A group of deep-bore tunnel opponents have launched a new site — tunnelfacts.com — that brings a lot of anti-tunnel arguments in one place. (Disclosure: STB associate editor Ben Scheindelman has contributed material to the site).

Among STB staff, I’m probably the softest on the tunnel, yet even I think it’s a dumb idea.  I’m “soft” in the sense that the state is going to blow its gas tax money on a dumb project somewhere, and this isn’t any dumber than most other options.  What I can’t tolerate is the city’s contribution, plus its commitment to cover the overruns (which the Mayor’s office claims is unenforceable).

So I agree with what tunnelfacts.com is trying to accomplish. That said, I’m kind of uncomfortable with some of the stuff there, in particular this page and this little graphic (go here for the interactive version, sorry for the small pic):


Two things about this make me queasy:

  1. The general “$4 billion is sooo much money!” tone of this reminds me too much of anti-light rail campaigns.  When you take any large project and divvy up the cost to lots of worthy little programs, you deliver the impression that you could solve all the city’s problems instead.  It’s the kind of argument that can be applied to any single large infrastructure project.  As someone in favor of certain large infrastructure projects, I feel uncomfortable that some of my allies in those campaigns are using this kind of tactic.  This kind of argument is even more applicable to ST2, and equally facetious, since light rail is the most cost-effective way to provide an alternative to congestion and take us off an unsustainable development path.  The issue is that the benefits of the tunnel are low or negative, not that the cost is a really large number.
  2. The chart isn’t really truthful.  The state’s contribution, in the form of gas tax revenue and tolls, isn’t transferrable to all the worthy causes the chart lists.  So “what to do with the money” is a $1 billion + overruns question, not a $4.2 billion question, unless you’re going to go find about  3 billion in highway projects to fund instead.

Everybody has a pet project, but if you wanted to find a way to spend $1 billion in nonexistent city taxes productively, you could do worse than a Second Avenue, rail-convertible bus tunnel.  It would improve transit mobility  downtown, benefiting the same neighborhoods as the deep-bore tunnel. Moreover,  it means we’d get much more rail for the buck when we finally proceed with ST3.  The 3rd Avenue DSTT cost about $800m-900m in today’s dollars*, so we’re at the same order of magnitude in terms of costs to the city.

* Disclaimers: A 2nd Avenue tunnel would probably terminate in Uptown somewhere, and therefore be longer (and cost more) than the 3rd Avenue tunnel. Also, since the 1980s construction inflation != consumer price inflation.

117 Replies to “New Anti-Tunnel Site”

  1. I think what to do with the money is a perfectly valid question – we do need to change the state constitution to allow gas taxes to be spent on non-highway transportation, and it’s okay to talk about that. This money should be usable for mass transit.

    And I think it’s difficult for people to understand how much money a billion dollars is. That graphic isn’t about real things we could spend that money on, it’s about what a huge amount of money it is for something that doesn’t benefit us, and it helps make that amount of money easier for us to grok.

    I don’t see an issue with saying “this is a huge amount of money and it could be doing all these other things”, because we need to talk about where this money comes from and why it’s stuck on highway projects. If we were talking about $4 billion for a new mass transit line, that’s something we’d all get behind, and we’d say “hey, this is a good and positive use of money” – but this is a very poor use of money.

    1. Ben,

      The constitutional gas tax prescriptions are a huge issue way out of the scope of this tunnel. A site like this is a very, very oblique way to approach it.

      As I said in the Prop 1 debates, billions of dollars don’t mean anything to people — cost per person does. Without knowing how the tunnel’s being paid for (aside from gas taxes), that’s impossible to compute.

      “This is a poor use of money” is a fine argument, and one I support. “This is a huge amount of money” implies that it’s never worthwhile to do a multibillion dollar project, because you could solve all the city’s other problems otherwise.

      1. I’m not creating any ‘never’ or ‘always’ absolutes here – I don’t see why you’re bringing those into the discussion. Everyone (sic) is in favor of billions for projects that meet our policy goals.

        “Lots of money for something you don’t want” is a perfectly valid argument here.

        And the gas tax debate isn’t going to start anywhere else.

      2. I’ve been called naive in other discussions for bringing up this same argument. It is unfortunate that some people seem to think that the constitution was created by some higher power that loves highways and shame on us inferior humans for even thinking of changing it.

      3. You’ll get no argument from me that it’s a bad provision in the constitution. If there were any effort at all to repeal it, it’d be a good thing.

        But criticizing individual projects based on an analysis assuming the Constitution is different is kind of ridiculous. For instance, I could criticize ST2 by coming up with a much more extensive plan funded by an income tax. See! ST2 is bad because it’s funded by regressive taxes! All you have to do is assume away constitutional obstacles and you can do better!

      4. I think the tunnel is a perfect opportunity to talk about the gas tax. Its an incredibly high profile project and the voters are pretty against it. So why not start the conversation here by saying, “In this particular situation we could get a lot more bang for our buck in terms of moving people if that money were used on other transit related projects. So why is is illegal for us to do this?” Its a very concrete situation for people to understand why the tax needs to be fixed.

      5. Yep, including ferries. How about funding a new ferry terminal, Edmonds Crossing, I-90 HOV, 520 replacement, I-90 Keechelus, or any of the other projects that need money? How about some bike lanes on highway projects already planned? The I-5 Columbia Crossing? We can EASILY spend this money on other things that need to be done.

      6. Josh, agreed. This is that high profile case that can grab enough of the attention needed in order to get such a bureaucratic monster of a project, such as changing the constitution, moving. Plus, gotta start somewhere.

      7. Also, for your #2 – there are plenty of other highway projects to fund. How about all those ferry terminals, and ferry replacements? How about tunneling the I-90 Keechelus segment instead of just building snow sheds? How about HOV lane projects? There are plenty of ‘good’ projects to go around, that’s not an issue at all.

