NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Seattle decisively votes to bless construction of deep-bore tunnel for State Route 99

The State of Wash­ing­ton’s project to replace the aging, crum­bling Alaskan Way Viaduct has just received its final polit­i­cal green light.

After endur­ing sev­er­al months of debates, forums, and adver­tise­ments, Seat­tle vot­ers have resound­ing­ly cho­sen to bless the con­struc­tion of a deep bore tun­nel under down­town. Ear­ly returns indi­cate a land­slide vic­to­ry for Let’s Move For­ward, the pro-tun­nel cam­paign, which is com­mand­ing almost 60% of the vote.

The news was almost imme­di­ate­ly wel­comed by Gov­er­nor Chris Gre­goire, who has been defend­ing the state’s deci­sion to move for­ward with the tun­nel for months.

“Seat­tle vot­ers sent a mes­sage loud and clear with this vote – enough is enough,” the gov­er­nor said in a statement.

“After ten years of debate, hun­dreds of pub­lic meet­ings and tech­ni­cal stud­ies, and thou­sands of pub­lic com­ments, it is time to move for­ward with­out delay.”

“We are com­mit­ted to this part­ner­ship and will con­tin­ue to work with the pub­lic, the city of Seat­tle, King Coun­ty, Port of Seat­tle, the con­trac­tors and many oth­ers to ensure that we com­plete the tun­nel on time and on bud­get,” the gov­er­nor added.

The lop­sided returns seemed to catch the anti-tun­nel cam­paign, Pro­tect Seat­tle Now, off-guard. As of 10:30 PM, NPI had yet to receive an offi­cial state­ment from the cam­paign com­ment­ing on the results via e‑mail.

The cam­paign has, how­ev­er, have admit­ted defeat to reporters who are at its par­ty. (The scene there has been described as sub­dued, and I don’t doubt that’s the case).  Seat­tle May­or Mike McGinn, whose sup­port­ers helped engi­neer the ref­er­en­dum, was not at the Havana tonight, but his ally on the city coun­cil, Mike O’Brien, was, along with many of McGin­n’s own staff.

O’Brien, at least, was gra­cious in defeat, acknowl­edg­ing that vot­ers had spo­ken deci­sive­ly and that the project now need­ed to go forward.

For his part, McGinn issued a terse state­ment moments ago which sim­ply read,  “I worked to give the pub­lic a direct vote on the tun­nel. The pub­lic said move ahead with the tun­nel, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Actu­al­ly, McGinn did more than attempt to give his con­stituents a chance to weigh in: he tried to per­suade Seat­tle to join him in con­demn­ing the project so he would have ammu­ni­tion for future bat­tles with the City Coun­cil and region­al leaders.

But the vote he and his sup­port­ers engi­neered has backfired.

Instead of giv­ing him the polit­i­cal cov­er he want­ed to con­tin­ue his onslaught against the tun­nel, Seat­tle has blessed the effort to build it.

McGinn and O’Brien have sug­gest­ed for some time that their col­leagues (the eight Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­bers who sup­port the tun­nel) were out of touch with the peo­ple they rep­re­sent. But now they’re the ones who look out of touch. They staked a lot on this ref­er­en­dum, and they lost big.

It is true that they were out­spent, but that’s not the rea­son they lost (they were very vis­i­ble despite hav­ing less mon­ey). They lost because they mis­read the elec­torate. They cam­paigned con­fi­dent­ly and force­ful­ly, but their enthu­si­asm was more impres­sive than their argu­ments. I wit­nessed this myself when I attend­ed a City­Club forum on Ref­er­en­dum 1 a cou­ple weeks ago.

I felt Mike O’Brien (who spoke for Pro­tect Seat­tle Now) showed more pas­sion in attack­ing the tun­nel than Kate Jon­cas (who spoke for Let’s Move For­ward) did in defend­ing it. On that score, he won. He appeared more adept and sound­ed more pol­ished. But while his ener­gy and pas­sion made him seem like the more effec­tive debater, the points he made just weren’t that compelling.

He tac­it­ly admit­ted that Pro­tect Seat­tle Now was try­ing to use the ref­er­en­dum to start the process of decid­ing what to do with the viaduct all over again. He hurt his own cause by invit­ing his con­stituents to imag­ine anoth­er decade of bick­er­ing over the viaduct at the local, region­al, and state levels.

And he nev­er pre­sent­ed a con­crete alter­na­tive to the deep-bore tun­nel. He failed to answer the ques­tion, If not this, then what?

All he had to offer was a well-rehearsed cri­tique of what the state, the region, and his eight oth­er col­leagues on the city coun­cil have already com­mit­ted to.

I was left think­ing, Why don’t you just direct your ener­gy towards try­ing to improve this project? Get the Leg­is­la­ture to approve the tran­sit fund­ing that’s sup­posed to be in the plan. Hold WSDOT to its promis­es. Look out for city tax­pay­ers. But watch­dog the tun­nel instead of try­ing to kill it. 

For too long, McGinn, O’Brien, and their sup­port­ers have allowed them­selves to be dis­tract­ed from a great many oth­er press­ing issues because they have been so fix­at­ed on try­ing to undo the tun­nel. As a con­se­quence, I sense that many peo­ple view them more as crit­ics than as leaders.

They have an oppor­tu­ni­ty now to reverse this unfair char­ac­ter­i­za­tion by direct­ing their ener­gy towards more fruit­ful endeav­ors… like expand­ing Seat­tle’s street­car net­work, or work­ing on replac­ing the decay­ing water­front seawall.

The tun­nel is ulti­mate­ly the state’s respon­si­bil­i­ty, not the city’s. The city cer­tain­ly must and should be involved. But this project should­n’t have a monop­oly on Seat­tle’s polit­i­cal oxy­gen. The city faces many oth­er prob­lems that it needs its elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives — includ­ing May­or McGinn — to solve. Hope­ful­ly, some of the oth­er prob­lems will now begin to receive more attention.

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One Comment

  1. That GDam Tun­nel is a Total Mon­ey Wast­ing POS that is going to do noth­ing to improve traf­fic flow throug Seat­tle, and is noth­ing more than a land grab so rich devel­op­ers can put up huge gener­ic ugly con­dos on the water­front ala Alki, ala SoCal. While the com­plaint is that the viaduct cuts off the water­front from down­town, think about how lit­tle light and access­abil­i­ty 8 sto­ries of con­dos are going to impose. Also the tun­nel neck­ing down to 4 lanes from 6 is against WSDOT own rules of new projects need­ing to improve traf­fic flow not impede it. Cou­pled with a toll of $5 to $7 each way, every­bod­ies going to take sur­face streets any­way. The whole thing stinks.

    # by RadarRacerX :: August 17th, 2011 at 7:25 PM

One Ping

  1. […] Seat­tle deci­sive­ly votes to bless con­struc­tion of deep-bore tun­nel for State Route 99 […]

    Ping from Morning Rundown for August 19th, 2011 :: August 19th, 2011 at 9:42 AM
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