King County Executive Ron Sims supports a public vote on the future of the Alaska Way Viaduct, but apparently thinks it should initially be limited to an up or down vote on the rebuild option alone. Or so says Sims spokesman Sandeep Kaushik, who joined me last night on 710-KIRO to discuss Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to hold a public vote pitting the rebuild vs a tunnel.
At first glance a lot of observers thought the Governor had punted on the Viaduct, but a closer look makes it clear that she’s really made most of the decision, eliminating the retrofit and surface options, and setting up a vote that strongly tilts towards a rebuild. The rebuild is by far the furthest along in the design phase, and comes closest to a fixed price tag, with the Governor promising that the state will pick up any cost overruns. So if the Governor gets her way, Seattle voters will be faced with a choice between the devil we know (a 50-percent wider Viaduct with a fairly fixed cost range to local voters) and the devil we don’t know (a tunnel that could end up looking like anything and eventually cost us $5 billion or more.) I think the Governor is fairly confident that given that choice, voters will choose the rebuild.
Sims however thinks it’s too soon to give up on a “surface-boulevard-plus-transit” option, especially since we haven’t fully explored what such an alternative might look like.
“Governor Gregoire’s announcement today that the public should vote between two Viaduct replacement options – a tunnel or a rebuild – is too limited. While I can support the idea of a public vote, and strongly prefer the tunnel over the rebuild, I disagree with the governor’s call for excluding a surface-boulevard-plus-transit option from public consideration.
“That option, which could potentially open up the waterfront while providing an affordable, environmentally friendly means of moving traffic through the city, has not yet been studied. The surface option that WSDOT briefly examined contained no transit element and bears little resemblance to what surface-transit advocates are proposing.
“If we are going to position Seattle as a vibrant world-class 21st century metropolis, we need to proceed with boldness and vision. We need to think beyond present-day categories, with an eye to the long-term. How we decide on the Viaduct today is a profound test of our commitment to a better, more enlightened future. The right sort of transit-friendly surface proposal could meet that test.”
If the Viaduct wasn’t already in place, nobody in their right mind would propose constructing a massive, double-decker freeway through Seattle’s waterfront, and our transportation planners’ inability to envision options beyond a rebuild or a tunnel is a failure of imagination and vision. By all means, let the voters decide if they want a rebuild. But let’s not set up a false choice where a tunnel is the only other option.