      8. If ~$3 billion of that chart was worthy highway and ferry projects, I agree that objection #2 would fall away.

  2. Martin,
    I agree the state is just going to blow its contribution elsewhere if the tunnel is stopped. Things like the cross-base highway or 520 project. It is unlikely they will put much toward things like bridge maintenance or the ferry system’s capital program that have been woefully underfunded by the legislature.

    However it isn’t just the money the City of Seattle is on the hook for but the King County and Port contributions that are troubling. While the port can probably come up with their portion I have no doubt there are better places for them to spend their cash. King County is even more broke than the City and has even less hope of funding their portion.

    Everyone involved is insisting the tunnel won’t have cost overruns because there are enough contingency funds budgeted in to the project. I have a hard time believing that when the project is only 2% designed and no analysis based on core samples from the tunnel path has been done yet. Digging around here is always a complex business, just look at the problems Sound Transit had with the Beacon Hill Tunnel or King County is having with the tunnels for Brightwater.

    The other thing I’m told is we have to swallow this tunnel if we want our waterfront back otherwise the state is going to build an elevated structure that makes the West Seattle Bridge look small by comparison. I still don’t see how the state can get away with building a new highway on the waterfront over the state’s objections. Not to mention all of the possible private lawsuits. Heck if it comes to it I suppose the good citizens of Seattle can just go down to the waterfront and physically block construction.

    1. Chris,

      I agree with everything you said above, and I don’t see that it conflicts with my post.

      1. It doesn’t really conflict, though I guess I was rather obliquely addressing your two objections. In that for the City, and County it is a damn lot of money, and money that can be better spent elsewhere. They don’t have the same restrictions on re-allocating the funds committed to the tunnel as the State does. For that matter the State is restricted only to the extent the money came from the gas tax. Heck there are plenty of better places to spend the gas tax money even with the constitutional restriction.

        The other thing is I think pointing out this is at least $1.4 billion per-mile project. Compare that to the per-mile cost of Central Link, U-Link, or North Link. Heck compare it to the per-mile cost of replacing 520 or widening I-405. This is one damn expensive highway.

    2. King County is in even less hope of funding their portion because the legislature and governor won’t give them the tools to do so. The promise from the state to King County, supported by the city, was that Metro would get a 1% motor vehicle excise tax. However, the state did nothing to fulfill this promise. Metro will forever be broke in comparison to the demand for transit service if they do not have any way of raising the revenue necessary to provide that service. Bus service does not grow on trees.

    1. It does no such thing. With or without a tunnel, the waterfront will be congested. Without a tunnel, people will use transit more, and more people will choose to take shorter trips – reducing VMT, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and helping to revitalize the center city.

      1. I agree with Rex that the existing viaduct is an eyesore and needs to go and sooner rather than later.

        I don’t really understand why we need to object to a tunnel because of its cost (all tunnels by their nature cost a fortune) or why we have to oppose it because it doesn’t involve mass transit. As I see things, the tunnel is key to getting freight into and out of the Port of Seattle.

        I also thought that the tunnel was now a done and accepted deal and as WSDOT is already working on the southern portion of the road, it seems pointless at this juncture to start second guessing the rest of it. It took too long just to get to this point.

        As a newly annointed and baptized American citizen, I feel I can comment more freely now on my long-held view that the sheer amount of time we waste on discussing and second guessing these things leads only to prolonged inertia (a term President Obama used last night regarding the health care bills in Congress) and an inability to get anything done. Democracy souldn’t mean necessarily that everyone gets to say something or have a point of view, simply that it is the fairest means to getting things done in the fairest way possible but at the end of the day, even a complex democracy needs to get things done and our tendency in Seattle to fillibuster everything into oblivion doesn’t help us.

        If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the tunnel option, I think we should let the State get on with it. It is preferable to either retrofitting the exisiting viaduct or building another bridge.

        As all of us must have done at some point, the underneath of the existing bridge looks like a film set from the French Connection – it is tortuous having to get to and from the ferry terminals and the whole waterfront looks like a disconnected other world with only the most tenuous and fragile of connections to the rest of the downtown. West Edge should be renamed as Disconnected Edge.


      2. Well, Tim…

        Then you might want to know that much of the freight on the Waterfront won’t be able to use the Tunnel.

        When citizens were able to make an advisory vote on a tunnel option (cut and cover, though, not bored), they voted NO at around 70%. They were not given the opportunity to vote on a Surface Alternative.

        When the Stakeholders Advisory group met, they eventually chose between two options: a surface and transit plan or a new elevated structure. A majority supported the surface plan…

        UNTIL this bored tunnel option was submitted at the last moment, at the behest of Downtown businesses, without being properly vetted, and without very much public input.

        That doesn’t look like democracy to me.

        P.S. The work currently underway on the south end has no bearing whatsoever on which alternative can be implemented for replacing the main structure.

      3. As I see things, the tunnel is key to getting freight into and out of the Port of Seattle.

        I don’t think it has a thing to do with moving freight through the Port of Seattle. If you want to make an impact on freight mobility and relieve regional congestion the best way to do it would be to crown the Stampede Pass tunnel. That’s a tunnel project the State should be spending money on and only offered up $25 million. I think $2 Billion on a road that is primarily a SOV bypass of downtown is a huge waste of money. But if there’s demand for it fine; pay for it with tolls like the second Narrows Bridge.

      4. OK, so they voted “no” on a tunnel under Alaskan Way and not under First Avenue.

        I can’t believe that any of us want to reopen this debate when 3 out of the 4 stakeholders – King County, the City of Seattle and Olympia have all agreed on a tunnel option. All I am saying is that you have a democracy where you don’t trust our elected leaders to make a decision on anything, you will end up with a situation where there is no point electing anyone and no leadership at all.

        As I recall, no one voted for Safeco Field and Quest Field either but few can say they don’t contribute anything to the fabric of life in Seattle.

        If the State wanted to place every nickel and cent into the tunnel and not fund anything else, then I would say we should vote on whether the tunnel should be funded as an over riding priority in State and local transportation funding, but no one is suggesting we vote or not vote for the tunnel for these reasons but simply because elected leadership made a decision to build the tunnel. That is not a good enough reason for wanting a vote on it. You will never get local leadership that way.

