From what I understand, the city had a window of time to develop plans to receive federal funding to replace the defunct viaduct. Of 3 proposals, the tunnel plan was put forth by city and state administration as the best feasible option, both for the waterfront and for using the federal money. Arguments against turning this stretch of 99/Aurora into a surface street include the slowing of traffic and the increased traffic it would likely add to our other nearby expressway, I-5. It would also remain noisy, like the viaduct, although Seattleites have stopped complaining about the noise for some time now. Arguments against the tunnel include the fear that the project will go the way of Boston’s Big Dig, which was drastically more costly than first projected. I want to replace the viaduct only because it is unsafe, particularly in the event of another earthquake. It’s replacement has been battled for a long time, long before I lived here, so I am certain there is a level of impatience and more factors than I have yet encountered. If you are a city resident who fears the viaduct, one solution is to choose to not use it.
However, I am still alarmed that nobody seems to notice that the phrase WATERFRONT TUNNEL is an oxymoron. I hope a Hollywood producer is just waiting for this tunnel to produce a summer blockbuster disaster film where residents are trapped in their cars, under water, in a tunnel. I am not without faith in human engineering, but I am without faith in American public works in the past few decades: we continually say that something that extreme would never happen, then cry as mother nature slaps our knuckles with a bevy of storms. Even though we are supposedly the most powerful and wealthy country, we don’t even treat ourselves to high quality infrastructure. We don’t even produce the steel here to make incredible public infrastructure works anymore.
Residents of the city were outraged to find that something as large and affecting as our major motorway is not done by referendum, but in city administration contracts. We gathered enough signatures to put a referendum to vote, but the tunnel plan still won. The tunnel will also have a toll of up to $4:
“Once finished, the highway is projected to handle less than half the traffic the current viaduct handles, in part because tolls will be charged — they are expected to be as high as $4 — and are likely to prompt many drivers to use free routes. But the tunnel is strongly supported by most top business and political leaders (after Tuesday’s vote, even Mayor McGinn said the city had spoken and the project should go forward) who say it will ease highway traffic through the city, improve transportation routes to the Port of Seattle and open up the waterfront.”
I am dumbfounded why we pushed so hard for federal money and will still collect steep tolls. I am not against the idea of tolls, I am against the idea of both federal money and tolls because the bid for the federal money forced us to take up a poor plan, then we still have to pay. I would have supported tolls or a city wide sales tax increase so we could have at least done it our way. I am unsure what is meant by “ease highway traffic through the city”. With <$4 tolls, I-5 will have increased traffic, which is not easing. Major arterials in the central city will also have increased traffic, which is a burden to residential neighborhoods, pedestrians, and distributes increased infrastructure stress and cost across the city. (Funding has been increased for these repairs too: http://conlin.seattle.gov/2011/08/08/tunnel-project-funds-seattle-street-repairs/)
A surface street plan would also force traffic and stress on I-5 and other streets, but it would not be at the cost of $4 tolls, the large inconvenience of dig construction, the future threat of either natural disaster, or the cost of maintaining a waterfront tunnel.
There are also plans to increase the Seattle Streetcar network http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/future.asp). The only streetcar line currently running is one between downtown and the South Lake Union area. This is not a high traffic area, since new residences are still being built in this formerly warehouse-heavy area. We still have that silly monorail and we also have the Central Link system, which is currently expanding to Capitol Hill and the University District. I support public transit and think many of these lines might have success, but I am concerned that having so many different systems doesn’t increase ride-time efficiency and is costly in administration and infrastructure. Overall I appreciate the amping-up on public transit options, but I don’t understand why the tunnel is a greater partner to this plan instead of a surface street.
Seattle is known across the country as a progressive city (the word progressive is so useless, but since it is the common term, I am using it), but the city has decided to favor federal coddling instead of making its own bold move.