I really am a bit surprised to again find myself writing about the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel project. After all, a decision was made well over a year ago to replace the ancient viaduct—and seismically challenged structure—with a tunnel. The bids have been long opened and a contract is firmly in place. Plus, work is expected to begin on the tunnel later this year.
With all these facts already reported in ENR, you’d think I’d want to wait a bit before revisiting the tunnel. But this time the politics of life are getting in the way of the construction world in the Emerald City. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s supporters formed the Protect Seattle Now group and turned in 29,000 signatures aiming to force a citywide vote on the tunnel project in an effort to kill it. Yes, the same tunnel that appears to be moving forward. Finally.
McGinn claims to be scared that any cost overruns of the $1.96 billion 1.7-mile bored tunnel (the greater viaduct replacement project is $3.1 billion) could get pegged to Seattle taxpayers. The state has already said numerous times that won’t be the case. Really McGinn appears to be anti-tunnel because he is anti-car. Instead he proposes erasing the viaduct without a car-centric replacement (i.e. mass transit as really the only alternative). This much was made clear when he was running for mayor.
Those behind the ballot effort want to ask city voters the simple “yes” or “no” question of if they really want a tunnel to replace the viaduct. A “no” keeps the council from signing agreements with contractors.
But the city and the state, including Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, aren’t going to let this effort get to a vote—and massive delay in the project—easily. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes sued to block the referendum. He says the tunnel project is an administrative issue—not legislative—and thus isn’t subject to the referendum effort. Gregoire quickly offered her support for Holmes. McGinn’s reaction? He thinks a group of Seattle City Council members are behind Holmes’ move and isn’t too happy about it at all.
With any delay in this already lengthy process sure to add costs, delay the project and leave the rickety viaduct in tact even longer, pro-construction folk can only hope this item doesn’t get to a vote. But then again, maybe finding out what the people really want will settle this matter once and for all. Yeah, I don’t think so either.