        Olympia is funding plenty of projects other than the tunnel and Sound Transit of course is dealing with expanding light rail as a result of ST2 passing.

        So the money is not all available right now, but I am sure that in future federal transportation budgets that Senator Murray will be able to get some funds for us – because she is chairperson of the Transportation Appropriations Sub-Committee, she is good at her job and getting the State money and because this will be a vital project.

        Enough debate already – we have discussed this to death!


      5. rex, who on earth is suggesting we build a viaduct?

        No tunnel means no tunnel, NOT yes viaduct.

      6. So what’s your point? A tunnel is still better than a viaduct regardless. A viaduct is what exits now and a tunnel is what will replace it.

      7. We could tear down the viaduct and not build a new one and not build a tunnel as a replacement. This is what San Francisco did with the Embarcadero Freeway.

        There are more choices than elevated highway or tunnel.

        My personal hope is the engineers red tag the thing before tunnel construction starts.

    2. Its not like we are going to have this wonderful car-free haven. Take a look at the latest design specs released. They are still going to have a three lane access road, a 6 to 7 lane Alaskan Way, plus all the on/off ramps surfacing all over the place.

  3. I have a feeling that we’ll have another quake, which will force our hand at getting the viaduct issue finally resolved.

  4. What troubles me is that the discussions always seem to center around how many total vehicles the current Viaduct carries per day, and what its replacement options would need to support. The real comparison should be about how many throughput vehicles it carries per day, because those would be the trips that benefit from the tunnel. Those vehicles that exit onto downtown streets would be just as well served by surface options, would they not? I am sure these comparisons have been made somewhere, but only total capacity seems to be quoted when discussing the tunnel.

  5. The potential for tunnel flooding is an issue that concerns me, but seems to bother few other folks, or at least the engineers designing the tunnel. (I’m a big fan of the surface street proposals, by the way. I’d just as soon see the tunnel idea permanently nixed.)

    The B.U.T.T. (Bremerton Underground Transportation Tunnel) opened recently, and it includes some interesting features: When it floods (apparently during high tide, and I honestly don’t know how much water we’re talking about here), the sump pumps kick in, a loud alarm sounds, and a barricade comes down, rendering the $54M two-block-long boutique tunnel impassable for the duration.

    On July 8, two days after the grand opening, I was told by somebody who observed the entire event that at one point it took half an hour to shut the alarm off. On July 14, WSDOT closed one lane for “work,” but no word on what that was about, or if the fix was successful.

    The B.U.T.T. is cut-and-cover and is just below street level, and the proposed Seattle tunnel will be deep bore, so those major differences in construction doubtless have an impact on flooding issues. And what I recall reading over the fast few years in the local press is that WSDOT has basically said flooding won’t be a problem, yet that’s what we were told about Boston and Bremerton. So taking Boston’s and Bremerton’s leaky tunnels into consideration, why should we believe flooding wouldn’t be an issue for a Seattle waterfront tunnel?

    That said, the B.U.T.T. is a hit, and is working as designed, diverting speeding drivers exiting ferries away from a pedestrian-oriented downtown.

    1. And the Seattle Bus Tunnel had some serious water leaks – underground springs, if I recall correctly – when it opened, and that cost some big bucks to fix.

      1. This is not a waterfront tunnel. Because of the topography, it may be possible that the center of the tunnel will be higher than either end. Flooding is only an issue if the center of the tunnel is lower.

    2. Groundwater would be the only real concern as the tunnel entrances are well above sea level and the tunnel itself is anywhere from 3 blocks at the South ent to 1/2 mile at the North end inland.

      Any tunnel is going to be fairly well sealed against groundwater infiltration and I’m sure the design has drains/pumps to take care of whatever seepage gets into the tunnel plus whatever might get in the ends when it rains.

      1. They have certainly figured out how to build very long tunnels under the ocean (Channel Tunnel, Seikan Tunnel) or tunnels deep under mountains (57 km, 10 m diameter, Gotthard Base Tunnel). These are all railway tunnels not road tunnels.

  6. anyone else worried about the need for planned redundancy in throughput capacity, to take into account what might transpire if/when I-5 needs to be fixed and/or has to be closed for any period of time? that’s one factor I’m weighing heavily.

    I live in north seattle, ride transit 90% of commute trips and maybe 10% of non-commute trips. There are certain trips where transit is entirely ineffective, and having a free-flowing (via tolling) way to circumvent downtown for those trips would be very helpful….

    1. No, because most of the trips on 5 aren’t through trips, they’re into and out of the city. When 5 needs replacement, it’ll happen in segments, the whole freeway won’t be closed at once. Yes, traffic will suck, but gosh, we could add more Sounder service to relieve a lot of that stress… :)

      1. how? doesn’t bnsf own the tracks? I thought they were playing hardball with extra sounder trains being offered.

      2. They can play hardball with ST. They can’t play hardball with the state when we need congestion relief for a state construction project.

      3. Actually, they can play hardball with the state. An eminent domain proceeding would be a contested issue because the BNSF line is a vital freight artery….

        However, given the drop in freight loadings due to the recession, I suspect that BNSF would actually be happy to take the the extra money for a temporary increase in train runs, because as long as the line isn’t congested, it’s just free money to them. Permanent increases worry them because freight loadings should go back up in the future, but temporary increases should be no problem.

      4. The BNSF would sooner gouge their eyes out with a rusty tin can than allow any harm to come to their ownership and control of the tracks from Seattle to Everett. And they wouldn’t have any shortage of allies- the Port of Seattle depends on that line to move containers east.

        An American railroad is an institution shaped by 100 years of fighting off encroachment- by the public, by the government, by other railroads- and by 100 years of long-term investment in right-of-way. The BNSF may be nicer to deal with than the UP, but the line to Everett, and Stevens Pass, are probably the two most irreplaceable elements of the BNSF access to Chicago. Think of your body part you would least like a stranger to mess with- that’s how the BNSF feels about the ROW between Seattle and Everett.

