffs. But the study downplayed the effect of that traffic, saying it would add about 40,000 visitors — no more than in 2002 when 40 weeknight Mariners games had more than 40,000.

The report assumes 81 percent of people would drive, and 9 percent would take rail or bus to the new arena (with 10 percent getting there in other ways). And it said there's plenty of parking, as long as people are willing to walk up to three-quarters of a mile from their cars.

Perlic and Chandler said game-day traffic wouldn't interfere with Port operations, since the Port closes at 4:30 p.m. and games wouldn't start until 7 or 7:30 p.m.

The Manufacturing Industrial Council pointed to a city report from 2010 that shows game-day traffic for the other stadiums begins to increase in the early afternoon.

"We think there will be daytime impacts of those games, and it's adding to a situation that right now is not very good," Gering said.

Perlic said consultants didn't include those numbers in their report. "But I'm very familiar with the area and traffic volumes," he said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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