Alaskan Way Viaduct
Here’s the details on the costs of the various viaduct proposals (from the WSDOT website):

A: Surface Boulevard $800 million
B: Surface Boulevard $800 million
C: Surface Couplet $900 million
D: Independent Elevated $1.6 billion
E: Integrated Elevated $2.2 billion
F: Bored Tunnel $3.5 billion
G: Cut & Cover Tunnel $2.7 billion
H: Lidded Trench $1.9 billion

Not suprisingly, the surface options are cheapest. These don’t include $1.1 billion in so-called “Moving Forward” costs, which are the projects related to strengthing the most northern and southern pieces. Those projects have already started.

C was my favorite, and is only slightly more than the absolute cheapest. Dino Rossi’s bored tunnel was by far the most expensive.

36 Replies to “Viaduct Costs”

  1. Per the e-mail I got, they’ll take two and mash them together for the final selection. It’s looking like B + C– higher capacity transit to relieve the couplet for freight. In other words, streetcar network + couplet + new waterfront within 5 years.

    The streetcars proposed would begin construction quickly. The First Avenue one goes first, then as the central waterfront portion comes down the waterfront streetcar would theoretically be brought back.

    1. B + C would be awesome.

      Andrew, it’s worth noting that these costs do not include transit costs, I-5 improvements, and city street improvements. To some degree, all of these are required or any option — but a surface option would spend more money on the improvements I just mentioned. A surface option would still be much cheaper than any other alternative.

      Besides cheaper, it’s probably better to move away from a high-speed highway splitting downtown from the waterfront.

      1. Are you sure these costs don’t include the transit improvements? It seems like a lot for just a two-way couplet. And tearing down the viaduct doesn’t solve the streetcar barn issue… Where would they put it?

      2. Right, it’s just the costs specific to the structure. All of the proposals seemed to have some transit and some I-5 and surface street improvements.

  2. A lot of folks seem to really like C, which happens to be my favorite. Of course the best of B and C together is even better. I hope people here are planning on testifying or writing to the decision makers about this.

  3. If anyone has been to Boston before and after the “Big Dig”, I would argue that the time, hassle and yes, price of tunneling is worth it. Downtown Boston is quite amazing now compared to the horrible elevated structure (the green monster)they had running through it.

    I say, spend the time and money and do it right. A full freeway and a beautiful waterfront we can all be proud of. This is one project we should not go cheap on.

    As far as money. With the Obama administration insisting we need to spend money on infrastructure, I would think our esteemed Senator Murray could come up with serious federal dollars for this and the 520 bridge.

    1. I agree to some extent. The costs of the bored tunnel worry me like everyone else, but do believe there is great value in the tunneling options. I’ve never understood people’s fascination with the boulevard. Look at all those stop lights. That will not move traffic at all. I’ve been on the Embarcadero plenty of times during rush hour (which is what these blvd options are frequently compared to). It’s a mess.

      The bored tunnel would probably be best, but the costs freak people out (me too). But the lidded trench or cut and cover seem like fine, cheaper solutions to the bored tunnel. Though I admit I do not not fully understand all the differences structurally-speaking.

      1. People don’t realize that the purpose of the AWV is overblown by stalwarts that refuse to lose the ability to blast through Seattle with wild abandon. They also frequently forget that the purported time savings versus a surface option are extremely theoretical and off-peak.

        You can get the same benefits by using freight-only lanes and peak time light sync changes in conjunction with priority transit systems.

        With a bored tunnel, you still have the lock-up you get at Aurora, pitiful downtown access and suffocating traffic delays.

      2. Why not have the ability to blast through Seattle with wild abandon as you state? There’s no place to do that currently. You certainly can’t do that on I-5 now. Which would you rather have? A bored tunnel on I-5 or a bored tunnel on 99? I would probably rather have it on I-5, but if you think the Aurora costs are high, I’d love to see them on I-5. What other options are there for widening I-5 which needs to be done. Lane merges cause traffic, it’s as simple as that. I’d agree to a Blvd to replace the viaduct if it’s paired with a widened bored tunnel on I-5.

        With the I-5 chokepoint and losing a high-speed route like the viaduct, you’re gonna begin looking like Vancouver (and without the vastly superior SkyTrain). Once you get a hint of the city limits it’s all city streets and takes forever to get around.

        I also find it hard to downplay the benefits of the tunnel when, as the original post mentions, the BigDig, with all it’s bashing during construction has pretty much been a complete success. How can you argue these numbers? Cutting the avg trip from almost 20 mins to just under 3 mins? That’s crazy!

