Last week I publicly fretted that Governor Chris Gregoire might eventually paint herself into a rhetorical corner via public comments over replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct. I worried that the Governor’s increasingly adamant insistence that a rebuild is the only viable option could put her in the unenviable position of either defying the will of the voters, or appearing to cave to big, bad Seattle just as she prepares to head into what could be a tough reelection campaign. But in an exclusive interview with Lynn Allen of Evergreen Politics, the Governor has allayed my concerns.
[Is there] any way the surface and transit option would be entertained by the state?
Gregoire: Absolutely. We did entertain it earlier but couldn’t make it work. We have a set of criteria we have to meet. We have to maintain safety. We have to meet capacity for both moving freight and people in that corridor.
We’re not accommodating increases in capacity if we either rebuild the viaduct or build a new tunnel. There won’t be an increase in today’s capacity. It’s now somewhere in the neighborhood of 110,000 per day.
So, no matter what we do, we still have to maximize transit and surface. No matter what happens, there has to be a comprehensive transit component. We will need to be able to increase the capacity for moving the increase in population we are expecting.
Then, too, what we decide to do has to be fiscally responsible and friendly to urban design.
That’s why we’re working with Ron Sims. The state is saying, “Show me what you’re talking about here”. We’d like to see what the possibilities are.
As HA co-blogger Will points out, Gov. Gregoire appears to contradict herself in her use of the word “capacity” — but that’s the sort of verbal nitpicking I choose to reserve for Republicans. Taken as a whole, and in the context of the entire debate, the Governor is clearly leaving the door open to a surface solution. And I tend to agree with David Postman that this interview is entirely consistent with her prior statements, representing at most a clarification rather than a shift in position.
The Governor has repeatedly drawn a line in the sand, demanding that any Viaduct replacement must maintain capacity, a criterion some have supposed to rule out a surface alternative. But the key to accepting the surface option as both a transportation and political compromise rests on how we define the word “capacity.” WSDOT’s Environmental Impact Statement describes the purpose of the project as one that “maintains or improves mobility and accessibility for people and goods” — language the Governor clearly echoes in talking to Lynn about capacity.
As I wrote last week:
Hard-nosed rebuild supporters have mocked King County Executive Ron Sims as some kind of enviro-whacko hippie for stating that we should be focused on moving people, not cars — but that’s exactly the stated purpose put forth in the EIS. And that’s exactly the language the Governor needs, to join former tunnel supporters in support of a surface compromise.
It’s not a matter of redefining the word capacity — “mobility” was always the definition from the start, and accepting an alternative that improves mobility, while perhaps decreasing vehicle capacity, is perfectly consistent with Gov. Gregoire’s line in the sand.
That is what the Governor essentially told Lynn — she is focused on moving “freight and people,” and she is willing to work with Ron Sims “to see what the possibilities are.” I had been concerned that in championing a rebuild Gov. Gregoire might eventually paint herself into a corner, but by her own words, she has clearly reiterated that she is willing to consider a surface option, if she can be convinced that it maintains mobility. I can’t see how one can read this any other way. And no, it doesn’t represent a shift in position.
No doubt a rebuild overwhelmingly remains Gov. Gregoire’s preferred option. But if in the wake of a No/No March 13 vote Mayor Nickels can abandon the tunnel he’s championed, and campaign for a surface option without losing face (and the smart money is on exactly that,) then surely the Governor can give surface proponents the opportunity to persuade her that they can develop an alternative that meets the criteria set forth in the EIS.
And once Seattle voters speak, and the political food fight comes to an end, that’s exactly what I expect the Governor to do.