  7. Building a tunnel that would be “rail convertible” is about as dumb as building the DST bus tunnel to be “rail convertible”. Cars and trains don’t mix. The bus and rail tunnel just barely works, and pretty soon the buses are going to be kicked out. It would be better to just build another rail tunnel and skip the car part. Once cars are in it, the conversation to convert it would be endless.

    Rebuilding an elevated structure serves the truck traffic but not the city. Seattle needs to focus on being a place people go to and live in and not a place people drive through fast. Besides the proposed tunnel doesn’t serve the truck traffic that was complaining in the first place.

    1. Nobody was talking about cars. Buses. It says rail convertible BUS tunnel.

      There’s no way to afford the whole ballard-west seattle line at once.

      1. Sure there is, the MVET Tax that was once used to fund the now non-existent Greenline Monorail.

        There is support for this line and an in-city tax would win at the polls if ST were designated to build and run it. And a certain Mayor got behind it.

        And even if we did a BUS/train tunnel it might have even more support.

      2. Ben’s saying you could probably get a second avenue bus tunnel on just Seattle’s dime., but not fund something all the way from Ballard to West Seattle. The downtown tunnel would be the most expensive part, so getting it out of the way first would be cool.

        But I don’t think there’s real momentum for that yet.

      3. Gary,

        I’m not sure that the MVET would cover the whole thing, to put it mildly.

        The attraction of the bus tunnel idea is:
        1) It’s about the same cost as the city’s portion of the deep-bore tunnel.
        2) It’s a hugely important down payment on ST3, so that those lines can go farther given a certain lump of funding.
        3) It’s calculated to benefit the same areas that benefit from the deep-bore, meaning you could get revenue from basically the same sources, whatever those are.

      4. When you say it’s about the same cost as the city’s portion of the deep-bore tunnel, are you including the seawall replacement in the “city’s cost”? As near as I can see, the seawall will be replaced, first, because apparently it has deteriorated, and second, because of anticipated rises of sea levels related to AGW. Cities all over the world are rebuilding their seawalls and flood defenses.

        Secondly, the deep-bore tunnel will carry major amounts of trucks. This is quite obvious from even a brief viewing of the current traffic on the Viaduct. Not sure how those trucks will benefit from a bus tunnel.

        Finally, if you say you want to spend the proposed First Avenue Streetcar funding on a bus tunnel, that really has nothing to do with a deep-bore tunnel. It’s just an expression of a preference for one transit alternative over another.

      5. A citywide MVET would get us maybe $2 billion in capital costs. A full Ballard-West Seattle line would be more like $5 billion, when you’re not cutting the corners the monorail project would have, and you do proper tunneling.

  8. That tunnel is a bad idea because it doesn’t accept transit going thru the tunnel, it isn’t really a flexible tunnel.

    I wouldn’t be surprised that we might have cost overruns on the deep bore tunnel. Remember the Boston’s big dig?

  9. Maybe someone can help me out here. My understanding was that the “city contribution” to the tunnel solution was going to be public transit so the people going downtown would ride transit instead of driving.

    If you think this is wrong, please provide a link, as I have looked pretty hard at this information every time I have seen it, and this is my recollection.

    1. Serial Catowner,

      The county’s contribution is $190 Million, mostly for increased Metro service.

      The city’s contribution includes some money for a new First Avenue streetcar, that is true. But the bulk of it is for utility relocation (a whole lot of utility lines run under the viaduct) and seawall replacement (which, if this were Bellingham or Tacoma, the State would be paying for), plus improvements to the surface streets.

      There’s also a little bit of intellectual dishonesty in the State’s $4.24 Billion estimate. In the I-5/Transit plan, the State would spend $500 Million on improvements to I-5 to remove the downtown bottleneck (Hey, Martin, there’s something we could spend the gas tax money on!). Now, all the pro-tunnel people assume this will be done anyway, but they’re not including this cost in the overall estimates for the tunnel plan. The cost of the Mercer and Spokane street improvements isn’t included either, even though they’re basically required for the tunnel to fit into the street grid. So that’s another $300 Million.

      Bottom line: yeah, there’s some transit in the tunnel plan. There’s a lot more transit in the I-5/transit plan, and it costs a lot less. Like, maybe $2 Billion less.

      1. The transit options are needed anyway, and could be implemented without the Tunnel.

  10. Wow, your comment threads fill up quickly. That’s what I get for sleeping in.


    Some thoughts:

    !) We’re not against megaprojects in general, only megaprojects that are stupid.

    2) It is perfectly reasonable to make cost comparisons in order to illustrate the size of what is, for most people, a very abstract number.

    3) I grant you that if this argument were made against ST2 (or a proposed 2nd Ave Transit tunnel, and I idea I love, btw) I would be irritated. But as you point out, that argument would be specious in that context, because light rail is a more cost effective solution. In the tunnel, we’ve ‘chosen’ the most expensive, least cost-effective method. A method which, I hope our site illustrates, will probably not achieve its own stated goals. So in the context of everything else on the site, I think that helping our readers wrap their minds around the cost is a totally valid thing to do. The argument isn’t made in a vacuum.

    4) The argument “the State has gas tax money to spend, so we may as well spend it on a tunnel” is not particularly persuasive. Even if our only options were building the tunnel or flushing $2.82 Billion down the toilet, I would still prefer not building the tunnel because it’s a bad idea regardless of the cost. You cannot tell me there are not worthy projects somewhere in the State on which we could spend this money. Your comment is more of an argument for changing the Constitution than it is for building the tunnel, don’t you think?

    Anyway, those are just my off-the-cuff thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to read through the site.


    1. Derek,

      I reiterate that I’m totally with you guys, just queasy about the tone of two particular pages on your site.

      You should totally make the case that the benefits of the tunnel are low or negative, and out of proportion to its cost.

