Flexing her political muscles – and making some Seattle leaders very unhappy, Gov. Chris Gregoire has given the Emerald City an ultimatum: agree to a simple $2.8 billion replacement of the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct or the money will go elsewhere*.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has been pushing hard for a $4.6 billion “cut-and-cover” tunnel instead. It would be century-long mistake, he says, to replace the “ugly” concrete elevated highway running along Seattle’s waterfront with…another concrete elevated highway.
Few dispute the need to replace the built-on-fill Viaduct, which is literally crumbling, slowly sinking in places, and thought to be prone to a catastrophic collapse in the region’s next major earthquake.
But the issue, as ever, is how much to spend. Nickels – trying to make the case that the tunnel was do-able -- had penciled out a series of federal grants and other dollars for the more-expensive tunnel project. Gregoire last month essentially called that unrealistic.
On Tuesday, according to the Seattle Times, Nickels pitched a smaller, cheaper version of the tunnel to a skeptical Gregoire and legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. No way, Gregoire said.
Nickels says he still wants to do something the governor suggested: hold a city-wide vote and ask Seattle voters if they want the more-expensive project (which would be paid for by people in transportation districts throughout Puget Sound and – via the gas tax – everyone in the state.).
Nickels wants to hold the vote April 24th. But that’s two days after the Legislature is slated to go home. No dice, lawmakers say.
*”Elsewhere”, by the way, is yet another Seattle-area multi-billion dollar transportation project: the SR 520 floating bridge.
Suburban Puget Sound Republicans also want to shift the money to widening congested I-405, which parallels I-5 east of Seattle.
UPDATE: Weighing in this morning were Reps. Helen Sommers and Mary Lou Dickerson, both D-Seattle, who pointed out that Seattle residents approved a 2005 gas tax at least partly out of belief that replacing the Viaduct was a priority, rather than steering that cash to the 520 bridge project.
"Emotions are high right now, but we hope that cooler heads will prevail," they said in a joint statement. "We will be encouraging the governor to support the rebuild option and hope that the people of Seattle will do likewise."