The light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion. The tunnel is......
Tunnel! From flickr user Addicted Eyes

The P-I is reporting that Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Governor Christine Gregoire and King County Exec Ron Sims have come to an agreement that the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be replaced with the tunnel option:

The tunnel would be paid for with roughly $2.8 billion that the state set aside for the project. The surface street elements, including a waterfront park would be paid for by the city. The capital and operating investments in transit would be covered by King County.
Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis confirmed that a consensus had been reached.

It’s good that an agreement has been reached, and the surface option did have at least one draw-back: pedestrian access. My biggest complaint is that the difference in cost between the surface options and the tunnel options is around $2~2.5 billion, which could buy a lot of light rail, possibly elevated rail from West Seattle to at least Uptown if not Ballard. I’d prefer that to a great big freeway underground. Plus, the more tunnels you put down there, the harder it is to get even more tunnels, and more tunnels will likely be needed if light rail from Ballard or West Seattle is going to be submerged downtown.

Update: The Times has more info and a graphic. Apparently the total cost for this option is $4.25 bn, though it’s not obvious from the Times piece that whether that includes the already underway projects for strengthening the sections of SR-99 north and south of the viaduct.

Update 2: This tunnel is very far from being funded. That Times piece mentions $2.8 bn in state funding for the viaduct. Gregoire has put only $2.4 billion in her budget through 2017. Unless the state legistlature comes back with more funding than the $2.4 billion, there’s a significant gap in funding. This on top of $1 billion in city funding that hasn’t been raised, and some King County money for transit. And we all know how much money King County has…

109 Replies to “Tunnel it is”

  1. Yeah, it is unfortunate because this money could be better spent. However, had they chosen the surface option its not like suddenly 2 billion would have been thrown to ST to build light rail. Everything is about give and take, the tunnel gives West Seattle and the road warriors a carrot without (I don’t think) increasing capacity. At least we don’t have to see the filthy cars and the waterfront will sure be a lot nicer then any of the other options. My only concern is that proper transit investments be made in the process. I don’t consider bringing the waterfront trolley back to life to be enough, though it would be a start.

    1. Ignore the waterfront trolley in favor of the 1st avenue streetcar. Roughly the same corridor, but 1st ave is much more accessible for commuters (i.e. Link light rail riders).

      1. I want both. First of all the old Melbourne cars are cool. Second the waterfront trolley was one of the few transit facilities in the country to operate at a profit.

        Sure if it comes down to one or the other I’ll take First Avenue, but I’d rather it not.

      2. Waitaminute where *are* the Melbourne cars?

        Also, it would be good to have the two systems separate. One is primarily a commuting train (though it would carry tourists I’m sure) and the other is a tourist thing to shuttle people up and down the Waterfront.

        Besides, they would complement each other. It would also be cool if there was a loop setup where the streetcar ran through and the waterfront cars ran say counterclockwise up the waterfront and back down first.

        I know somebody is going to argue about power systems, the two CAN be made to play nicely. I’d say just rebuild the power system on the Melbourne cars.

        Portland has something similar, 1910 era streetcars running on the same tracks as the 1980 era MAX cars. I may be wrong on this too, but i think the Portland streetcar also runs on the same track voltage because the lines cross at a couple of places, catenary and all.

      3. I don’t think a loop would be possible. The grade on the hills at the north end of the waterfront is pretty steep, and I’m not sure if either the old or new streetcars could handle them without a lot of modification.

      4. Re: waterfront streetcar operating at a profit — Do you have a link for this? I want to see those numbers. I’ve heard this about the Seattle Center monorail, I would find this very surprising in the case of the streetcar.

      5. I don’t have any links offhand, sorry. IIRC it was in a bunch of the news articles about shutting the line down and the attempts to build a new barn.

