Gregoire leaves door open on surface option

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.


  1. 2

    Beer Drinker spews:

    I’ll bet we see a “no – no” result. That’d sure help the cause of the “surface/transit” supporters. How to best proceed from there? Let METRO and ST have a horserace. Those two could prepare plans for the “transit” component. The alternatives could be ready for the 2009 general election, and voters could choose between them. In the meantime, the seawall work, and demolition of the existing structure, could begin.

  2. 3

    Particle Man spews:

    You know Goldy, a growing recognition that the surface transit option is deserving of a more detailed examination is a good thing. It would be more healthy though to think about this option with a stronger connection to reality. I posted the following over on Postman which illustrates this point.

    With Seattle bloggers, legislators and city officials all in full campaign mode, each of the choices have been portrayed with fantasy graphics or based upon untested design. The viaduct is depicted as this huge, flat, gray five story high structure or is portrayed with video of the ugly old structure. The smaller tunnel option is the only option that presents a rather limited range for significant changes since the width cannot grow and double decking is cost prohibitive.

    But it is the surface transit option that is the least clear. Even the anti-viaduct ad shows first one view with two lanes and street parking in both directions and then two seconds later shows three travel lanes in one direction. Both views show a bunch of grass and planted areas with trees. The fact is that there is only so much width to work with in order to accommodate cars, trucks, transit, parking and pedestrians. For all its ugly noisy faults one thing the viaduct has provided is a ton of parking for anyone interested in visiting the waterfront. It is hard to see how the surface transit option would not eliminate some 1,000 parking spots and have a grave impact on businesses on both sides of the existing viaduct.

    Also, while it is easy to get behind the concept of the surface transit option, a huge fight is ahead over what shape it will take. In the end, the Miami Beach like feel portrayed in the campaign graphics is not even close to what it will have to look like to function. The surface transit option should be looked at but Seattle voters should not be fooled by clever graphics. This option will eliminate most of the nearby parking, create a huge (8 paved traffic lanes) at grade barrier and make it harder not easier for the general public to visit the waterfront.

  3. 4


    No Ivan, I don’t think so.

    I believe that Rebuild is not politically feasible — just too much hassle — Peter Steinbrueck “chaining himself to the bulldozers” etc etc. The Democrats don’t need that.

    I’m still betting on “Repair & Prepare” as I think there (alas) is too much political exhaustion to be able to handle something like studying the Bay Bridge, which is actually not a bad solution.

  4. 6


    Particle Man,
    If you favor the Surface/Transit solution then the only path to it is via some level of Repair.
    (The other two options — Tunn el and Rebuild — are dead.)

  5. 7

    Particle Man spews:

    Dream on. Rebuild is far from dead. As for what I favor: I want my gas tax dollars to pay for a good long term investment and I do not want to see Seattle delay moving forward unless Seattle pays the costs associated with that delay.

  6. 8

    jason spews:

    goldy, you’re really straining to get the reading you want out of those quotes. she cites the 110,000 vehicles that are on the viaduct every day. show me a detailed rapid transit plan that credibly moves that amount of people (or double, since there isn’t always one person per vehicle) per day, and your delusions may carry more weight.

    she never was painting herself into a rhetorical corner. that was you making shit up, just like now. it’s disgusting that you’re okay with nickel’s support of the surface-transit-pony plan because the only people that win with that version are the developers.

    The Gridlock Gang
    “we decry lying & mischaracterization on every other issue but this one. we’re doing it for the greater good. no, really.”

  7. 9


    Nah, Rebuild will never happen. Too much potential disruption…Peter Steinbrueck and many many others chaining themselves to a bulldozer etc etc….It’s not worth the political cost.

    As to your basic assertion that the Viaduct cannot be Repaired, that’s the convenient fiction used by Nickels et al to make the Tunnel look good.

  8. 10

    Particle Man spews:

    I did not say the viaduct could not be repaired. I said that to do so would be a very bad investment.

  9. 12

    klake spews:

    Dear Voter,

    An online survey by of 29,000 Republican Primary voters showed surprisingly strong support for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who hasn’t even entered the race — and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Gingrich topped the survey with 41% of the vote followed by Giuliani with 33%. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ran a distant third with 12% and former front runner Senator John McCain lagged in fourth place with only 7%.

    Commenting on the poll, CEO Eileen McGann said, “This survey shows the strong support for Gingrich getting into the race among Republican base voters and demonstrates how little progress McCain has made in appealing to the core of the GOP.”

    The online survey was conducted on February 27, 2007.