      3. Bill, I’d rather have neither I-5 nor SR-99 a bored tunnel — I don’t know why you propose this question as if its simple fact that one must be expanded. The era of highway building is over. Congestion is a reality of a major downtown. There should be transit options to avoid traffic and folks over the coming decades should live either a) closer to their destinations, or b) close to transit to their destinations. Seattle is the city I live in. This city’s greatness isn’t measured by how fast you can drive through it.

        Obviously we do not have the transit infrastructure yet to replace much of the region’s driving. But investing billions into roads rather than transit is the exact opposite path to that end goal.

      4. We Americans have always loved our cars, and that is not going to change any time soon. Simply investing in transit networks will not increase transit use if there is no demand for it.

      5. I don’t even want it expanded that much. I just don’t want it to come down to the two-lane chokepoint it currently has. Just keep it consistent through the city. Merging lanes always creates traffic problems. If there’s a way to keep it consistent with out a bored tunnel or whatever, then great, let’s just get rid of that chokepoint. I bet you could watch an episode of Almost Live from the 80s and hear a joke about it right after a Mercer Mess one. The one consistent problem with Seattle is that it wants perfection, which is the mortal enemy of the good. That’s why it needs to vote 4 times on each transit measure.

        So you don’t want either of them widened. OK, fine. Why even replace it at all then if we need to focus on transit? Just raze it, close off the Battery St tunnel and let it end at Denny heading south and First Ave heading north. Get a super park and some light rail heading through the space and you’ve saved your self 100s of millions of dollars. I-5 can’t take the added pressure of closing down the viaduct altogether or even making it into a boulevard. You’ve turned I-5 from congested to unusable. Half the cars that use 99 as their main north-south option move to I-5. The other half continue to use the new 99 blvd. Great, so now we have an unusable I-5 and a boulevard that’s bumper to bumper. That makes Seattle seem so great and especially beautiful. I’d be glad to hear that our greatness is not measured by how fast we can drive through it, because we’d be near zero.

        I love transit as much as the next guy, but it is not a panacea. Roads have to be part of the equation too. You need a certain level of service to be able to even function. You can’t just kill all roads and expect transit to pick up the entire slack. It’s just not possible.

        And it’s nice to think you only have one “destination” to go to so you can live nearby, but that’s not a fact of life and will most likely become increasingly true. Do you live near where you work or where you play? I live and play in Seattle. I work in Issaquah. What if one of those changes? Staying in one job for over 5 years is practically being a lifer. Let’s say you work at Costco for 5 years, then you go to Amazon for another 5 and then to Microsoft for 5 more. Should I sell my house in Issaquah, buy in Seattle, sell in Seattle, buy in Redmond? The only somewhat effective way to move jobs like this and still use transit would be to live in Belltown/Downtown. I love my $500,000 1br condo atop loud nightclubs. I can even buy drugs in the adjoining park. Awesome!

        I’m sure I’m coming off as this total pro-roads kind of guy, which I’m totally not. I’m not arguing against transit. I’m arguing for some roads. It’s not a with us/against us situation.

      6. Perfection? For asking that I have a say in how our waterfront looks? Come on, I’m not being perfectionist. I’m not saying that the roads would go away. Alaskan and Western would both be rebuilt into three-lane surface streets (Option C) in one alternative that’s very appealing to me. This is some roads, it’s just not another highway that separates downtown from the waterfront.

        And any sort of underground solution is simply too expensive, too demanding of perfection to be feasible. If they want to do crazy tolls, and the price is somehow acceptable, then I’m not going to get that upset. Underground is fine from an urban perspective, see the Big Dig that everyone here is talking about, but it’s an expensive investment — once again — cars. Transportation is the number one emitter of CO2 in the state. But we have an alternative to invest in transit instead of a highway and I think it’s time that we do so especially when talking about a highway within a mile of downtown.

        Less people will drive, more will take transit, less greenhouse gases will be emitted, and our waterfront will open up to the city if we replace the Viaduct with surface streets. In terms of half the drivers going to I-5 and the other half to the roads, I disagree. Current drivers will have more incentive to carpool, use I-5 express lanes, and take transit. Any surface option would include transit, downtown street, and I-5 improvements.

        It isn’t us/them, you’re right. We can eliminate obvious bottlenecks (like the two lane problem you talk about) and still move to a surface solution.

      7. You can’t promote transit by destroying vehicle infrastructure. This will only serve to make regular drivers angry, and increase the general loathing of transit-oriented projects. In San Francisco, bicycle advocates regularly physically block downtown streets by the thousands in an attempt to “increase awareness” about cycling and alternatives to driving. All it serves to do is tick off everybody trying to drive home on a Friday evening (already the worst commute). People aren’t going to change their habits just because the infrastructure changes. The infrastructure should be built to best accommodate the demands of its users, not the other way around.