      6. Well, I think the Waterfront Streetcar was always more of a tourist vehicle than a commuter service, unlike what a 1st Ave streetcar would be. And it was under Metro rather than the city. So, hypothetically, they could both exist. But I’m not optimistic they will ever bring the Waterfront Streetcar back.

      1. I believe the state was not going to pay for the streetcar in any scenerio. Either way, Seattle was going to have to build the streetcar itself, so I don’t see how this decision would affect that.

  2. Of course I’d prefer to not see another investment in a highway. However, if we are going to invest in a highway, from day one it should have congestion-based or — at least — variable tolling. And we should still implement the bus improvements in the earlier options as well as the 1st avenue streetcar that the state must replace after removing the waterfront streetcar.

  3. From the article:

    >> Initial sketches of the design show no direct connection between the tunnel and the
    >> center of downtown, which is now provided by ramps on Seneca and Columbia Streets.

    Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

      1. I assume BRT would use the entrance/exits planned near the south tunnel entrance. Not ideal compared to the current situation, but not as painful as having to use only surface streets.

        Though another possiblity would be busway or 4th ave S routing to 2nd/4th which flows much better than 1st both through the downtown core and SODO. The only real issue with that routing would be congestion on the Spokane Street Viaduct and at 4th S/Busway and Royal Bougham.

      2. WSDOT is in the process of building a new bridge over the train tracks at Royal Brougham, so we won’t have train crossing congestion to worry about when the buses get re-routed.

      3. its a good thing, if you’ve seen the big dig tunnels in boston, the ramps out of the tunnel take up a great deal of space and overwhelm the surface park and dump excessive traffic on the surface streets.

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/crash575/2818697533/
        note how this tunnel portal completely takes over its block and the surface land surrounding it is just wasted space as a result.

        this tunnel needs to be for thru traffic only that bypasses downtown.

        BRT wants to enter downtown from either the north or south ends of downtown, and not enter in the middle of downtown like seneca or university streets.

    1. Both and neither?

      Good because it means that we’re still going to need good transit alternatives from West Seattle/Ballard to Downtown, and we still need the bus service improvements as well as the 1st ave streetcar.

      Bad because a bypass tunnel causes more sprawl than a highway which actually links with the downtown core. See Ben’s post earlier this morning.

      1. It’s bizarre to put a bypass tunnel, though isn’t it? 250,000+ people work downtown, and you build a $4 bn tunnel to take people past it without stopping?

      2. Actually, yes. The trips TO downtown are the ones that are most easy to move to transit (since our entire transit system is downtown centric). The through trips are the last trips that you will see switch. So really this is a good thing. It gets the through trips out of the way of peds, bikes, and buses downtown but it does nothing to undermine the incentive to access downtown in alternative ways. If it did take people to downtown, then it would be one more reason for people to drive there rather than take transit.

    2. It’s very bad. Not only does it limit bus access downtown, but it further subsidizes trips completely bypassing the city core. It’ll increase sprawl.

  4. Is there some dream scenerio where the tunnel includes a transit deck? Probably not. And putting this tunnel down 1st Avenue would seem to significantly complicate a future transit tunnel for light rail.

    1. It sure does. There are already two rail tunnels downtown: the DSTT and the BNSF tunnel. Add a giant (look at the times’ picture, it’s 54′ in diametre) car tunnel and where can you put another rail tunnel?

      1. It really depends on what depth the road tunnel is at. Tunnels are punched through cities with other exsisting tunnels all of the time. True it will complicate construction which will raise costs. But on the other hand it isn’t nearly as much of a pickle as say the 2nd ave subway below Central Park or crossrail in London.

        If necessary it would be possible to put another set of tunnels and stations under 3rd, it just wouldn’t be cheap.

      2. I always figured we’d put the second transit tunnel under 4th or 5th Ave so that it can intersect the existing tunnel at Westlake. Putting it to the west makes transfers harder.