    Poll Results:

    JOHN MCCAIN = 7% (1,900)

    RUDY GIULIANI = 33% (9,707)

    MITT ROMNEY = 12% (3,514)

    CHUCK HEGEL = 1% (373)

    NEWT GINGRICH = 41% (11,802)

    SAM BROWNBACK = 3% (816)

    MIKE HUCKABEE = 3% (901)


    Your friends at

  10. 13

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The Seattle Times reported yesterday that 2 Sonics owners donated $1.1 million to an anti-gay group. If they have money for that, why do they need my tax money to build an arena for their private, for-profit business? The practical effect of publicly funding the arena is to force me to pay taxes to support bigots and hate groups. That’s wrong! No public subsidy for Sonics arena!

  11. 14

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    If my taxes are used for the arena, then their taxes should go to the Democratic Party and In fact, we could set up a “United Way” from Republicans’ taxes and include, so we can put Goldy on salary!

  12. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    So — I’m proposing extending the “sports tax” to the profits of sports team owners, and giving that money to the Democratic Party,, and Goldy.

  13. 16

    Jack Burton spews:

    It depends or your definition of capacity?

    Sounds very Clintonian.

    (Don’t you libs own a dictionary?)

  14. 17

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “But the key to accepting the surface option as both a transportation and political compromise rests on how we define the word ‘capacity.'”

    No, Goldy, the key to the acceptability of the surface option is not playing word games but how many vehicles the surface option can move. Vehicles — count ‘em … 110,000 per day today, more 10 years from now.

    You see, Goldy, people will drive cars whether you like it or not. Mass transit doesn’t work for anything except commuting. Someone who has to carry his tools to a job site is not going to ride on a bus, train, light rail, or a bicycle. Neither is a truck driver with a load. Or a shopper with a couple armloads of shopping bags and packages. If you tear down the viaduct and don’t replace it with another highway option, all the through traffic now carried by SR-99 will spill onto I-5 and make congestion there even worse. The governor knows what she’s talking about, and she’s taking a responsible course of action by demanding to see vehicle capacity instead of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking that we can coerce people out of vehicles.

  15. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    There is more to this than mere vehicle capacity, though. At present, SR-99 is a 50 mph throughway. Even if you maintain the per-vehicle capacity (with however many lanes that requires), if you turn it into a 35 mph arterial with cross streets, pedestrian crosswalks, and stoplights, drivers will say “to hell with it” and go to I-5 — worsening congestion there.

    And, Goldy, you have yet to address a point I’ve raised several times in these threads — namely, if Seattle has only one through route through downtown, what happens when I-5 goes out of service because of an accident or construction closures, and you have no alternate through route? It’ll be a traffic nightmare, with stranded motorists unable to reach their jobs or homes. We’ll have people camping overnight in their cars, not just during winter blizzards, but year round.

    Seattle needs more, not less, through routes and alternates to I-5. We probably can’t get another one, but it’s reckless to give up the one highway-speed alternate through route we now have.

  16. 19

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @12 “NEWT GINGRICH = 41% (11,802)”

    Yes oh please God yes yessss YESSSSS!!!! Please, oh please, God, let them run Newt Gingrich!!! Yes! yes! yes! yes! yessss!!!!

  17. 21

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    I also hope Mark Griswold (who is hoping for a terrorist attack against a U.S. airliner, to improve GOP electoral prospects) runs against Frank Chopp again; and I sincerely hope that Jonathan Gardner (who thinks Dubya should summarily execute liberals for treason, without trials) is the Republican candidate for governor in ’08, because nothing would thrill me more than Gregoire getting re-elected with 99.9999998% of the vote.

  18. 22

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Yes, indeedy, I think Newt Gingrich will make a most excellent GOP candidate for president in ’08! Hell, I might even send him a campaign donation to help him win the GOP primaries!

  19. 23


    Its wrong to frame the issue as simply the need for the Viaduct or a replacement plan to move 110,000 vehicles a day. If you look at traffic patterns only one stretch of the viaduct seems to be involved at that level.

    Seattle traffic flow maps show the Battery Street Tunnel only handles 60,000 vehicles/day or so. Likewise there is also a choke point on the southern end by Spokane Street that handles 60,000 vehicles/day. These figure point out that repeatedly using the 110,000 vehicle figure does not accurately reflect the actual ways people use the viaduct.

    It appears that at least half of the traffic is not through traffic but on and off traffic at different points of the Viaduct. Could some of this traffic find alternative routes?

    Also what are the peak hours of traffic flow? It’s certainly not the same 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s a morning and afternoon increase for rush hour. If this was spread out, say by peak hour tolls, there would not be as great a need for a high capacity road.

