As a Belltown resident, I’ve got a great view of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I should, because the thing is fifty feet outside my window! Fifty feet! When I wake up every morning, I look out my window at the rush hour traffic whizzing by on the Eisenhower-era structure. The Viaduct is not some political abstraction for me.
There’s a debate about how to replace the Viaduct. Some folks want a tunnel, or a rebuild, or what is being called the “roads and transit” option. Lots of people are against the tunnel option, but not all of those folks are for another viaduct. A new viaduct will be at least thirty percent wider than the current viaduct, thanks to modern DOT guidelines. Maybe it made sense in the 1950’s to build freeways through the city’s core, but it sure seems like a bad idea these days.
Do we need to replace the car capacity? Not necessarily. Plenty of car trips made on the viaduct could be made on arterial streets. We could mitigate the West Seattle to Downtown and Ballard to Downtown routes. Most Viaduct users make local trips. Is it cost effective to spend billions on a mile of roadway? It may not matter what a Seattle guy like me thinks, as these big decisions are made in Olympia. If only Seattle had an ace up their sleeve, a power broker with influence to spare, someone to push for a progressive solution. Someone like…
He’s the ‘big dog’ of the Democrats, and he’s against a tunnel. He’s corralled a bunch of Democrats into signing a letter stating the tunnel option is a bad idea. Big shots like Frank can stop things, but what plan would Chopp actually go for?
Here’s a snippet of The Stranger’s Josh Feit’s interview with Rep. Frank Chopp.
Then Chopp surprised me again: “That leaves two alternatives that I’m very open to.” He started sketching again, drawing two options he felt hadn’t been given a fair hearing. “One is the surface transit option,” he said. “I’m okay with this if it’ll work.”
By “work” I asked him if that meant “maintain capacity”… and he said simply: “I don’t know if the surface transit option is good or bad, but I’m open about it. If that’s what we end up with, I’m happy.”
Others aren’t so happy. Some are attacking the People’s Waterfront Coalition, the folks behind the plan, saying the idea is non-starter. Then again, lots of people thought the R. H. Thompson Expressway was absolutely necessary for Seattle’s economic health. You can see what happened to that proposed freeway when you drive through the Arboretum. (Look for the freeway ramps that just… end.) The Washington State Department of Transportation is a highway building bureaucracy. That’s their job. Where they see traffic problems, they see highway solutions.
As the tunnel option seems unaffordable, and the elevated option unpalatable, a truly progressive solution to the Viaduct problem is at hand. Instead of spending millions studying the same old auto-centric ideas, I hope the WA-DOT can think about moving people, not just cars. That would make this Belltown resident sleep more soundly.