Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Viaduct replacement chaos

A political war has reached a new climax in the Emerald City and the Evergreen State and it's not likely to get any less intense anytime soon. (For an overview of the latest developments, this Seattle Times story by Bob Young is a good primer). There are so many different factions in the fight that it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus to reach a decision.

First there are the factions that support only one of the replacement options:
  • New elevated highway
  • Tunnel
  • Surface/Transit (Long term solution)
  • Remove the viaduct and implement a mitigation plan (short term solution)
Then there are factions that are more open minded and support more than one of the above options (for example, tunnel or new viaduct, tunnel or surface/transit). There is yet another faction making the ridiculous argument for a retrofit.

Mixed into this now are two new dueling factions - one of which wants Olympia to break through the political gridlock and the other which is defending home rule and Seattle's right to have a say. Along these new lines there's a third group, comprised of people from both of the above mentioned dueling factions, which supports moving the funds committed to the viaduct over to the State Route 520 bridge project if progress can't be made quickly.

Even more confusing, a number of people who were previously in one faction are now in another. (For example, the Governor previously was agreeable to a tunnel or new viaduct but now she apparently supports only the latter).

Local commentators in the traditional media, along with newspaper editorial boards, have been bemoaning the lack of action, but they, like everyone else, have an opinion on what should happen to the viaduct.

Is anybody really to blame? It's so easy to attack the Governor, or Mayor Nickels, probably the two highest profile figures in this political conflict. But the electorate appears to be on all sides of this too. Around the Web, on local websites, blogs, and forums, there is division and disagreement about the issue of the viaduct's replacement - reflecting what is happening between political leaders.

The Seattle City Council is divided, the House and Senate are divided - even the Seattle delegation to the Legislature is divided! Throw in the mayor and the governor, who are sticking to their guns, plus a whole army of activists and interest group leaders, and you have a recipe for chaos.

We can all agree on one thing - we need to do something (whether that means tear down the viaduct and replace it with a new structure, or tear it down because it's unsafe and see if we can mitigate its loss, or tear it down and implement long term solutions, or retrofit it). But we can't agree on what to do. Almost all of us are saying no action is not an option...and we're right.

Some people, like Speaker Chopp, now seem dead set on forcing a new viaduct through (which we think is a strategic mistake on his part). Trying to push large groups of people out of the way is not an approach that is likely to yield results. The City Council is hoping the advisory vote will lead to a way out, but there's no guarantee that Seattle voters will send a clear message.

If the March vote does not lead to a consensus, this battle may very well move into the judicial system with a storm of litigation in the not too distant future.

<< Home