  5. This sucks! This is a huge give away to the road lobby! This brainchild of the Discovery Institute will be a huge boondoggle! A tunnel like this has never been constructed (P-I says this will be the deepest and longest tunnel of it’s kind)and is fraught with all sorts of unexpected problems (Soil conditions, construction costs ballooning) and does nothing to move Seattle into a more people rather than car centered city!

  6. I am and was always against the tunnel. That said, if this is to be then the pressure has to be on the “decision makers” to do it right. Keep the public informed of the progress and cost. Make sure residents know what to expect as far as road closures (for example, have any of you heard that the 1st Ave onramp to the West Seattle Bridge – westbound – will be closed for some time in February? Sure, it’s on the schedule if you follow it, and the West Seattle Blog reported it, but anywhere else?) since, IMHO the SDOT does a miserable job with community outreach.

    In addition, since the waterfront “looks” like it will be opened up anyway, can a transit hub be located here in any case? Will this create an ‘open’ waterfront street like I see in the drawings of the proposed construction? One HOV lane in the tunnel must be combined with MORE transit since the lanes on the tunnel will reduce capacity and reduce the number of exits to downtown. Thus, those who will go downtown will need more transit options than ever.

    1. We’ve already cleared this up in comments on our site but fyi, we did NOT report that the 1st Avenue South onramp is closing next month. Next month is when the next phase of work starts to get going on the new 4th Avenue ramp on the SOUTH side of the Spokane Street Viaduct. Our ongoing archive of stories about the Spokane Street Viaduct project is here:
      http://westseattleblog.com/blog/?cat=75

  7. I just had the misfortune to hear Dori Monson railing against this decision on the radio. His preference? Stated only as the “least expensive possible” (there’s big thinking for you). However, the options he mentioned as “least expensive never included a surface option (he mentioned retrofit or replace in place). I thought the several surface options all represented least coast approaches. Am I wrong?

      1. I’ve heard the retrofit also doesn’t really address the structural safety issues with the current viaduct. To even come close supposedly costs nearly as much as a new elevated structure. As you point out any retrofit would have a limited lifetime as well. There is a reason that every time the retrofit is considered it quickly gets taken off the table.

  8. A tunnel without any integrated transit is a horrible choice. West Seattle is never going to get light rail now, though Ballard probably has other ways of getting connected.

    1. A transit tunnel coming from Uptown would have a lot of problems getting Downtown. Even if you can still squeeze it in on 2nd, you’d have to cross the new 99 tunnel. If you want to put it on 4th or 5th, you’d have to cross the DSTT at Westlake Station. Elevated or at-grade through downtown would be very problematic.

      I don’t know if it is physically or financially possible, but if so they really need to have a transit section in this tunnel. Especially since this bypass will cut off even the current express bus options from West Seattle to Downtown.

      1. Yeah You might be right. The DSTT is on fourth, the BNSF is under 2nd or 3rd and this is going to be under 1st. I guess you could put the West Seattle-Ballard tunnel under fifth, but then, again you’re maxed out. You’re right they goddamned need a transit section, especially if this tunnel starts at king street.

      2. Not exactly. DSTT is mostly under 3rd. BNSF is partially under 4th and cuts diagonally under much of the central downtown (DSTT goes over BNSF near Benaroya Hall and under at 4th & Prefontane).

        2nd will still be open except for needing to cross BNSF and the proposed 99 tunnel. Even 4th, 3rd, or 1st could possibly be used though the presence of the other tunnel complicates construction and may require mined stations. This sort of thing has been done elsewhere, particularly in places like Manhattan or London.

  9. My great hope was that we’d choose the tunnel + surface option, but only fund the surface option (following San Francisco’s path). If/when we decided several billion dollars worth of tunnel was needed, we’d build it.

    But this decision does the opposite, only creating funding for the tunnel. (sigh)

    Any chance we can someday convert the tunnel to rail? It would certainly be bigger than we need, but I could imagine building an underground station and stairs up to the surface.