      My primary objection is the attack on its size in isolation. Transportation projects, good or bad, are expensive, andcomparing it to how many teachers you could hire, or whatever, is a quick path to never building anything at all.

      I’d be much happier if that chart came up with ~$3b of worthy state road projects and then $1 billion+ of good transit that the city could do with its share. I nominated the 2nd ave tunnel, but of course that hasn’t been seriously costed.

      1. Lets see:
        Fixing Spokane Street, resurfacing I-5, fixing I-5 bottlenecks through Seattle, 520 project, replacing aging ferries, replacing aging ferry terminals, replacing the South Park bridge, filling in holes in the HOV network are all things I can think of right off the top of my head and even without 520 probably add up to way more than $2.8 billion so there is no lack of other things to spend the money on.

  11. There are two issues regarding the $$$, Martin. One is priorities and the other is taxing authority.

    I have no trouble making the argument that spending money on large transit projects yields great results. I can’t do the same for this Waterfront Tunnel. And what does it say when our local and state governments prioritize spending billions on this roadway for cars when we’re cutting funds for education, health care, libraries, community policing, etc.?

    It’s not about being able to “transfer” billions of dollars from highway spending to beautiful transit uses. However, where do folks think the Port is going to get its share of the funding from? Most likely property taxes. If they raise property taxes, how willing are folks going to be to pay for other things funded by city and county property taxes? If the state makes up its shortfall by increasing license fees on cars, will that make folks less likely to raise car fees to fund ST3? If the city raises parking taxes to fund its share of the Tunnel, how will we pay for pedestrian and bicycle improvements in Seattle?

    1. I fully concur that the non-gas-tax portion can be legitimately proposed to go to whatever you want.

  12. Just FYI, the DSTT is bus only right now. I was waiting at Westlake for about 15 mins and they then sent us to Stadium to catch SB trains.

  13. How about we option out the bottom deck to become HCT in the future and put an elevated West Seattle to Ballard Link there.

    1. Because then you likely won’t have any stations downtown, except possibly really deep Beacon Hill-style ones.

      1. You’re not fine with the cost, which would be higher than building a 2nd Avenue tunnel separately.

    2. WHY are people fixated on Ballard-West Seattle light rail? There may indeed be enough ridership in and out of West Seattle to support a fixed guideway system that was at grade everywhere, but Ballard has two twenty minute headway buses on 15th West, and they’re not always full. That’s a 40 or 60 foot bus every ten minutes or maximum passenger flow of about 300 per hour each direction.

      Light rail needs at least 2,000 passengers per hour in the middle of the day to be cost-effective. Ballard is not a valid destination.

      In any case, even West Seattle is not a valid destination, because the Duwamish Waterway must either be bridged next to the high span or tunneled. Either would make the route unaffordable. The 55 bus offers very fast and reliable service to and from West Seattle. Light rail would not improve on it.

      1. Because they’re underserved and provide ample growth opportunity if connected via reliable fast transit service.

      2. The 120 down Delridge Avenue and the 54 from the Alaska Junction are two of the highest ridership routes Metro operates.

      3. What’s the maximum reasonable hourly throughput for either of these routes given current conditions compared to projected and possible growth?

      4. The 120 is currently standing room-only much of the day, and has 15 minute frequency. I believe the 54 is the same. Both are slated to be “converted” to the so-called Rapid Ride at a future date.

      5. On the Ballard side, the line would likely serve Belltown, Uptown/Seattle Center, Interbay, Ballard, Wallingford (or Fremont), and the U District. You’d pick up riders from more than just the 15 and the 18 — you’ve also got other high-ridership routes like the 44, the 2, the 13, and the 16.

      6. Anandakos,
        Travel to and from both Ballard and West Seattle to downtown is painful at the best of times. While there may be a lot of bus service it is very slow and prone to delays especially on PM peak trips. The routes serving Ballard from downtown (15, 18, 28) are generally packed in the afternoon. A Ballard line would also serve Beltown and Lower Queen Anne which are both very dense neighborhoods with a large number of transit riders.

        Besides part of the idea of such a line is it gives us a place to put the millions of people expected to move to the area in the next 20 years rather than building more greenfield developments out on the exurban edge.

        If a Ballard to West Seattle line were built more or less following the route of the now cancelled Green line (IOW the route of the 15 and 54) I have no doubt it would see fairly high ridership and that there would be an explosion of TOD around the stations.

        Then again this is part of the reason to do a detailed corridor study, if the numbers don’t work out they don’t work out, but lets at least go far enough down the road to know for sure before we say “buses for you!”

  14. Where are the authors of the tunnelfacts website getting their $4.2B figure for the tunnel? The deep bore tunnel itself is estimated at around $2B on the WSDOT project webpage. $4.24B is the overall SR99 program cost. In particular, look at the table on page 2 of this pdf:


    Saying that the bored tunnel costs $4.2B overall and $500k per foot is flat out untrue.

    1. Agreed. To quote Martin, that kind of twisting of the facts “makes me queasy.” That sort of obfuscation seems more like campaign propaganda than an honest discussion of facts.

      1. No, the the table in the link I posted shows the contributions from the various agencies that make up the $4.24B total program cost:

        State of WA: $2.82B, $1.9B of which is for the “S99 Bored Tunnel and Systems”
        King County: $190M, $0 of which is for the “S99 Bored Tunnel and Systems”
        City of Seattle: $930M, $0 of which is for the “S99 Bored Tunnel and Systems”
        Port of Seattle: $300M, $0 of which is for the “S99 Bored Tunnel and Systems”
        TOTAL: $4.24B, $1.9B of which is for the “S99 Bored Tunnel and Systems”

        I agree that the $1.9B may not be the final cost of the bored tunnel when all is said and done. However, page 3 of that linked document does show that $584M of the $1.9B estimate is for risk and cost escalation.

      2. OK, I see what you mean. The table weirdly lists “Moving Forward Projects and
        Prior Expenditures” together ($600m of state and $300m of Port). Obviously we can’t un-spend the planning money either.

