There’s a whole McGinn-Nickels spat right now over the deep-bore tunnel, one that has a few more hard numbers than usual.  Dominic Holden at Slog has the best rundown of those numbers.

To summarize, Nickels has numbers showing that the surface/transit option costs the City $936m — slightly more than the deep-bore tunnel ($930m plus overruns), because the State would reduce its contribution in accordance with the $700m difference in cost.*

McGinn has the beginnings of a good response here, but its validity depends on three ultimately empirical questions**:

1. To what extent can State gas tax money be diverted to those $936m in costs under the Constitution?

2. Is the “City pays for overruns” thing enforceable or not?  I haven’t heard a legal opinion from anyone without a direct stake in the viaduct fight.

3. Could McGinn negotiate a better deal with the State?

Perhaps a legal mind better than mine can answer the first two of these questions. Kerry Murakami of the Post-Globe attempts to answer the third by asking some State legislators.

*Partly because the anticipated $400m from tolling would evaporate.

**Assuming the Nickels numbers aren’t shown to be inaccurate.

72 Replies to “Hard Numbers on the Viaduct”

  1. That “anticipated $400m from tolling” should be counted as part of the costs to the city…after all is not the cost to the city the sum of the costs of people who live there? Or are they anticipating that the tolls will only be paid by people who live outside the city?

    1. The key point to me is that even if we in Seattle end up paying more (as you say, doubtful considering that a big percentage of the tolls and the state gas tax money comes from Seattle wallets), surface/transit is the right thing to do for the planet.

      Complicating the debate is a good tactic, and probably Nickels’ only chance on this issue considering the unpopularity of the cut-and-cover tunnel in the first vote. I’ll be sad and happy either way since I don’t like the bypass but I’d enjoy less waterfront traffic.

      Dan Bertolet covered a bunch of these issues, too:

      1. If the state takes that $2 billion in gas taxes and uses it to build an (untolled) Cross-Base highway, is that still good for the planet?

      2. Probably worse – I would imagine a cross-base highway would do a lot more to increase Pierce County sprawl.

      3. I don’t the “planet” gives a hoot whether humans are on it or not….

        But as a human on the planet I’d like to reduce our burning of fossil fuel if for no other reason than it’s a finite resource and we shouldn’t waste such things unless there is no other choice.

      4. Yeah, I should have probably said “the biosphere” since that’s the part of the planet we live on. If the planet could think, at this point I’m sure it would be happy to see us go.

      5. Not to split hairs, but we live on the lithosphere, in the atmosphere, we drink and swim in the hydrosphere, we eat and burn the biosphere, and we are, some would say, the anthrosphere. Whatever spheres we’re talking about, the part of the planet that would care is the outermost few miles, from a mile below us to the top of the atmosphere.

      6. I don’t think that’s where the money would go. That’s going to be for Seattle projects, most likely.

      7. Its not only the tunnel construction money; anytime a new highway bypasses a town, the town dries up. This is a reason why Interstate 5 was intentionally routed directly through downtown Seattle. This deep bore tunnel will bypass downtown Seattle completely. Why should Seattle finance it’s own bypass, or help it’s own demise.

    2. I think that’s an interesting way of presenting revenue sources, and I’m inclinded to agree with you that toll revenue (or a significant portion thereof) should be counted as coming from the city. However, I’d still note that the $400 million is voluntarily paid by the facility users compared to revenue from property taxes. And with your second question: the majority of trips have both their origin and destination within Seattle… so much of the tolls would be on city residents.

      1. I’m kind of confused here. The tolling money would have nothing to do with the 936m that the city has to contribute right? Also, wouldn’t it be considered sate money since it is a state highway and the state is the one collecting the revnue? Is that right?

      2. But it’s state money because yes the state would operate the toll system and collect. But it’s city money because the vast majority of the people paying the toll are residents of the city.

      3. Right. So that means that the city is paying even more ($930m plus overruns plus our personal contributions). Is that the point?

      4. yep. We should be talking about the total cost to the residents of the city and not just the property tax part.

      5. Viaduct users aren’t necessarily City residents. Sure, some of them are, but you’re opening up an easy to dispel argument.

  2. Reading that Post-Globe article I am pretty amazed by some of the language used by these State politicians. That this is their project and they will do it regardless of what our mayor decides?

    Seattle is the largest and most important city in this state. We are undoubtedly the economic workhorse, certainly the largest tourist and business destination, and house some of the most prestigious institutions in the nation (UW medical, Fred Hutch, Gates Foundation).

    But regardless when it comes to a megaproject in the heart of our city the State is just going to roll over us and do whatever they want? That seems absolutely absurd to me and utterly disrespectful. Couple that with the utter lack of federal stimulus money that the state has doled out to us and it pretty much seems like we are getting shafted. Perhaps we should modify Trenton’s city motto for ourselves, “Seattle Makes The State Takes”.

