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Eye On Olympia

Deep boring and big money…

This is more of a Seattle topic, but since everybody’s going to be paying for it:

After years of chin-pulling and line-in-the-sand drawing, the governor, King County executive, Seattle’s mayor and the CEO of the Port of Seattle have agreed to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a “deep bored tunnel” under Seattle’s downtown. The $4.2 billion plan also includes more bus service, improvements to side streets, an upgraded waterfront and a new seawall.

“There are privotal moments when great cities make history,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. The plan, he said, improves public transit, while “reclaim(ing) our destiny as a true waterfront city, tearing down an elevated highway and re-connecting Seattle to Elliott Bay.” (The decades-old viaduct is a raised concrete double-decker highway running along downtown Seattle’s waterfront.)

The state has pledged $2.8 billion toward the project, which it hoes will pay for the two-mile-long, four-lane tunnel and restoring the land under the soon-to-be-demolished Viaduct to a four-lane street.

House Speaker Frank Chopp had a lukewarm reaction, saying he’s worried about the potential for cost overruns.

“This plan already requires at least $1.8 billion in additional taxes from Seattle and King County residents,” he said in a statement (which I’ve posted in its entirety below). “Will they also be on the hook for the overruns? Boston’s `Big Dig’ was estimated to cost $4 billion. It ended up costing many billions more.”

UPDATE: Look for some unease in the Senate with this plan, seeing as how the Senate thought only $2.4 billion in state money was set aside for this project. (The other $400 million was shifted into a “risk pool” that would include cost overruns on the SR 520 floating bridge replacement project.



Statement from Speaker Frank Chopp regarding today’s viaduct announcement:
 
Today’s announcement regarding the of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will now be considered along with the many other budget requests submitted to the Legislature, which is responsible for making the final decision regarding the state’s project.
 
I still have some homework to do on this proposal.
 
My main concerns at this point are:
A tunnel is the most expensive option, particularly since this proposal is significantly longer than the previous tunnel options.  There is a real possibility for cost overruns.  This plan already requires at least $1.8 billion in additional taxes from Seattle and King County residents.  Will they also be on the hook for the overruns? (Boston’s “Big Dig” was estimated to cost $4 billion – it ended up costing many billions more.)
Seattle voters rejected a similar tunnel option by 70% — is this option going to be more acceptable to the people?
Will this option meet the needs of people north and south of Seattle who rely on this corridor to get to work and to move their products?
 
I’m sure these and other concerns will be discussed as the Legislature considers this recommendation.  I look forward to the discussion.
 


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

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