      8. NSBill, you are right on. There has to be a mix of high capacity vehicle and traffic.

        John Jensen. While I admire your passion about transit, I think the counterpoint of being able to invest in transit instead of roads is a little extreme. I take transit when I can, but there are plenty of times when it just isn’t practical. While I do use 99 to get into Seattle from Burien, there are plenty of other times when I have to go north of downtown. I always use 99 rather than I-5 since it is clogged.

        I don’t find the argument that if the streets are clogged people will carpool or take transit. Nope, they will just leave their house earlier to get to work. Transit or carpooling doesn’t work in all situations.

        On top of that, frieght mobility is critical to a thriving economy. Take away two more lanes through Seattle and you begin to choke off the frieght movement in and through the city. That cost eventually becomes greater than the savings in creating a cheaper project. Boxes can’t take the bus or light rail. Like it or not, trucks must be used to transport goods to all the stores in the region. If it costs them more, in time and fuel, then we all will be paying for it in money and CO2 emmissions from those trucks.

      1. You are correct. And they are still the most visionary despite what the bored tunnel advocates think.

  4. I keep seeing things like “costs could decrease amid a slumping economy.” No chance. Maybe you’ll save a little on labor, but materials prices are being driven by worldwide demand. Perhaps you read about China’s $600 billion infrastructure investment? We will never, ever see 1980s prices on steel or concrete again.

    1. Oil, concrete, and steel prices have all fallen dramatically. It’s true that China’s infrastructure investment will likely bring these commodities back up, good point. It all depends at the speed at which we move.

      One argument is that you’ll have more contractors giving more bids, since they won’t be busy building skyscrapers in downtown Bellevue/Seattle since a lot of those building projects have been canceled. U-Link tunneling is expected to benefit from this.

    2. but materials prices are being driven by worldwide demand.

      And worldwide demand is way down. Analysts don’t expect relief from China and others adding infrastructure projects. Much of the Chinese spending was already planned for, just moved forward. Compared to building the Three Gorges damn and the Olympic’s infrastucture, the Chinese future demand for steel and concrete is down and will stay down.

  5. Perhaps they could use plan C with some overpasses at certain intersections (like entering the ferry terminal) so that heavy cross-streets could bypass the boulevard, or make it more like Lake Shore Blvd, in Chicago.

  6. Watson51, your idea sounds good in theory, but I now live in Chicago and making the viaduct into something more like Lake Shore Drive in Chicago would be a mistake. Even though it’s a surface option and has pedestrian tunnels and overpasses, LSD is still a big honkin’ highway that provides a significant barrier to our awesome Lake Michigan. They even took down crosswalks in Grant Park because it was holding up traffic too much and some pedestrians were getting hit or nearly hit by cars. Not what you want in downtown Seattle. They even have an organization here in Chicago called “Depave the Drive” but since LSD is so important to so many commuters, it’s probably never going to happen.

    1. Yeah, it’s hard to move a ton of cars quickly and still have a good waterfront. Those intersections will make it possible to cross the damn street without dodging traffic. I do it every day on Elliot near the sculpture park. It’s not the way to make your waterfront accessible.

  7. So, is the state going to fund the streetcar and RapidRide extensions? Assuming one of the surface/transit options is chosen, of course.

    1. It can only pay for transit during construction with money raised from gas taxes (per the WA constitution). That may exclude streetcars. It depends where the funds come from.

  8. The bored tunnel plan is beautiful… but completely unnecessary here. Most of the traffic on the Viaduct isn’t traveling through Downtown. It’s going from NW to Downtown, or SW to Downtown. The bored tunnel option doesn’t address those trips. It doesn’t even address the small percentage of freight going through, because some of that is going South to NW.

  9. Great post and link.

    It seems that the surface option and couplet are about the same, although with the couplet we lose one of Pioneer Square’s historic buildings.

    I really like the expanded streetcar lines being touted in the transit ppt deck…but the commentators above are right: very little of that is included in the project cost.

    Not going to rehash all the pros/cons of the tunnel scenarios, but I am amazed that you guys got through a whole discussion of WW materials cost without mentioning the Baltic Dry Index, LOL. Come on, it’s so chic.

    My vote is for surface and expanded streetcar lines…although I would go with couplet if they could figure out how to save the Al Boccolino.

    1. Zach-

      AFAIK the plan would be to move the Al Boccalino building rather than tear it down. Not ideal but not a total tragedy.

      FWIW all of the scenarios with a Western/Alaska couplet (surface C, integrated elevated, and bored tunnel) require moving the building.

      That said I don’t see the great wall of Chopp or the deep bored tunnel getting much traction. Even with a big bundle of Federal funds to pay for the mess.

  10. Oh an for what it’s worth I favor the couplet option with all of the transit and traffic management from scenarios B&C.

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