This isn’t really transit related, but when thinking of a replacement to the viaduct, it’s important to think back the the Embarcadero Waterfront Freeway in San Francisco that was destroyed and not replaced, and also to think about the Big Dig in Boston that replaced the elevated I-93 with a tunnel with an astounding final cost of $14.8 billion.

The contrasts are pretty big. Both had the side effect of freeing their waterfronts from separation with the city and from shadows and noise. But San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway carried up to 110,000 cars daily the same high-end as the viaduct and without it, supply shortage shifted demand to alternate routes and means of transportation along their waterfront.

Boston, on the other hand, has wasted $14.8 billion digging a tremendous tunnel. Granted, I-93 is more important to Boston than the Viaduct is to Seattle or the Embarcadero Freeway ever was to San Francisco, but it’s worth noting how huge projects like this can balloon out of control and cost a fortune, when they may not even be necessary in the first place, as the Embarcadero Freeway shows.

These things always get me thinking, how much transit can you buy with $14.8 billion? About 36% more than all that was in Prop. 1.

3 Replies to “Seattle Can Learn From Other Cities on the Viaduct”

  1. Another reasonable example that is between the two is Cincinnati’s reworking of Fort Washington Way. (FWW) The original carried I-71 in downtown and connected I-75 to I-471 via I-71. (Its a complex little interchange) Originally it was generally a mess and bifurcated the downtown from the riverfront. The reworked FWW has streets with broad sidewalks that connect downtown with the riverfront. Additionally there when reconstructing FWW the planners installed the piers to cover the interstate with a park in the future. (i.e. a cut and cover tunnel, the cut is done, it just hasn’t been covered.) Also smartly there the skeleton of an underground transit center installed. (albeit currently it is mostly unused.)

    For more info and pictures:

    So you can see why I’m biased towards a tunnel for the Seattle Viaduct replacement. Although I’m a seattle newbie, seattle should claim its waterfront and connect it to downtown.

    (After that we can worry about connecting Capital Hill to downtown by burying I-5, but thats a different story!)

  2. Both of these instances are actually transit related. The Embarcadero was replaced with a surface street that now has a dedicated lane Streetcar and Boston’s Big Dig still has to expand transit because of a deal that was made to offset the environmental impacts of the project.

  3. Probably more silliness has been written about the Big Dig than any other project in our history.

    The Big Dig was not just burying a highway. It included-
    A new rail freight line.
    A new transit line to the airport.
    New crossings of the river.
    A new railroad station.
    Creation of hundreds of acres of parkland in downtown Boston.
    And, of course, the building of what was essentially a new highway.
    All done with no disruption of existing traffic.

    A rough Seattle equivalent of the Big Dig would include-
    A new freight rail tunnel from Balmer to the Interbay yards.
    New transit lines extending north and south along the 99 spine.
    A new freeway the size of I-5.
    A new transit station for transfers from buses to light rail and streetcars.
    All buried to create a vast park behind the waterfront, and all built without any pause in existing bus and road use.

    Of course the Seattle project would never approach in size the Boston project because Seattle is essentially a small city without, for example, a half dozen rail transit lines to keep in operation while the project proceeds.

    The real question is whether the state DOT should be allowed to build a new elevated freeway on the waterfront, and the answer is plainly no.

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