    Considering the cost involved here it seems a few solutions that include car pooling, park and rides like from West Seattle or Ballard and spreading out the traffic flow earlier and later might be a partial alternative to spending billions of taxpayer dollars to “replace or build more roads” as the answer to how to move people through and on this corridor in the future.

    If you proposed a $2.00 or $3.00 toll to use any new viaduct or tunnel, how many vehicles would decide it’s not worth it to use it, especially if they travel both ways?

    For each commuter who rides a bus, you remove two single car trips. 30 passengers on a bus morning and night equals two bus trips but would eliminate 58 other vehicle trips.

  20. 24

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    A Gingrich candidacy will open up the possibility of Al Gore being elected president as a write-in candidate. It’s definitely plausible! Here is what an energetic Democratic write-in candidate can accomplish against a crazy Republican:

    Write-In Candidate (D) 96%
    Low Tax Looper (R) 4%

    P.S., it’ll help Al’s chances even more if Newt murders someone before the election.

  21. 26

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @23 “It appears that at least half of the traffic is not through traffic but on and off traffic at different points of the Viaduct.”

    Steve — with all due respect — 60,000 is more (not less) than half of 110,000.

  22. 27

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @9 “As to your basic assertion that the Viaduct cannot be Repaired, that’s the convenient fiction used by Nickels et al to make the Tunnel look good.”

    You don’t have much experience with investing in repairing old cars, do you?

  23. 28

    Particle Man spews:

    Actually RR Newt is a much stronger candidate than McCain or Rudy. Also one byproduct of a strong Newt candidacy might be that Rossi would focus on that more than running for Gov. Rossi has long been a deciple of Newt’s.

  24. 29

    ArtFart spews:

    Yanno….I hear the argument about how important Route 99 is to commercial traffic, but I used to work in Belltown and I’d frequently eat my lunch in Steinbrueck Park, and I don’t recall seeing that trucks constituted a very high percentage of the traffic whizzing by on the Viaduct. Mind you, for purposes of this discussion I’m not categorizing a shiny late-model pickup with a completely unblemished bed liner and “Shaq wheels” as a “truck”. I also don’t see why someone shopping downtown would find it easier to carry their packages a couple blocks to a parking lot than to take them onto a bus right in front of the store. I’ll admit that it can seem a little awkward to handle big packages and stuff on the bus if it’s crowded, but most of the arguments I hear about how people don’t want to take the bus end up putting this excuse back to back with the claim that “nobody rides the bus”. Hmmm….sounds like what Casey Stengel used to say about Madison Square Garden. That brings up the point that if we’re really going to consider the “surface plus transit” option, the “plus transit” part needs to be treated as more than an afterthought.

    Seriously, if there are any real statistics (and I’ll bet there are) they’ll show that tradespeople and commercial vehicles are only a small fraction of the issue at hand.

  25. 30

    ArtFart spews:

    12 This might be interpreted to mean that neither McCain nor Romney appear loony enough to repeal to the “Republican base”…whoever the hell they are.

  26. 31

    ivan spews:

    Zemke @ 23:

    You have conveniently not factored in the projected increases in population over the next 25 years. That means more vehicle traffic — a lot more — unless you think that every single new resident in the area will somehow see the rapture, as if touched by Benny Hinn, and throw away their cars like Benny’s shills throw away their crutches.

  27. 33

    ArtFart spews:

    31 Population increase….where? Within the city itself? I’ve lived here for 58 years, and the population within Seattle’s city limits has hardly changed in all that time.

    The regional population growth, on the other hand, has exploded, but I don’t see people from Lynnwood, Federal Way or the Eastside using 99 to get in and out of downtown or the Duwamish/Boeing industrial area. The principal commute users are from the northwestern part of the city (and perhaps some of Shoreline) and West Seattle.

    25 years from now, it’s quite possible that commuting long distances by car may finally have become completely impractical. At least for the sake of my children and grandchildren, I certainly hope so.

  28. 34


    As Roger Rabbit pointed out above, the surface boulevard option pushed by the PWC would be terrible for congestion. That is not the only possible surface option.

    We could maintain capacity, move traffic at a reasonable speed, and still meet the urban design objectives of Nickels.

    Key elements: limited access 6 lane surface road seperated from waterfront by noisewall. One grade seperated intersection for downtown access. (a “Texas T” ramp) Pedestrian overpasses connecting downtown to waterfront, eventually expandable to a full lid with a park on top.

    What’s so difficult about that? Not a new brutalist viaduct, not a risky tunnel, but the best of both. I’m voting “no-no”.