    2. Brian, you can’t build that tunnel without building the other parts too. It’s just like not being able to build it without emergency facilities.

      1. Yeah, some people in the P-I/Times comments claim we only need to replace just the 520 bridge and save money while ignoring the equally vulnerable Portage Bay bridge, the Montlake Interchange bottleneck, and expanding 520 on the east side for the extra HOV lanes that go across the bridge.

      2. Ben, I think you’ve got that backwards – the other parts are going to be built with or without the tunnel.

  15. Martin mentions building a transit tunnel on 2nd. Doesn’t the large sewer main (104 inches?) there prevent that possibility?
    i.e., the vehicle tunnel can go under second because it’s deep-bore and has no access from the surface along its route. But a transit tunnel needs stations, and the sewer line makes those impossible.

    1. I believe the sewer main is actually fairly deep and likely wouldn’t be much of an issue. There is also the option of putting a transit tunnel down 5th instead which while somewhat complicated by Westlake Station on the existing transit tunnel also offers the opportunity of putting a multi-level transfer station there.

      1. The ID station could also become a multi-line station. The current ID station isn’t actually under 5th Avenue but is on the West half/third of the block between 4th and 5th. If there isn’t quite enough width for the station box under 5th the ID station could be partially underpinned as well.

        While it is more expensive than a simple cut and cover station, underpinning exsisting underground transit stations is done all of the time, especially in places like NY, London, or Paris. It is how those cities ended up with multi-level multi-line transfer stations at various locations.

        A 5th Avenue alignment would be the able to serve the East side of the Seattle Center and the Gates Foundation Campus. While such a station doesn’t really serve SLU it is closer than any other station (though Westlake does have the advantage of a direct streetcar connection). Another idea would be a possiblity of connecting Ballard to West Seattle Link to the existing Link network between ID and Stadium stations. I don’t know if the track geometry would work out for a direct connection to East Link but a Connection to the tracks heading South would be fairly easy. You may even want to share the tracks along busway down to Lander for the West Seattle segment. It would also make it possible to have single seat rides from West Seattle to the U-District and points North and from Ballard to the Airport to points South, maybe Ballard to the Eastside as well if the track geometry works out. Operationally I’m not sure you’d want to do this other than for special occasions or emergencies

    2. The sewer main could be put over or under a new transit tunnel. No reason it can’t be rebuilt with the construction project for the tunnel.

  16. This all reminds me of when I was young and part of a radically dissenting minority. Among other things, we opposed a massive project that we felt would only serve the rich neighborhoods, the ruling classes of Seattle, and possibly some Nixon-voting hardhats.

    So, I voted against mass transit in 1970.

    So, it appears that Seattle’s contribution to the tunnel project, to date, consists of transit, surface street improvements, and rebuilding the seawall. Apparently the seawall must be rebuilt, regardless of whether a tunnel is built, so I can’t really count that as a “cost of the tunnel that the city is paying”. I would like to see the First Avenue Streetcar line built, and the streets improved for pedestrian and transit traffic, so I don’t really regard those as big negatives attached to building the tunnel.

    Beyond my own personal feeling that a built tunnel is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed, for future conversion to rail, I find the anti-tunnel arguers particularly unimpressive. I can’t remember when I’ve seen someone respond to that kind of criticism by changing their behavior, so I won’t list details, which in any case can be ascertained by reading anti-tunnel comments in a skeptical frame of mind.

    I’m guessing that one possible resolution of this situation would be a Tim Eyman initiative to build a new viaduct as the cheapest alternative. This would be particularly ironic if it turned out to be the “don’t throw me in that briar patch” solution that Gregoire and the highway department have been hoping for all along.

    The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

    1. You CANNOT convert that tunnel to rail. CAN NOT. You will have four riders per weekday.

      1. Can you explain why this is so? My one little piece of consolation from all this tunnel idiocy has been the thought that one day elevator shafts will be sunk from downtown and it will be turned into a rail line – what am I missing?

      2. OK, here’s a wilder long-term option. Suppose you convert the deep tunnel to *long distance* rail (Sounder and Amtrak Cascades and BNSF) and convert the shallow BNSF tunnel to transit. Isn’t that possible *if* the deep tunnel exits are at the right locations (I haven’t looked, maybe they’re not)?

      3. The grades in the deep bore tunnel are too steep for heavy rail. Besides the North portal isn’t anywhere near where the freight and passenger trains are.

      4. Whoa, just back up the train here. Interurban service used to run from Fremont north, and I’m wondering just what kinds of grades those would be in the tunnel that would prevent electric rail, with all wheels powered, from climbing them.

        Secondly, if you just build out on the Hiway 99 ROW (entirely fitting, considering how much of 99 was built on interurban ROW), it doesn’t matter where the freight and passenger trains are- you create a new transportation corridor running through a lot of TOD-ready landscape.

        Believe it, when gas gets up around $10-15/gallon (I’m guessing 10 years from now) you might be ready to convert 99 back to electric trains.

      5. Maybe that would work for interurban service, but it wouldn’t work for big-time heavy-duty long-distance freight. Why the hell would BNSF give up a water level route between Seattle and Everett for a hilly one requiring a new bridge over the ship canal?

        Sure rail equipment can do the sort of grades talked about for the deep bore tunnel, this doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good idea. Long haul passenger and freight trains don’t generally have every axle powered which is what gives trams, LRVs, etc fairly good hill climbing ablity.

        Of course the problem with the deep-bore tunnel for short-haul interurban type service is the lack of stations in the downtown core. I suppose you could try to mine some in, but at that point I have to wonder if maybe you would have been better off just building a rail transit tunnel in the first place.

