A day late, I finally watched the PubliCola tunnel debate. Adam already shared his reaction and I endorse it. Thursday’s debate also illustrated some of the arguments in the broader debate, on both sides, that I think are unconvincing:
Let the Voters Decide. In principle, asking the electorate to judge a project of enormous technical and fiscal complexity is a terrible way to make policy. More practically, in a three-way contest the result of a vote is more likely to be determined by ballot design than by any merits of the projects.
“As many cars as the Ballard Bridge.” Eli Sanders practically begged the Mayor to pick up this sound bite. They’re both better judges of its political impact than me, but it’s a terrible comparison. For one thing, the tunnel is four times longer than the bridge. Secondly, an underground solution is more expensive than an elevated solution, as with light rail, for similar reasons and with similar benefits.
Tolling will divert most cars to the surface anyway. I have mixed feelings about this argument. It is true that the DBT robs the City of the funding to adequately fund alternative routes and modes. However, like a BRT “advocate” who doesn’t actually care how well transit works, many critics of tolling diversion aren’t interested in moving cars and actually like tolling. An underutilized tunnel improves freight mobility, which is the single best argument for the tunnel. Finally, like all surface/transit advocates I have faith that some of those trips will simply disappear, even without spending. This is a better project with tolling than without.
Bad pro-tunnel arguments after the jump…
It’s gas tax, so we couldn’t possibly use the savings for something better. Only $2.4 billion of the project’s costs are coming out of gas taxes. If the State held its commitment constant, the $700m of saved revenue authority could be used for virtually anything (although $400m in tolling might disappear), or not taxed in the first place.
Delay will kill people. In fact, the shortest paths to removing the unsafe roadway are the rebuild and surface/transit options. This was the source of Governor Gregoire’s promise to tear it down by 2012, although now that would probably have to be 2014.
The Tunnel Means Jobs. I confess that I haven’t seen a comparison of jobs created by the three options, but I suspect that huge capital spending on a tunnel boring machine can’t help the comparative employment. At any rate, there are plenty of clearly useful ways to create jobs for the same or less money.
It’s OK there are no downtown exits; people will just get off before the tunnel. This is an argument not so much for the tunnel as for the approaches to the tunnel, which are uncontroversial.
Any reference to “tunnel and transit.” Aside from temporary mitigation funds, there is no clear path to any transit funding in the DBT package. Even the original agreement had the least transit funding of the three options. Furthermore, there is not only no bus route that traverses SR99 without stopping downtown, it would be asinine to bypass the main transfer point and destination in the entire system. The argument that a bus could conceivably travel in the DBT is an argument that could be applied to literally any new highway project, anywhere.
I thought the PubliCola event did elevate the debate beyond sound bites, although the intervals where people actually talked about the alternatives themselves was too short. Congratulations to PubliCola and Essex Porter for making a big contribution to civic discourse.