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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Olympia

Goodbye, Seattle’s tunnel?

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."

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.