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Originally published November 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 21, 2008 at 12:38 AM

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Viaduct | Tunnel's price tag may top $3 billion

The toughest mile of the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct could cost as much as $3.5 billion to replace if the state chooses one of two tunnel options. But the cost could be as low as $800 million if the viaduct is replaced with surface streets.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Cost: $800 million to $3.5 billion.

Funding sources: $2.8 billion from the Legislature, but at least $1 billion already spent on other viaduct projects; possible federal, state and local funding; possibly tolling and naming rights.

Decision-making process: Two to three finalists to be released in early December. The final decision by year-end by Gov. Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims.

Estimated completion date: Depends on what is chosen; range is 5 to 9-1/2 years.

Options for the Alaskan Way Viaduct

THE EIGHT OPTIONS, costs and features:

A. $800 million: Four-lane boulevard on Alaskan Way, with stoplights. Price tag for three surface options will be appealing, but travel on surface streets is slowest of options.

B. $800 million: Four-lane boulevard on Alaskan Way, with more transit, downtown street improvements and about 80 feet of open space along waterfront.

C. $900 million: Six-lane Alaskan Way-Western Avenue grouping: three northbound lanes on Western with three southbound lanes on Alaskan Way. Would create 110 feet of open space on waterfront.

D. $1.6 billion: Four-lane elevated viaduct similar to existing viaduct, but with lanes side by side, not stacked. Seattle voters last year rejected both an elevated viaduct and a tunnel, but that viaduct had stacked lanes. Many in Seattle's industrial community like this option and it seems affordable. Others, including Mayor Greg Nickels, want to take an elevated viaduct off the waterfront.

E. $2.2 billion: Four-lane elevated viaduct covered by a park, with buildings underneath. The city hates it, and it's uncertain whether House Speaker Frank Chopp, who suggested it, could find tenants for the space. This cost estimate includes the roadway and park on top, but not the mile-long building that would contain it.

F. $3.5 billion: Four-lane bored tunnel starting near Qwest Field and running under Western Avenue and Post Alley, with only offramp at King Street. The price alone could doom this option.

G. $2.7 billion: Cut-and-cover tunnel along the waterfront, with four lanes, an elevated roadway at Stewart Street and a surface street by Pike Place Market. This may be too expensive, but many of the region's political leaders, including Nickels, want to replace the viaduct with a tunnel.

H. $1.9 billion: Four-lane lidded trench, two lanes in each direction, with openings in the cover for ventilation and signals on streets north of the Battery Street tunnel. This is a possibility and the price tag is close to the available funds.

The toughest mile of the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct could cost as much as $3.5 billion to replace if the state chooses one of two tunnel options.

But the cost could be as low as $800 million if the viaduct is replaced with surface streets.

The state on Thursday released its cost estimates, and digging a deep bore tunnel would be the most expensive of eight options, at $3.5 billion. The cost of a "cut and cover" tunnel came in at $2.7 billion.

The least-expensive replacements would be surface options ranging in cost from $800 million to $900 million.

The state will narrow the options to two or three in December. Gov. Christine Gregoire will then choose a preferred option by the end of the year.

The Legislature appropriated $2.8 billion for replacing the viaduct, but the state has already spent or committed more than $1 billion, mostly on rebuilding the south end. An elevated viaduct or a surface option could be done with available funds.

Rising materials costs would have boosted the prices even higher, but in the last few months, the state has been looking at four-lane highway designs, instead of the six-lane versions favored earlier this decade. Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the change has helped keep an elevated version, for example, close to the $2.8 billion previously allocated.

The cost of the most-expensive choice — the $3.5 billion bored tunnel for the central mile — is far above the money earmarked by the Legislature.

But Ron Paananen, who heads the state Department of Transportation viaduct project, said that doesn't mean a tunnel option is off the table.

"It's too early to answer the question, if there's enough money," he said.

Paananen also released a document listing 56 other funding possibilities, including federal congestion mitigation funds, tolls on state roads systemwide and even the sale of naming rights to a new viaduct.

Other options could add to the costs: adding another lane to northbound Interstate 5; adding more streetcars downtown and in Seattle neighborhoods; greatly expanding transit; and requiring that businesses subsidize transit passes.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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