I tuned in late to catch the score of a World Series game back in 1989, only to find coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was somewhat confused by overhead footage of what reporters kept describing as a massive freeway collapse, that to me appeared to show an elevated freeway still standing. Unfamiliar with the Bay area, I had no idea that this was the remnant of a double-decker freeway, the top deck having collapsed onto the bottom, crushing cars and their occupants underneath tons of steel and concrete.
Since moving to Seattle a couple years later, I have always been wary of this doomed freeway’s kissing-cousin, the Alaska Way Viaduct. Whenever I drive across the Viaduct or walk beneath it, I do so speedily, with images vividly in my mind of the dead being pried from between the decks of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway. While I know my chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time is exceedingly small, my discomfort is not the product of irrational paranoia. A major earthquake will hit the Seattle area, and left as-is, the Viaduct will collapse, killing dozens or even hundreds, depending on the time of day.
And if this tragedy occurs due to the partisan bickering currently transgressing in Olympia over funding the Viaduct’s replacement, I will personally blame these deaths on the petty, heartless legislators who are clearly willing to risk sacrificing the lives of innocents in exchange for a few extra dollars of spending in their own districts.
This exploitation of regional tensions is politics at its most disgusting… and incredibly stupid and shortsighted. House Transportation Committee Chair Ed Murray (D-Seattle) sums it up bluntly:
Murray said complaints that state spending is too concentrated on Seattle-area projects were misguided. “We’ll come back here in two years when that thing falls down and we’ll get all of it.”
Lives are at stake. The Viaduct is a human and economic tragedy waiting to happen… as is the 520 floating bridge, one of the oldest structures of its kind in the world. In a region that has witnessed not one, not two, but three major bridges collapse or sink, it is absurd to pretend that it could not happen a fourth time, especially with a structure so in need of repair or replacement.
To oppose this transportation package because the spending is too “Seattle-centric” is an arrogant, absurd and dangerous fiction. Transportation spending is Seattle-centric because Washington state is Seattle-centric. Seattle is our cultural, economic and population center… it produces the lion’s share of the tax dollars, and currently has the most immediate transportation needs. If Republicans want more money for projects outside of the Seattle area, then they should propose raising additional tax dollars to pay for them.
Like most Seattle voters, I’m willing to pay my fair share to fund needed transportation projects in the rest of the state. But personally, I’m not willing to die to save a couple pennies on a gallon of gas.