    1. Why not focus on expansion of Spokane Street viaduct with addtional flyover alongside the West Seattle Bridge?

      This town needed a downtown bypass w/ freight access to the working port. on/off access at Seneca/Columbia just makes 1st Ave a crawlfest with traffic backing up onto the viaduct today. Plus with the surface option, you conceivably have a dedicated ROW near waterfront for streetcars ( a la the area the SF Giants stadium )

      1. The city doesn’t need a bypass. The port has been working just fine and not able to run full trucks on the viaduct already. You know it’s had a weight limit for some time now, right?

    2. Well the one bright spot is the tunnel is incredibly expensive and nobody local has the money to pay for it. I doubt tolling by itself will come up with the additional money needed for the tunnel over the funding currently availible.

      If there is going to be a road tunnel using it to add additional bypass lanes on I-5 through downtown would seem to be a better investment.

      1. If you charged enough to make the toll worth while, probably at least $3, no one is going to drive on it and instead go to the surface and crowd city streets.

        If you make it cheap enough that most people don’t mind, then you don’t make enough money to make tolling worth it.

  10. It’s not a bad decision. It’s expensive, but it will offend the least amount of people BY FAR.

    I am truly worried about the diminishing possibility of a West Seattle-Ballard light rail tunnel though.

      1. Why should it be off the table? It’s necessary to ever bring those neighborhoods up to city density.

  11. Can we all collectively take a breath and stop pretending this is a regional solution? All the freight mobility features are gone, all the supporters are outright slandering the need for downtown connectivity (even in a bypass) and it’s becoming an in-your-face from West Seattle and Ballard to the rest of the region that is under the pinch of severe transportation underfunding.

    1. I bet we’re all lamenting the fact that we didn’t build a grade separated rapid transit line from Ballard to West Seattle years ago. If there was a rapid transit line, either functioning today or under construction today, then maybe you could make a case for reducing vehicle capacity. Perhaps we should have seen the viaduct debate coming, seeing how we have been talking about it for 20 years, and gotten all over getting that rapid transit solution in place, so that when the viaduct came down, we could say: look, you don’t need a highway, you have a subway / monorail / whatever.

      But alas no, our leaders believed that rapid transit could wait, that it was more important to build it to Lynnwood than to Ballard, that it was more important to build it to SE Seattle, where it wasn’t wanted than to West Seattle where it could have been used to prevent the need for this $4 billion tunnel.

      Now, because we assumed that West-Side rapid transit could wait a generation, we are going to be stuck with $4 billion that we are never going to get back, and the complications that the tunnel will cause for building new transit ROW even if we came up with the money.

      I’m not saying the monorail was a good idea. I know there are strong feelings about that here, but the monorail was a response to the fact that transit planners and transit advocates have been ignoring the western half of the city. Now this is what we get instead.

      1. …our leaders didn’t decide that rapid transit could wait. Remember, Sound Transit was going to study the corridor, but ‘the people’ got together and planned out a grand idea that could never have come CLOSE to working. ST didn’t do that study because the SMP bared their teeth.

      2. And the day that the SMP folded, ST should have immediately jumped back into the picture. I was not here back in the monorail days so I only know what I read in the papers, but “the people” would never have thrown their hat behind a completely unworkable idea UNLESS they were incredibly frustrated with the lack of leadership on this issue from the establishment.

        Also, when SMP got in trouble, the city, or ST should have stepped in and taken over. The point is: you had a public that was willing to tax themselves heavily in order to build transit in this corridor and THAT is what ST let slip through their fingers. Everyone dropped the ball on this issue, and now we have a $4 billion dollar car tunnel.

      3. I WAS here… And the MAIN reason for the failure of the project was the lack of tax revenues. We just couldn’t fund the project adequately with either the MVET at that rate, or a Seattle-only tax.

        *SIGH* There wasn’t anything wrong with the project itself.