  17. Regarding the gas tax, we don’t understand why the state constitution is a big obstacle to using the revenues for progressive transportation. The obstacle seems political. The relevant portion of the state constitution:

    SECTION 40 HIGHWAY FUNDS. All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes. Such highway purposes shall be construed to include the following:
    (a) The necessary operating, engineering and legal expenses connected with the administration of public highways, county roads and city streets;
    (b) The construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges and city streets; including the cost and expense of (1) acquisition of rights-of-way, (2) installing, maintaining and operating traffic signs and signal lights, (3) policing by the state of public highways, (4) operation of movable span bridges, (5) operation of ferries which are a part of any public highway, county road, or city street;
    (c) The payment or refunding of any obligation of the State of Washington, or any political subdivision thereof, for which any of the revenues described in section 1 may have been legally pledged prior to the effective date of this act;
    (d) Refunds authorized by law for taxes paid on motor vehicle fuels;
    (e) The cost of collection of any revenues described in this section:
    Provided, That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator’s license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax thereon, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles.

    Gas taxes can be used for city streets!!! What Seattle leaders need to do a better job of doing is pointing out that the City of Seattle’s transportation system is much more reliant on ordinary city streets than highways, and so it’s only fair that Seattle taxpayers get a fair share of the state gas taxes dedicated to Seattle city streets.

    This state funding of Seattle city streets would fund alternative transportation in a few important ways. First, with Seattle’s Complete Streets ordinance, reconstructed city streets would be designed with adequate facilities for biking, walking, and transit. Second, portions of the City of Seattle’s transportation budget could be reallocated from city streets to buying transit hours or further improving biking and pedestrian infrastructure.

    Of course, the Legislature could be very reluctant to go this route, but it seems to use that the state constitution isn’t a legal obstacle. Again, the problem appears to be political.

    Or are we crazy here?

  18. I like it when the government builds big things in urban areas. Build it all, build more tunnels for cars, build high speed rail, build light rail all over the damn place, build some stadiums, extend the monorail, host another worlds fair, do something at the scale of the Montlake Cut and the Locks, and then find some more to build.

    1. Damn it, I like this planet, and I like having a temperate climate where food can be grown easily. Let’s NOT keep subsidizing internal combustion engines.

      1. But what of the road infrastructure? In 75 years oil and gas are going to be so expensive that there’s going to be something else propelling rubber-tired vehicles, one would think. Let’s raise the gas tax, institute an internal combustion engine tax, and subsidize the heck out of something new with rubber tires to move our local food. As a mostly road hater, I don’t feel the antipathy for this tunnel that I feel for 405 lanes, 520, a cross-base highway, etc., and maybe that’s because it takes a big, ugly road and makes it a bit smaller. It’s a very small and very costly victory against roads, which is painful, but it’s a big ass tunnel, which is cool because it’s a big ass tunnel. If the Seattle area in the last few years is an anecdotal indicator, gas prices are better at getting people out of their cars than congestion.

        Speaking of deep bore tunnels, no matter what’s in them, it’s always fascinating what strong opinions the current and future Link and proposed 99 tunnels generate given what a huge amount of sewage is transported through deep bore tunnels.

        Speaking of alternative fuels, what sort of crime or traffic infraction could one be charged with if one devised a car that used Metro’s trolleybus lines. Kind of a useless idea.

    2. Matt

      Are you being sarcastic! If not, I agree with you – I do think it is the role of government to build “big things” that private enterprise deems unprofitable to build themselves and which the rest of us consider socially necessary.

      I thought that the STB was behind a tunnel option to replace the viaduct. I am looking at the State Constitution quoted above on the use of revenue collected for transportation projects and it includes the words: “betterment of public highways”. Couldn’t we losely construe that to mean ‘mass transit’ use of those highways? We can all parse the meaning of “betterment” and bend it to all of our concerns.

      When the original viaduct was built, it must have been a massive project for its day, just like when they built the I-5 through Seattle. Therefore, why can’t the tunnel be the project of our day and time? The next decade, after all, should be seeing a period of huge growth in many areas of city life as many projects come on tap.

      We have debated the tunnel vs. everything else for long enough and it is time to bring a motion of cloture to the discussion. To have a situation as we do where the City, the County and the State all agree on an option is a moment not to be wasted. If we try and challenge the resolution now, we risk doing nothing for years and meanwhile, the risk of further deterioration to the existing monstrosity of a viaduct remains.

      I vote we move on to our other favorite discussion of adding more Amtrak trains and speeding up groundbreaking on a few more ST2 projects. It might help my job prospects too as so far ST2 hasn’t generated any jobs that I can see.

      1. When you get down to it, this is a very poor comment on us as citizens. Our elected leaders realize that in the next big quake the Viaduct will come down, probably killing a number of people in a most horrible way, and they realize that the longer we wait to do something about the Viaduct, the more likely it is that a quake will strike first. Then the state will be responsible in some degree for any deaths or injuries- a lesser degree to the extent that repairs on the Viaduct were rushed, a greater degree to the extent the repairs were delayed.

        In a democracy, we are the state. Experience has shown that we can’t just “trust” our elected leaders, or the Highway Department, in matters of this nature, so we have hearings, proposed plans, environmental review, even advisory votes- a wide range of process intended to ferret out by one method a truth that might be concealed by another.

        Our elected leaders know this is a contentious issue, one that is certain to lead to years of bitter complaints about ‘Seattle’s Big Dig’ or ‘the Chinese Wall at the waterfront’ or ‘choking the streets of Seattle with traffic’. They also know that if we wait too long, the aftermath of a big quake will be lawsuits for negligence by the government in not posting the Viaduct as unsafe to use and closing it to traffic. And these lawsuits will be entirely deserved- we all know exactly what can happen.

        But many of us- perhaps too many- are acting like the children who ride along with Dad when he goes to get the brakes renewed on the family car. The children don’t want Dad to spend money on the brakes, they want him to buy toys! He doesn’t need to drive to work, he could get a different job close to home, and they would walk to the store to get the groceries, and then they could have lots of toys! And that might all be true, but Dad doesn’t see it that way. In the eyes of the world Dad is responsible and he’s doing the best he can.

        Of course, we’re not children. We’re citizens with elected representatives to act on our behalf. Sometimes we need to tell them who is the real majority, and sometimes we need to tell them if we think the majority is just plain wrong. At the bottom line, though, we are the people responsible for what happens in the next big quake.

