What Will Seattle Look Like, Post-Alaskan Way Viaduct?

In an editorial on Monday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer threw its 2 cents into the pot, regarding heated debates over what Seattle should do to plan for the teardown of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The PI points out that planning 25 years in advance is an opportunity to look to alternatives which take into account future viewpoints on transit and highway development.


“2030? Who knows what the next 24 years could bring, in expanded transit, rising sea levels, gas prices, vehicle technology? Is the traditional approach of providing for increasing auto capacity the right basis for spending billions of public dollars and, more important, for designing Seattle’s next 100 years?”

Read the full editorial here.

On Wednesday, the paper reported what many already contended: that the cost to replace the Viaduct could drastically rise from what previous figures estimate. And today, what many people assumed was verified when revised cost estimates were released and costs went up by almost 30%.

As a direct result of these inflated costs, attention has turned to the study done by Smart Mobility, which CNT and the Congress for the New Urbanism commissioned, which gave an “incomplete” to the traffic studies done by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and presented an analysis of a third alternative, the “Transit + Streets” plan proposed by the People’s Waterfront Coalition. The plan can accommodate traffic and help the region focus efforts in creating more alternate transit options, and recommended a restudy including serious reconsideration of this option.

The study has been presented to Seattle’s City Council and challenges the two main options Seattle is considering when the Viaduct is torn down; those being to either replace it with a tunnel or a giant, elevated highway. The study points out that replacing the Viaduct is not necessary and like Wednesday’s PI story points out, not cost-effective.

To read the plan that Smart Mobility, CNT and CNU believe is the best transportation solution for the region, click here.

The saga continues today with the Council meeting to decide whether the public will have a say in the matters. And check out the Post-Intelligencer’s Op-Ed piece today written by Scott Bernstein and John Norquist of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

4 Responses to “What Will Seattle Look Like, Post-Alaskan Way Viaduct?”

  1. Kerry Peterson Says:

    When I first visited Chicago, Wacker Drive was nearing the completion of its refurbishment. The reconstruction was featured on the cover of the American Society of Civil Engineers. A remarkable achievement, keeping traffic moving while reviving the corridor.

    Chicagoans may relate to the challenges of what Seattle is going through in selecting a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Paralleling Elliott Bay, the two stacked elevated roadways over waterfront streets forms the viaduct portion of State Highway 99. The Viaduct and Interstate 5 are the two major north-south regional transportation corridors through downtown Seattle. The viaduct also serves one of the largest ports on the West Coast. Transportation remains a multi-modal bottleneck for the Port of Seattle’s maritime commerce.

    The Seattle City Council chose against letting citizens vote on the proposals. They decided to endorse a pruned-back tunnel option to replace the viaduct. The ‘transit + streets’ plan was adopted as a fall-back, if the tunnel costs exceed financing. City politicians obviously find replacing the viaduct unpalatable.

    The final decision will be made by Governor Christine Gregoire.

    Try getting through Seattle when the viaduct is closed. That will give you an idea what traffic would be like with the surface street option. Add in the delay and congestion caused by events in the two sports stadiums located within a stone’s throw of Highway 99. Sprinkle in the trucks and the rail traffic along the waterfront.

    Then look me in the eye and tell me that ‘transit+streets’ is the best transportation solution for the region.

    The elevated highway option would maintain what is there without bankrupting the taxpayer. I do not believe that Chicago would have allowed a ‘big dig’, or simply tearing down Wacker. I hope that our region will reach the same conclusion.

  2. From Peter Steinbrueck's Op-Ed Piece Says:

    Peter Steinbrueck is a member of the Seattle City Council and chairs its Urban Development and Planning Committee. The following was posted today in the Seattle-Times:

    “The replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is not a crisis, but an opportunity. The viaduct replacement can result in a 21st-century transportation solution that not only improves mobility, but enhances Seattle’s land use, helps in the battle against climate change and strengthens our local economy.

    To realize these ambitious goals, we must let go of our outmoded 20th-century concept that good transportation planning is only about building freeways and moving cars.

    A sustainable future for Seattle requires us to look at the full integration of transportation with land use, growth management and environmental policy.

    It is crucial now that we make the right choices. It is time to develop a serious, thorough plan for a surface and transit replacement of the aging viaduct that reduces our auto dependency by providing better choices.

    Unfortunately, the Washington state Legislature has mandated that Seattle choose between a $2.8 billion rebuild of an elevated freeway (estimated to be about 50 percent larger than the current one) and a $4.6 billion six-lane tunnel. Last month, the Washington state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released new estimates of the costs for both mega-projects that soared by $1 billion to $1.8 billion for the tunnel and $460 million to $900 million for the rebuild. You can bet the costs will only go up.

    When it came time for the Seattle City Council to choose between these two bad alternatives, I reluctantly supported the tunnel option because it is the only choice currently allowed by the state that maintains capacity for 130,000 vehicles while advancing our community’s vision for reconnecting the city with the central waterfront.

    Limiting our choices to a new elevated freeway or a tunnel ignores the great potential we have to achieve not only a more cost-effective and environmentally sound transportation solution, but remove a blighted condition, spur economic development and add open space to meet our growing city’s needs.

    Looming over all of our decisions about transportation in the Seattle area is the scary reality of climate change. The scientific evidence is irrefutable — global warming is real. In Seattle, nearly 50 percent of the emissions that contribute to climate change come from burning fossil fuels for our transportation system.

    Since both the tunnel and elevated freeway options are now seriously underfunded, state legislators should seize the opportunity to re-examine this problem. There are two key decision makers who can help move this debate forward. Both have shown strong leadership on global warming.

    The first is Mayor Greg Nickels, who has launched a national initiative to have cities take over the leadership on climate change from a clueless president. While the mayor’s first choice is the tunnel, he supports the City Council’s resolution that designates a surface and transit alternative as a backup. Since the tunnel will likely prove to be unaffordable and does not take a single car off of our streets, the mayor should recognize we can do much better than that.

    WSDOT’s preliminary study showed that 28 percent of the 110,000 vehicle trips that use the viaduct daily could be eliminated by the surface option as people choose alternative destinations, perhaps shopping or doing business closer to home. And that’s only a start. Add high-capacity mass-transit service to the corridor and suddenly you give Seattleites a real choice: They can be stuck in heavily congested traffic on a viaduct or in a tunnel, or they can move quickly on a fast, frequent and reliable mass-transit system that is far less polluting.

    The second decision maker is Gov. Christine Gregoire. The governor has shown outstanding leadership on climate change. She helped pass the state’s clean-car legislation in 2005 and earlier this year she successfully championed a biofuels package that will reduce vehicle emissions.

    “We are a coastal state fighting desperately against global warming,” she said last year. Surely as she looks at the bad choices the state Legislature put before her to replace the viaduct, she has to realize there is a better choice and a wiser investment. And the final decision rests with her.

    There are many questions that remain about a surface and transit alternative. What is the best form of high-capacity transit in the viaduct corridor? Which agencies can we partner with? How much would such a plan cost? How many people could it move? How would it be funded? And how can we ensure commercial traffic gets through fast and efficiently?

    We don’t know the answers yet because leaders won’t commit to seriously studying a 21st-century transportation solution. Old ways are hard to change! We can’t afford to miss this opportunity, so let’s get started now.”

  3. Tunnel Resurfacing | hugeasscity Says:

    [...] the tunnel is a waste of money is not new, and as the debate is not over, this 2006 study on the “No-replacement Option” is good refresher course.  Lots juicy info, like how conservative modeling done by Parsons [...]

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