Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Still another reason to support the Alaskan Way Tunnel

Numerous proponents of the Alaskan Way Viaduct "rebuild" option have often said that they want a new viaduct because they want to keep the sweeping view you can enjoy while driving on the current structure.

Seattle's deputy mayor, Tim Ceis, has bad news for them:
Any new structure built to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct would not only be 50 percent wider but would obstruct the panoramic views for many drivers, the Seattle City Council was told Monday.

"Views would be gone for cars," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "People counting on views would be out of luck."

Many people who support rebuilding the viaduct cite the sweeping views along the waterfront as their main reason for preferring that to a tunnel.

Ceis said drivers of taller vehicles, like SUVs and trucks, probably would still see the waterfront. But the view from most passenger cars would be a blank wall. He said the Federal Highway Administration said lane barriers on a new viaduct would have to be solid, unlike those on the viaduct today.
The tunnel's only real disadvantage is cost. It's true that this would indeed be a significant investment for the city (and the region). But it is an investment worth making.

The tunnel option simply has the most advantages:
  • Safety. The most important advantage. The Alaskan Way Tunnel will be exceptionally safe from both earthquakes and fires. It will have a state of the art traffic communications system, along with full shoulders, lane widths and emergency access.
  • Open up the Waterfront. The current viaduct is a barrier. It divides the downtown area and the waterfront. But a tunnel will allow for open space and revitalization of the waterfront. The waterfront could become a truly great public place.
  • Lower noise levels. The tunnel option is expected to have noticeably lower noise levels in the central waterfront compared to today, making the area more pleasant for pedestrians, residents, and nearby businesses. Reducing nose pollution would also help revitalize the waterfront and make it attractive for tourists - an economic benefit.
  • More environmentally friendly. Constructing a tunnel (and tearing down the concrete viaduct) will lead to less air and water pollution, leading to a cleaner waterfront.
  • The tunnel would not take as long to construct. The state estimates construction of the tunnel would take seven to 10 years, while the "rebuild" option would take 11 to 12 years.
  • A new viaduct would be bigger. The "rebuild" option will mean that we get a viaduct that is 50% wider than the current structure. We don't need a bigger, uglier concrete structure killing the waterfront for the next half century or longer.
  • View will be lost anyway. As Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis explained to the city, a new viaduct won't give many drivers the "sweeping view" they enjoy from the current structure (unless perhaps you own a truck or SUV). That eliminates the ridiculous argument that we need a new viaduct to preserve a beautiful drive.
The tunnel option simply makes the most sense. The only remaining hurdle is financing. But that's a challenge that can be met. Mayor Greg Nickels will have to work exceptionally hard to continue building support for this long term investment.

He also needs to realize that the city has another megaproject on its hands: the State Route 520 floating bridge, which also needs replacement.

Nickels needs to listen to the concerns of Eastside leaders and work with them (and the state) to come up with a plan for moving forward on replacing the bridge. They have until mid-2007.

Voters in the central Puget Sound will be voting on a regional transit and roads package in November of next year which will likely include key funding for both megaprojects, along with a host of other projects - many which will come from the board of Sound Transit.

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