      2. I agree with you about the risks of delay replacing the viaduct. Another quake could indeed bring the thing down and then the State would be held liable for having kept it going beyond its useful life.

        I just think that we should take advantage of the fact that this is a rare occasion when elected leaders have come together and made a decision. It seems to happen so rarely in American politics – frequent elections and folks like Tim Eyman continually second guessing elected leaders make for very timid leadership over all.

        The tunnel may not be a perfect solution to replacing the viaduct, but then neither would a surface option. Someone is going to dislike one or other option, so the question then comes down to whether we can live with the one that is chosen. I can live with either option, but further discussion after a decision has been made risks getting neither, prolonging the start date, costs going up and another quake bringing the whole deck of cards down to force the issue and many others besides of varying expense. I am sure we would all rather see a controlled removal of the viaduct than one dependent on nature’s timeframe and wheel of misfortune.

        I am confident that with time to build the tunnel that the Federal Government will be asked to help with funding gaps. I can trust Senator Murray on this. I don’t think that a democracy can thrive if everyone mistrusts everyone. The electorate and leadership are too easily compromised, leading to an inefficient electorate and a lack of leadership.

      3. I think both you and serial catowner misread the evolution of the decision on replacing the viaduct. Last year the consensus among the public at large, many elected officials, and at least some agency staff seemed to be pointing toward a surface/transit option. The deep bore tunnel seemed to pop out of nowhere at the last minute as a solution for those who were concerned about the perceived capacity reduction along 99 through downtown. If anything it was the solution for those who really wanted to blow big bucks on a freeway. At the end of the day it is really a case of WSDOT and the Governor forcing a highway solution on Seattle and King County.

        Also realize this tunnel is far from a done deal. The EIS process isn’t finished, the engineering isn’t to the point where the cost estimates are believable, and the funding isn’t in place. All we have now is a bunch of best guesses and promises along with a joint press conference announcing “a decision has been made”.

        That said, I do see the point of saying “lets move forward” now that we have the City, County, and State more or less on the same page finally.

        I suspect cost overruns are what is going to kill this tunnel. I have no doubt that once the engineering is further along the cost estimates are going to balloon and the city is going to balk at covering them.

      4. Chris, I believe if you contacted your state reps and senator, you would find they feel that some of their constituents want the “bypass downtown” capability of 99. That’s what happened to me when I contacted legislators from the 36th.

        Then there is the fact that the Governor and DOT are not bit players here. They feel they have a right to a highway in that location, having already built one there, and that they represent the interests of the state citizens who paid with gas taxes for that highway.

      5. Am I being sarcastic? I would say that my tone could best be described as my actual opinion couched in slight hyperbole.

        I know the viaduct replacement tunnel is a huge deal, but I feel like it should be a drop in the bucket compared to the types of projects we should be talking about. We should be building what’s on par in scale with our Interstate Highway system in high speed rail – China is spending the value of our entire stimulus package on high speed rail. Next to a project of that scale, this tunnel would be peanuts. Sadly, projects on the scale of Link and this tunnel are the biggest things being built in the United States today. (Link still rules.)

      6. Ok, thanks Matt – I agree with you!

        The tunnel after all is the equivalent of one month spent on Iraq so yes, in the grand scheme of things, it is a pin drop of expense.

        ST needs to focus on opening the airport station sooner rather than later – a couple of trips on dilapidated old Pierce Transit shuttle buses from the airport to Tukwila should be enough to cure anyone of justifying a delay!

      7. Matt is closer to the truth than he knows. I have come to realize that both the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Lacey Murrow Floating Bridge were “bridges to nowhere”- there was literally nothing to speak of at the end of them when they were built. They were built to stimulate a future economy and, alas, perhaps did that all too well.

        Be careful what you wish for.

      8. Your access to my subconscious would serve me well in my daily life. Note that I have at least attempted to put my opinion in terms of “should” and “ought to.” My truth here goes only as far as being true to my own opinion, not to facts.

        How should we measure the size of projects? Complexity? Cost? Their economic effects after 50 years? Their mass? The mass of the soil they move?

      9. Revision: I’m not saying I’m trying to misrepresent facts, only that I’m not trying to present them.

        However, I’m guessing that the viaduct and I-5 through Seattle weren’t all that massive for their time, considering the vast amount of highway construction going on at the time. Drive I-90 across the country and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Certainly a highway through an urban area is way more difficult and costly than a rural freeway, but mile after mile – thousands of miles – of freeway boggles the mind, and makes me wonder what it would take for rail infrastructure to undergo what Eisenhower had in mind for interstate freeways.

      10. Actually, the effect of I-5 and the Viaduct was absolutely devastating. A picture from about 1952 of the original Ivar’s location shows a lively neighborhood- not the deserted vacant wasteland found around King Street and First Avenue ten years later. I-5 was a massive Chinese Wall severing the apartments and businesses on First Hill from downtown. Before these roads were built Seattle was appropriately sized and shaped, afterwards, many valuable properties were ruined, in turn, ruining neighborhoods.

        One of the real tragedies here is that a group of Seattle architects and engineers studied the I-5 proposals, and found it would be cheaper to build the road as a cut-and-cover with very little gradient. But you can’t tell the Washington State Department of Highways anything, and as a result, we have a freeway like a roller-coaster.

      11. By massive I mean the scale of the project not relative to its environs – it was huge, it was devastating, etc. – but its sheer size relative to the total of projects being built in the U.S. Infrastructure is something that can be measured in this way; I am using “massive” in the literal sense of the word.

  19. I think $4.7 billion would be well spent for a West Seattle to Ballard rail line with subway ONLY stations in Seattle, not bus tunnel with rail convertible thing…I hate those kind of things. The buses belong on the streets not in a tunnel. 1.7 miles is ridiclous for that price. University Link is $1.9 billion for 3.15 miles and that includes more new trains, signaling stuff and can carry equalivent of a 6 lane freeway at maximum capacity.

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