    1. They resent all of the things you mention, our wealth, lifestyle etc… So when they can stick it to us they do.

    2. Our mayor has already decided: Seattle’s preference is the bored tunnel. The state politicians are doing what our mayor wants them to do. It’s not like state legislators just forced this upon us, it’s the decision Seattle representatives agreed to and fought for.

      1. Except I would say that there are many legislatures from the Puget sound region that do have great interest in building this tunnel and they are forcing it on us.

      2. Yes, but you say that our mayor should have a say in this, and HE DID. This isn’t something being forced on Seattle – it’s what our elected representatives agreed to. This is my point – the time for having your say is over as the decision has been made. Yes, it’s a controversial decision and I think everyone has had to compromise. It’s certainly not a perfect decision and there’s lots of people who don’t like it, but part of living in a society with other people is that you can’t have things your way 100% of the time.

        The time for debate was the last decade, not today. The decision has been made and the tunnel is being built, it’s really that simple. I don’t see what the purpose is of trying to elect someone on a single issue-agenda when we’re already incurring millions of dollars to move toward the agreed-upon project. What benefit would we have from another 5 years delay, endless lawsuits, and more debate about the same issue. What would change in 5 years that would suddenly make everyone want no replacement? Do you think all the supporters of the bored tunnel (and yes, there are A LOT of them) are simply going to go away and accept an unrealistic “plan” that everyone is going to switch to transit? Until this city has extensive and reliable transit, that will not happen, and there is no credible plan to provide such transit in the Hwy 99 corridor for at least 2-3 decades. A few extra buses and a streetcar along 1st Avenue is not a “transit option” to replace the Viaduct. Now, a light rail line from Ballard to W. Seattle just might be, but again, decades away.

      3. Ryan, the tunnel is OPPOSED by a majority of Seattle folks by various measures.

        And the Surface+Transit+I-5 plan that McGinn is talking about is the plan that WSDOT and SDOT both studied, that the stakeholders vetted, that was shown to the public at open forums, and that lots of folks agreed to.

        After telling us once that Seattle voters were opposed to a freeway on the waterfront either above it or below it, Mayor Nickels suddenly reversed his stance and grabbed hold of this risky tunnel plan that has NOT been studied or fully engineered.

        The risky debate and study is AHEAD of us now with the bored tunnel plan, not the other way around. We could move ahead immediately with a surface option.

      4. Of course a few more buses and one streetcar would not be adequate, thats not what I was suggesting. And I realize that living in a society means that we do not always get what we want. I have to wonder though if you realize this as well. The thing is, I want to fight for what I believe is right for this city just like you do. And telling me that just because my politicians and elected officials are going to do this and this is why we elect them, to tell us what they are going to do is not adequate. I’m part of a generation that has to remake the way our government works. My generation had been tasked with making the government work for the people and not just for industry. You see, when government works on behalf of industry and not for the people as a whole we get situations such as the one the world is in today. So my support for McGinn and my opposition to the tunnel is simply my way of trying to make government work for me and what I think would work best for the people of my city. And I would say that opposition for the tunnel is what our mayor should represent, seeing as how just barely two years ago 70% of the people of this fine city said that they would not like this idea. So to tell me that my legislators and governor and now mayor and just saying “to bad, this is the way its going to be” is completely unacceptable. I wouldn’t want that for anyone, on any issue. I guarantee no matter what the outcome of either of these races is I will be a loud and proud voice working with whomever to make the government work for me and what my views are.

        Also, I must say that it really surprises me that the generations before mine are still, even after an election such as last years and after the 8 years we lived through, still, they are willing to just sit back and let people make decisions for them. I truly find that mind boggling, especially in a city as educated as ours. What is wrong? What will it take for people to wake up and regain their strength and their voice?

      5. So when is a decision ever final? How can anything ever move forward if there is constant second guessing of every decision, up to and even after the day that construction starts? How can a city function like that? The decision has been made for a tunnel to be built. It is a final decision that all parties have signed off on. There has been a decade of discussion. So why do people think this is still open to debate? Are we going to be debating it until the day it opens? There comes a point in time when you just have to move on.

        And by the way, Seattle did not vote against this bored tunnel, that is a myth. There was never a vote on it. An advisory vote was held for an elevated option or a waterfront tunnel option which was completely different than the one we will eventually be building. Both plans were rejected and they went back to the drawing board, with the surface/transit and bored tunnel options being the new options. Not that this “vote” has any credibility even if we were comparing apples to apples – I could have voted yes for both, no for both, or yes on one and no on the other. How can you get any sort of concrete consensus when those are your survey options?

      6. Ryan, almost all parties (the stakeholder group) actually signed off on surface/transit. We voted against a similar tunnel, with similar capacity. It’s not really a big difference between a bored and cut and cover tunnel.

      7. Ryan, with a large project like this I’d say the decision isn’t final until at least the dirt is moving. To call any mega-project a “done deal” before the EIS process is complete (this isn’t even at the draft stage yet), the engineering is complete, and a winning bid for construction is selected is extremely premature.

