The worst thing about the governor playing hot potato with the Alaskan Way viaduct decision is that the potato she has tossed to the voters is rotten. The six-lane tunnel is unaffordable, and a new Viaduct would be a monstrosity that violates Seattle zoning codes and shoreline protection ordinances.
Our leaders should refuse to play the governor’s game and demand the state to go back to the drawing board. No good options for the voters to consider, no vote. But if the City Council does force a vote, we should have a strict up-or-down ballot on a new viaduct. That way, we can reply to the state when it tries to sell us its only “feasible” option: “No, thanks. You can keep your rotten potato!”
After that, what should we ask for instead? Once we ask the tough questions about what we can afford and what our priorities should be, the answer comes easily: the transit/streets strategy of modernizing the street grid, developing freight-priority lanes, and investing in mass transit, vanpools, and carpools.
Are there alternatives to a waterfront highway?
We have no choice but to look. A gaping hole of $30 billion sits between the region’s anticipated tax revenues and its plans for transportation spending through 2030. The State faces a $2 billion funding shortfall for the 520 bridge replacement alone. Our transportation policy is bankrupt.
We need to be smarter with our road resources. In downtown alone, 44 percent of the land is already set aside for streets and sidewalks. Citywide, it is 26 percent. Surely we can find new solutions for using all of that space to move people and freight without building new highways.
What is the most cost-effective way to transport people and freight in the SR-99 corridor through downtown?
The state has only $2.4 billion in hand to pay for a viaduct replacement, yet it wants to burden the taxpayers with a new $2.8 billion viaduct or a bloated six-lane tunnel that weighs in at $4.6 billion. Transit/streets would cost $1.6 billion at most. The state could spend the savings on 520.
How much do we care about our waterfront?
We should care a lot. The economic benefits of the tunnel were calculated as $3 billion to $3.6 billion. Elliott Bay is a jewel that the old viaduct has stolen from the city. Let’s reclaim it. We do not need the tunnel boondoggle to reconnect the city to the waterfront; transit/streets does the same thing for less money.
Can transit/streets really work? What about all the cars on the viaduct?
Focus on moving people, not just cars. Once we do, we know how transit/streets would work. To use road capacity more efficiently during the morning and afternoon rush, the city could partner with Metro to offer more vanpool and carpool services.
Throughout the day, more Metro bus service — especially through the SR-99 corridor — could massively expand the number of people moving through Seattle’s streets. Metro carries 300,000 passengers today. Let’s see what the system can really do with improvements like traffic signal prioritization for buses, curbside pay stations, and more express service.
For cars, the Seattle street grid has a surprising amount of unused capacity. To the south, Airport Way, Sixth Ave. S., and Fourth Ave. S. can handle more vehicles. To the north, frequently-empty Dexter Ave. N., Sixth Ave., Seventh Ave., Ninth Ave., and Boren could tag-team with Aurora Ave. to whisk cars to and from the city center. Hundreds of additional micro-improvements, from signal timing to lane management, could boost the car-carrying efficiency of our existing streets.
When do we get serious about our pledges to invest more in transit and other transportation alternatives?
Now. Lavishing billions of dollars in taxpayer money on a highway for 140,000 cars per day would be a giant step in the wrong direction.
Critics of transit/streets say that we need a new highway because we do not have the right transit system in place yet. But if we keep waiting for better transit to magically appear one day, and only build roads in the meanwhile, our transit future will never come.
BY GARY MANCA AND SEAN HOWELL, Guest Writers
Gary Manca and Sean Howell are founders and boardmembers of Friends of Seattle, a membership-based advocacy group whose mission is to inspire elected officials and fellow voters to support a more urban, livable, and sustainable city. They propose policy reforms, lobby elected officials, and support political campaigns. Join or find out more at www.friendsofseattle.org.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/01/10/jan-10-2007-entire-issue