February 21, 2007

The Stranger has an excellent write-up on the Viaduct advisory vote here in Seattle next month. Key points:
  • A new viaduct would be "on average, 71 percent larger than the current viaduct, not 50 percent—in large part because modern safety standards require wider lanes."
  • Any views currently enjoyed from the Viaduct would be blocked by "a solid 32-inch-high wall and a 10-inch open rail—another casualty of modern safety standards."
  • "The lengthy construction means the new viaduct wouldn't be ready for use until as late as 2020."
  • A new Viaduct comes with a $3 billion sticker price, but "factor in financing, inflation, and the inevitable cost overruns, and it will likely be much more. (The firm designing the new elevated freeway, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is the same firm that said Boston's Big Dig could be built for $2.6 billion—and that project is currently at $14.6 billion and climbing.)"
  • "No one knows exactly how much the four-lane tunnel would cost; (the mayor) claims it will be no more than $3.4 billion. But ... both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the state's expert review panel have expressed a lack of confidence in the city's cost estimate, saying they have not had enough time to determine whether the $3.4 billion figure is reasonable."
  • The tunnel plan is actually only a tunnel for 13 blocks, converting into an elevated structure at Pike Place Market for the run to the Battery Street Tunnel.
  • "And who would feel safe driving through a tunnel with 11-foot lanes and no shoulders for cars to pull over in case of accident or emergency?"

Instead of spending our limited transportation tax dollars on more concrete for cars, we should ... tear the viaduct down, implement all the surface-street improvements we're going to be doing anyway during the 9 to 12 years the viaduct will be closed for construction, and see if we can get by without it permanently.

King County Executive Ron Sims has already come up with a plan to improve access to downtown during and after viaduct demolition. It's a variation on the "thousand little things" (City Council member) Steinbrueck and others have proposed implementing immediately, before construction on any alternative begins. The proposal, which focuses on downtown and Aurora Avenue—the viaduct's northern extension, which is at surface level, complete with stoplights and crosswalks—would create all-day transit lanes, remove on-street parking, turn one-way streets into two-way streets to improve traffic flow, make several streets transit-only, and expand bus service to neighborhoods that currently rely on the viaduct.

And there's a downloadable PDF with lovely renderings of what we have and what we should have.

Tear down the Viaduct. Forget the Tunnel. Give us regional light rail before 2027. Give us reliable and improved bus service that everyone feels comfortable riding. Give us ways of getting where we need to go without driving. That will make us a "world-class" city.

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