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Originally published Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 3:46 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

McGinn's tunnel vision shouldn't block much-needed viaduct replacement

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is throwing everything he has at the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project — in a clear attempt to stall or kill the tunnel. There comes a time for the mayor to give it up and that time is now.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Every few days, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn hatches a new scheme to delay efforts to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. If McGinn keeps at it, he could become a one-man cost overrun.

Indeed, if McGinn were a cartoon — oops, careful — he would be a cutout shadow figure draped across the front of a huge tunnel boring machine trying to stop it from entering the city gates.

The mayor's latest move came Monday when he asked the City Council to delay contracts until state lawmakers change legislation that tries to lay cost overruns on Seattle area property owners who benefit from the project. Whatever that means.

McGinn's latest dance steps are supposedly about overruns but in reality are about much more. McGinn is a myopic manager who doesn't grasp the needs of aerospace, maritime or other businesses. They require an Interstate 5 and Highway 99 corridor that flows. It's pretty hard to move airplane parts around on a bicycle.

To businesses, the corridor is the Mississippi River for commerce and commuters.

Seattle has long been a bustling port city and manufacturing center. If north-south roadways are jammed, commerce suffers.

The mayor's cars-are-wicked crusade ignores the Silent Seattleite. The big-shouldered worker who keeps the city humming. The mother with three kids who drives her children from place to place. Older citizens who need a car to get to the grocery store or doctor.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and City Attorney Pete Holmes say the legislation attempting to burden an ill-defined group of Seattle area property owners with cost overruns is unenforceable. The governor, a former attorney general, says the legislation expresses intent and another law would be required to enforce it.

The dreaded clause McGinn is so worried about was inserted into the legislation by House Speaker Frank Chopp as a way of expressing his opposition and concerns about the tunnel.

Last Friday, the mayor said he hired his own consultant to study risks of tunneling. The $44,000 he plans to pay isn't much, but here is the safest wager in town: Want to bet the consultant says the tunnel is packed with uncertainties and trouble?

City Council President Richard Conlin called the consultant's hiring an incredible waste of money. "This is the time to move the contract forward," said Conlin. "We have the best opportunity to take advantage of the contract environment. Bids are coming in 15 to 20 percent below engineering estimates."

A lousy economy has to be good for something, though that doesn't mean the viaduct will be below estimates. It does mean this is a competitive environment.

If McGinn were sincere about not trying to block the project — and merely trying to protect the taxpayer — he would simply call his pal, Chopp, and negotiate in good faith to get the language removed.

But the mayor is not sincere. His moves are designed to kill a project vital to the region.

McGinn has become more and more of a lone ranger on this issue. The viaduct battle is not a dispute between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, downtown versus neighborhoods.

The dust-up features a Democratic mayor fighting a Democratic governor and a Democratic City Council, which should override him if he vetoes contracts with the state.

McGinn's title may be mayor of Seattle but he continues to govern as the de facto leader of the Sierra Club. He has picked a fight with people who simply want to travel from one end of the city to the other.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

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