  12. The WSDOT options a couple of months ago showed two twin bored tunnels, now the Times is showing one double-decker tunnel. Did the plans change, or is the Times graphic outdated?

    I think this still has most of the drawbacks for pedestrians as the surface option. I believe this still involves the one-way couplet on Alaskan and Western, and everyone going Downtown is going to use it, plus most people coming from Ballard, Magnolia, West Queen Anne will drive through the couplet to get onto 99 or the West Seattle Bridge.

    1. The single bore is one of the ways to reduce costs, though risk may be greater. The graphic in the Times is the latest.

  13. just a couple of questions…

    i know its just an idea now but why would the west seattle-ballard light rail use a new subway downtown on 1st and not the existing 3rd ave. tunnel? i’m concerned about transfers between tunnels on 1st ave tunnel and 3rd ave tunnel.

    how would a 1st ave. streetcar line using pantagraph work with all the trolley coach lines on 1st? the overhead is different for trolley pole and pantagraph, its okay when they cross perpendicularly (as is the case around SLUS) but not when they use the same overhead wire(s). would the streetcar need to use a pole to be compatible?

    1. Sound Transit had a study done to look at combined operations of trolley buses and the IDS-Capitol Hill Streetcar. It was shown to be relatively easy for a streetcar with a single trolley pole to use the existing Metro Overhead Contact System. Additionally, two seperate systems could be installed along the same route, one for buses, one for streetcars. The same would apply on 1st.

    2. 1st isn’t used that heavily by by trolley buses (10 and 12 as well as the turn around for the 43).

      It is possible to have two separate contact systems in the same ROW. The 70 and SLUS share Fairview between Valley and the North end of the SLUS line. I expect something like this is planned for First.

      The First Hill line is much more problematic due to the large number of exsisting trolley bus routes that either share or cross the alignment (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 36, 43, and 49) and the associated rather complicated OCS intersections. I believe the plan at this point is to have the streetcars share the OCS on the First Hill line by using the same voltage and trolley poles.

      1. interesting that it would use a modern streetcar with trolley pole. i’d love to see rehabbed PCCs… certainly have more seating capacity than the inekon cars.

        so one transit mode would operate along the right-most lane and the other would operate in the middle of the street with island platforms (somewhat like market street in SF)?

        are there any plans to continue to look at underground transit serving first hill, not as part of university link but rather as a line running due east out of downtown?… maybe an out of the blue tunnel proposal that all of sudden becomes the decided plan? ;)

      2. Re: First Hill: I don’t think so. The First Hill station was removed from University Link due to unstable soil leading to risky tunneling, and that shouldn’t change anytime soon.

      3. Even better than PCCs, why not get some replica Birney cars that would match something Seattle originally had? Gomaco Trolley (http://www.gomacotrolley.com/) built a beautiful fleet for Tampa. I believe they’re actually more cost effective per seat than the Inekon cars too, although perhaps more difficult for bicycles. It would have some charm too. They could do a mixed set up like Portland with both modern and heritage cars running.

        I’d also love to see the Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association restore their old Birney Safety Car #210 from the Seattle Muni system.

  14. The existing tunnel does not have the capacity to inter-line an additional LR line. A new Ballard-WS Light Rail line would probably use a tunnel on 2nd with underground pedestrian connections to the existing tunnel stations on 3rd.

    That said, the tunnel is the right option for replacing the viaduct. It’s a good decision — finally.

    1. where can i read more about this proposed west seattle-ballard LRT line? its great that the plans call for it to almost be a heavy rail line with its extensive grade seperation.

      i agree a second ave subway makes more sense than a 1st ave subway particularly with university street station entrance at benaroya hall which could easily tie into a 2nd ave subway station.

      wow seattle might be the most tunneled downtown in the country with a tunnel on 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the BNSF RR tunnel.

