The more I think about the tunnel to replace the viaduct, the less I like it. I am certainly glad that it isn’t a new elevated option, but that’s only a small consolation. I wanted the surface option. My reasons are below the fold.
- The deep-bored tunnel was the most expensive of all the replacement options, $2.7 billion more than the cheapest surface option. For contrast, Central Link was about $2.4 billion. The entire streetcar network envisioned by the Streetcar study is just over $500 million. Take away the $125 million First Hill Streetcar funded by ST2, and you can almost build Central Link and the rest of the Streetcar network with just the difference. That is an expensive tunnel.
- Building this tunnel makes implementing any other future transit tunnel so much more complicated that it becomes nearly impossible. The perfect West Seattle-Ballard light rail alignment would be underground downtown. With North Link built to Everett, East Link built to Redmond and Issaquah, and South Link down to Tacoma, in order to maintain service frequent enough to satisfy peak demand, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will not be able to carry any additional trains. A new downtown tunnel would have to be built, and while I admit that is likely a pipe dream (tunnel dream?), with an SR 99 tunnel, it becomes nearly impossible. Between the BNSF tunnel, the DSTT and the Battery Street tunnel, the project would already have been difficult. Add this First Avenue alignment and it becomes that much more complicated, as any tunnel would have to go under the BNSF in the CBD, this one somewhere around Westlake or Belltown and the Battery street tunnel. Possibly even the DSTT if the new transit tunnel were built under Fourth Ave.In order to build out light rail to Everett, Redmond, and South King and Pierce Counties, Sound Transit will have to pass another transit package. This package will have to include something for Seattle’s subarea, and the obvious choice is a Ballard-West Seattle line. If you build this tunnel, that route could be at best elevated, while it did have support at one time, has significant drawbacks compared to an underground routing. With the Eastern side of the city getting a subway, why shouldn’t the Western Side? At least the cheaper price tag makes an elevated solution quicker to build, but it complicates transfers to the DSTT and will cause massive disruptions on the streets it gets built on.
- Because the tunnel wouldn’t stop downtown, it not only encourage sprawl, it would worsen Rapid Ride BRT to Shoreline and West Seattle. The routes are going to have climb onto surface streets fairly far from the Central Business District, and there’s not a lot of employers all the way up on Denny or downtown Dearborn. This increases the number of service hours required to maintain the same frequency, the travel times and also the cost of operating the routes.
- Lastly the tunnel isn’t completely funded, and is likely to suck up transportation dollars for a long time. The state’s contribution is supposed to be $2.8 billion, but they’ve only set aside $2.4 billion so far. Some of us were hoping part of that money could go to mitigation projects like BRT, the First Avenue streetcar or pedestrian improvements. If the full portion , or more than the full portion in this case, is spent on the SR99 tunnel, there’s no money for these mitigation projects. Even if the project goes smoothly, and megaprojects have a history of problems. I hope for the best, but this thing could be a money pit for a long time.
- As Will from HA reminds us, we voted against a tunnel already! You might say, “that was a different tunnel”. Yeah this one is more expensive and more disruptive. Hurray!
Oh well. I’d complain about the environmental aspects of cars shooting through downtown, but I’m not sure it’s really worth bothering. If this freeway didn’t already exist, no one would ever even consider building a $4 billion deep-bore tunnel, and saying the port needs a freeway doesn’t really make the project worth the price tag or the missed opportunities.