Not to get too carried away with the whole “should we tunnel or not” question in downtown Seattle, but the plot thickens on that front (or waterfront, if you prefer).

Not only does the Seattle City Council still aim to replace the aging—and elevated—Alaskan Way Viaduct with the world’s widest single-bore transportation tunnel (56 feet for those keeping score), but Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn still can’t let the idea of letting the tunnel idea go forward gain positive traction.

And while all that bickering goes on, engineers want to sink their teeth into planning a new Central Waterfront Project. That is, engineers—and landscape architects and planners—and 30 different groups who joined in on a RFQ of how to redesign public life over and around the tunnel. That is, of course, assuming a tunnel actually happens.

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The Seattle council still says a tunnel presents the best fix for the 1953 elevated highway sitting atop fill soil that sustained damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, even if McGinn wants to back peddle on that.

The $2 billion tunnel is the largest piece of the over $3 billion needed on the viaduct replacement, but there remains millions more needed for a new waterfront park, new seawall and surface streets.

With only two teams (down from four earlier in 2010) left working on the October tunnel bid deadline—Seattle Tunneling Group made up of Illinois’ S.A. Healy Co., Spain’s FCC Construction, the Seattle office of S.A. Parsons Transportation Group and the Vancouver, B.C., office of Halcrow and Seattle Tunnel Partners, which is New York’s Dragados and the Bellevue office of HNTB Corp.—final decisions on the tunnel are still months away.

But that hasn’t stopped the City of Seattle from working toward an effort for the waterfront and seawall plans to mesh together. With 30 teams submitting bids for the urban design and public space portion of the RFQ, another six proposals came in for the project management, engineering, environmental and technical track, according to the Seattle Dept. of Transportation. SDOT plans to shortlist those bids for public comment on Sept. 15 and choose a winner by the end of that month.

A great step, surely. Seattle badly needs a fresh design on its waterfront. Removing the viaduct might be step one, but building the tunnel isn’t the final step. Getting quality surface overlay of the tunnel is vastly needed too.

With the end goal of tunnel completion in 2016 coinciding with the seawall construction, the new waterfront work won’t be far behind.

The culture of Seattle relies on engineers—and landscape architects and planners—to create spaces that make the cost of a tunnel worth it. There needs to be community space, water-touching opportunities and open space that promotes diversity of pedestrian uses on the waterfront. Without proper planning and engineering to make that possible atop a tunnel and in an urban environment, the cost and effort of the tunnel becomes moot.