      1. Yeah, I think we have more non-subway tunnels downtown than any city I’ve been to. I guess it’s because our downtown is so long and narrow—between the waterfront and I-5 we only have about 7 blocks, two of which are at sea level! Once we get all these tunnels up and running, there won’t be any choice but to go elevated in the future.

    2. I suppose it would be far too risky and inefficient for them to operate on the same tracks in the tunnel with some switching?

      Also, could an elevated line be run where the existing viaduct is?

  15. The tunnel is the riskiest option for replacement. It makes everybody “happy,” but clearly we don’t know the meaning of a billion dollars anymore. This has cost-overrun and delays written all over it. Not to mention, the soil is Seattle sucks. Let’s wait to see if they still want it after they do their due diligence.

    1. Sound Transit just bored 2 tunnels through Beacon Hill using similar technology in similar soil conditions, and they did it without blowing their schedule or their budget. They have shown that this option is in fact not a high risk option.

      That being said, I have much less confidence in the project management skills of WSDOT then I do in Sound Transit’s, but WSDOT will be managing this project no matter what option gets built.

      1. Um, actually… the Beacon Hill tunnel went SIX MONTHS over schedule, and is delaying the start of Link significantly. If it had been on schedule, it’s likely Link would be opening in February. As it is, we’ll be lucky if it’s in July.

  16. What happens when downtown spreads from south Lake Union to Boeing Field? The tunnel would sure make it easier to access those areas and puts pressure on developing them at higher densities.

    1. Not really. You can’t really drive density with cars – they take up too much parking space. I know it’s weird to think that, but the only reason downtown can be as dense as it is stems from only half of the people there driving.

      1. Quite true. Parking takes up a lot of space even if you build expensive parking structures.

        If you build enough parking so most people can drive you end up with densities that look more like downtown Bellevue or Tyson’s Corner, VA.

  17. My biggest complaint is that the difference in cost between the surface options and the tunnel options is around $2~2.5 billion

    Agreed, with a big caveat — there is a difference between what we could do with $2-2.5 billion of no strings attached money and what we can actually get $2-2.5 billion to do. The state has no interest in funding transit projects in Seattle, and on top of that the money that has been budgeted is gas tax money which can only be budgeted toward roads and car ferries. So even though the surface+transit options were the cheapest, there was no money budgeted toward the transit portions of these projects.

  18. Road haters (myself included), look on the bright side:

    1.) The highway budget is legally segregated from all other budgets in this state. Money saved on this project could not be used for transit or for filling the state’s $6 billion budget hole. If we saved a billion dollars by doing something cheaper, that billion dollars could only have gone to one thing: other highways.

    2.) Therefore, building the most expensive option for the viaduct replacement effectively takes money out of the pot for sprawl inducing highways out in the suburbs.

    3.) This project does not increase vehicle capacity. In fact it decreases it. It also mitigates the negative impacts of cars by removing the viaduct. Had we saved a billion dollars, that money would have been used to do a project that DID increase vehicle capacity and thus encourage driving.

    4.) This project will not encourage MORE people to drive than are driving now since capacity is not increased.

    5.) The key to making transit work is a strong urban core in downtown Seattle. If traffic capacity in downtown were significantly reduced it would have 2 effects. The first is good: it would encourage people to shift to transit, but the second is bad: the congestion would push new development out into the suburbs. The tunnel helps keep downtown strong, which in the long run will help transit.

    6.) All of the money from this project is really going to make pedestrians’ lives better. It does not increase vehicle capacity, it just takes those cars off the waterfront and puts them underground. Arguably, it is a very expensive pedestrian amenity.

    In reality, I don’t hate cars. I hate their negative external impacts. Putting the cars underground reduces (though it does not eliminate) these impacts, and that is a good thing.

    While I preferred Surface / Transit, a tunnel is FAR better than a new elevated structure.

