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Eye On Olympia

What the hell?

After months of political jousting over how to replace Seattle’s decades-old Alaskan Way Viaduct, the voters there have spoken.

The question: How to replace the ugly, noisy elevated highway along Seattle’s otherwise-scenic waterfront? The cheaper option, although not cheap, is to simply replace it with another elevated highway. But Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, declaring this a once-in-a-century chance to replace the eyesore, lobbied hard for a tunnel along the waterfront, albeit one that would cost at least hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and lawmakers balked, saying the tunnel is too expensive for taxpayers. Gregoire called for a vote on the options, hoping that Seattle would want the tunnel enough to agree to pony up the extra cash to pay for it.

Doing nothing is not an option, she repeatedly said, noting engineers’ worries that the Viaduct will pancake in the next major Puget Sound earthquake. And if that happens and people die, she said over and over, everyone will be furiously trying to place blame for why the structure wasn’t replaced sooner.

Instead, Nickels pushed ahead with a slimmed-down “Tunnel Lite” that would be somewhat cheaper, but still more than an elevated highway.

So which did Seattle choose? A simple elevated replacement? Or Tunnel Lite?

Neither, as it turns out.

–Nearly 70 percent voted against Tunnel Lite.
–and more than 55 percent voted against the elevated freeway.

No..and no?

So most Seattle voters don’t like either plan. And yet doing nothing is not an option.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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