    1. well said tony

      though its funny how there is always money available for highways even when everything else in govt is broke.

      the best option now is probably to accept it and focus on making sure the project turns out well as far as transit, pedestrian, bike and urbanism issues are concerned…

      1. keep an eye on plans for the exhaust vents because in boston they are the size of a 12 story building…
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/antydiluvian/2732112914/

      2. ensure that the street-level remains pedestrian friendly, make sure jan gehl remains involved in the design of the public spaces, a decent replacement for the waterfront streetcar is found, etc.

      the rendering with PI article showed an abundance of empty plaza space (all the red) which concerns me.

      3. keep the capacity limited to 4 lanes total.

      4. protect the triangle hotel and bar… one of the most awesome buildings in seattle

      1. I think the most important thing, as we will finally be getting rid of the viaduct, is to ensure that the waterfront will be pedestrian friendly, making it an attractive destination to go to from Downtown. I also would like to see the Waterfront Streetcar return, though it is much less important in the transportation scheme of things than a 1st Ave line.

      2. A big key to having a pedestrian-friendly waterfront is having more there than just empty plaza. Hopefully the city will try to attract more outdoors vendors there, like sandwich/espresso carts. Actually, the plaza in the rendering looks like a perfect home for Skillet’s burger trailer!

    2. 1) No, it’s not. Mitigation money here would have paid for the 1st Avenue Streetcar and pedestrian improvements, and that would have been gas tax money. Mitigation is the exception.

      2) We’re not getting any more money from the state for the project. It’s not really going to take money from anything else without significant legislative action.

      3) It drives sprawl pretty seriously. The fact that it doesn’t serve downtown at all actually reduces the capacity of downtown for people – this removes one of our major bus access points for downtown.

      4) That’s fair. :)

      5) This will dilute the core, by subsidizing pass-through traffic compared to the surface option.

      6) That is also true.

      1. 1.) While mitigation money “could” pay for the streetcar, last I heard WSDOT was not interested in funding that part of the project.

        2.) I have not yet heard King County or the City of Seattle step up to fund the difference. IF either KC or Seattle fills in the gap, then you are correct, but right now the gap is not funded. We don’t know where it will come from. IF it does come from the state, or from tolls for that matter, in whole or in part, OR if the gap gets filled by the feds, then my point remains. Money on this project is money taken away from 405, 167, etc.

        3.) By removing through traffic from the grid and I-5, this tunnel frees up capacity on surface streets and I-5 for downtown bound traffic. Also, road capacity in the center city does not drive sprawl, capacity at the edges drives it (i.e. 405, 167, 202 etc). Unless you consider Ballard to be sprawl.

        Good point about the bus access point though, but buses would need to travel on surface streets if we implemented a surface option anyway, so this is not a net loss for buses over the alternative.

        5.) See point 3.

  19. Well see the thing about underground tunnels is, you can have one on top of another! So instead of freaking out about “there’s no more streets to put it under, there’s never gonna be West Seattle-Ballard LRT,” remember that, in fact, there’s plenty of room, whether it’s right below the surface, or 100 feet below.

    1. This is a massive 57 (IIRC) foot diameter tunnel. Remember our downtown isn’t very far above sea level. Once you dig below sea level things get complicated fast (pumped drainage, etc.). Also, ventilation becomes difficult.

      It will certainly still be possible to add rail tunnels, it just makes it (much) more expensive.

  20. Chances are if you’re going to bring LRT to Ballard ST is going to want to use existing infrastructure. Especially with ST2 passing you’d want to find a way to branch off the planned northern spine. That said I would be looking to expand north through the U District possibly through Fremont to Ballard (perhaps through Leary Way and up 15th). That way you’re capturing density and connecting neighborhoods west of the U District. I doubt that ST will want to risk the expense and I think tunneling through all that would not economically feasible.

    West Seattle is more difficult if for no other reason negotiating the WS bridge. Not to mention where to go once you’ve crossed. Do you go Delridge (line of least resistance) or try to get up near 35th?

    1. ST2 includes planning studies of the corridors from Ballard-UW, Ballard-downtown, downtown-West Seattle, Bellevue-Issaquah, and parallel to 405. I think Ballard-downtown is the most likely to appear soonest, since there is a lot of industrial ROW in Interbay and along the waterfront that would be easy to acquire and build on.

      Also, I agree with you that a tunnel is extremely unlikely through Wallingmont. The most likely solution is probably an elevated line roughly following 45th street, with a terminus near the upper UW station.

  21. Well, it’s nice to see that any initial enthusiasm for a solution supported by Nickels, Gregoire, and Sims can be muted by a tragic chorus from the transit community, determined to snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory. 96 comments and only about four of them see the tunnel solution as a good idea.

    Wow, I never knew Seattle had so many transit lines that would be discommoded by a tunnel! When would I get to ride the West Seattle-Ballard Line if the tunnel weren’t built?

    And hey, if BRT is so flexible, shouldn’t it be possible to adjust the BRT which hasn’t even been built yet (which is to say, all of it) to line up with the needs of the tunnel and commuters?

    Seriously, you guys need to remember the elephant in the room, that is to say, WSDOT and the elected representatives who have heard earfuls from their constituents, and are determined to replace at least a substantial amount of the Viaduct capacity in any follow-on. I’m guessing there are still a number of people who would be just as happy to see a tunnel idea shot down and then say “Well, we tried and failed, so now we have to build the less costly elevated freeway”. And I’m sure that Chopp and his bait-and-switch highway in the sky is one of them.

    1. While I’m not in favor of a tunnel, I find it preferable to any new elevated structure or a poorly executed surface solution (true a high-capacity waterfront street doesn’t have to suck, but bad planning can give you another Elliot Ave W or Aurora).

      Thanks for pointing out that another elevated edifice to the automobile is the real enemy here.

      The main reasons I don’t like the tunnel are:
      1. I think there are any number of other transportation improvements where the money for the cost difference between the surface option and a tunnel could be more cost effectively spent.
      2. This takes away money that would have been used to improve surface traffic flow throughout downtown. Some of the surface street improvements are still likely to happen as they are necessary for the waterfront street portion of the tunnel plan, but not to the scale of the surface only options.
      3. The tunel takes away mitigation money that might have been spent on transit or replacing the waterfront streetcar.
      4. Anything that encourages driving, and isn’t necessary to keep buses moving is bad for transit.

      OTOH objecting to the tunnel because it might interfere with a future rail line is going to sound really lame to anyone who isn’t a transit geek. Similarly objecting because of BRT concerns is fairly lame as the routing options for BRT into downtown with the tunnel are pretty much the same as they are without the tunnel.

  22. I agree with Poncho’s first posting — the start and end points of the tunnel will ruin a couple of blocks. Good thing they won’t be downtown.

    And why would boulevards have been a negative for pedestrians in the surface streets and transit plan? Sure they’d have to deal with some auto traffic but they’d have street lights, crosswalks and sidewalks that would make navigating the space very manageable, even urbane in most cases. Tens of thousands of pedestrians cross Michigan Avenue in Chicago each day to reach Millennium Park — 100,000 or more per day during peak season. Well-designed surface streets are quite good places for pedestrians because they put them on equal footing, so to speak, with cars.

    In the end, this kind of high-volume infrastructure will disrupt and degrade significant parts of Seattle, even if it’s underground for part of its route.

  23. Speaking of the Big Dig, before we start dismissing the tunnel replacement as being a boondoggle or a money pit, I think we should look at how the tunnels in the Big Dig project have affected the scenery and quality of life in downtown Boston. I am sure for those living in Boston the investment in the project has been worth it and it has improved the scenery of the downtown and quality of life has been improved. I think the tunnel is finally getting of an eye-sore and it opens up the waterfront and makes downtown a more liveable space. Regarding the cost I think the people here have more experience now about such project and will manage to keep on budget.

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