        There is lots of potential for lawsuits around the EIS especially if WSDOT plays fast and loose with the process or doesn’t adequately mitigate impacts. Engineering may run into a showstopper or find some really expensive problem that balloons the cost (see “the big dig”). There may be difficulty finding qualified bidders or the bids may come back much higher than expected (remember this almost killed Link and forced ST back to the drawing board).

        The RH Thompson Expressway and original incarnation of the I-90 project looked like “done-deals” in 1970, as we know that hardly turned out to be the case. The RH Thompson was never built and the I-90 project ended up substantially different than was originally planned.

      8. I don’t think we can say this “vote” was conclusive or carries any weight whatsoever. If another vote were to occur, listing two to three credible options and requiring you to pick one, and only one, then I would find it credible. Having two separate ballot measures where you can vote yes to each, no to each, or mixed does not give credible results.

        Assuming this vote could have been considered credible, the waterfront tunnel that was proposed was much different. It was to be cut and cover, right next to the water, adding risk/uncertainty and requiring closure of the viaduct in the meantime. The bored tunnel has less risk and uncertainty due to its location, and keeps the viaduct open. I think it is significantly different. And again, assuming the vote was credible, which it wasn’t, both options were turned down. I think we could all agree that doing nothing is not an option.

        In the end, I think people can try fighting it all they want, but enough people want this tunnel that it’s going to happen. We need more capacity through the city center than a surface option would provide, and another elevated roadway is a non-starter. If this region could build light rail to Ballard/West Seattle, as well as Northgate by 2020, then I would say the surface option has a chance. We all know there’s no way that’s happening given the current transit backlog and the subarea equity policy which means expensive Seattle projects have to be packaged with equal improvements elsewhere in the region.

      9. How is I-90 different from the original plan? Besides the fact that they had to build a second bridge because the first one was not big enough? (And opened for boats, and had a bulge that drunk drivers crashed into all the time.)

      10. The original plan for I-90 had no lids in either Mercer Island or Rainier Valley, it would have cut a trench through Mt. Baker, it also had many more lanes than ultimately ended up being built.

      11. I’m not sure which plan you’re talking about. When I arrived in 1972, I-90 had a 4-lane bridge and I think the Mt Baker tunnel, but the west side ended at Dearborn Street and did not connect to I-5. I forgot that the bridge must have predated the Interstate system. But wasn’t the Mt Baker tunnel built at the same time as the bridge? I was only 7 so I don’t quite remember.

        However, a more interesting question is, how many lanes were planned? Would it have been 8 lanes each direction like the Bay Bridge?

      12. The bridge and tunnel as it was in 1972 were built in 1940. I don’t remember exactly how many lanes were planned in the “cut Mt. Baker in half” version of I-90. I’m pretty sure it was much wider. 8 lanes each way sounds right.

  3. Let’s not forget the “what services we get for the over $900MM” in both plans:

    Tunnel: 1.3 mile road. Jobs.

    Transit/Surface: Needed overhaul of both E/W and N/S grid, jobs, transit, jobs, walkability across the whole downtown, jobs…

    1. I think the city portion of both are similar. The streetcar is built with either option (out of city funds).

      1. Ben, are you talking about the Waterfront Streetcar or the 1st Avenue Streetcar? I have a win-win-win idea that I posed to Ethan Malone and he said they’re considering it:

        Why not build the new First Hill Streetcar barn in the Little Saigon area of the International District? There’s plenty of room for development and land at cheap prices. The building can resemble much like the one Greg Smith’s Urban Visions building was going to be in Pioneer Square.

        Low-income and sernior housing could be built above and the streetcar barn at street level. As an added bonus, allow the vintage streetcars to be housed here as well. Why not? The new First Hill line will orginiate from the terminus of the Waterfront line at 5th and Jackson. Both the vinatge and new streetcars can use the building.

        This provides Little Saigon with needed housing, provides a new streetcar barn for the First Hill line and gets the Waterfront line running again.

      2. I love that idea! It would help to revitalize that neighborhood in numerous ways! Killing ten birds with one stone.

      3. I also like that idea. It’s great because it decouples the waterfront track issue from the maintenance barn issue, meaning we could build the barn now, fix the waterfront tracks while we argue about the tunnel/viaduct tear down. Lay tracks for the 1st Ave. if we so desire it, and possibly the first hill run as well.

        And it’s central enough that if we ever laid tracks going South down MLK or Rainer, or across to Beacon hill it could be done as well.

        Whether I’d want to live on top of the barn is another question…

      4. You need to buy new streetcars. The current ones are unsafe and require too much maintenance. Their brakes need to replaced monthly.

      5. what? Where did you get that they are “unsafe?” Brakes need to be replaced monthly is hardly a major expense.

      6. Gary, they’re something like twice as expensive to maintain as a new streetcar, and they can’t maintain a schedule (which would be a big deal in service with another line).

      7. Ben, I used to ride the Waterfront Street car on a regular basis and I don’t recall ever being delayed by a breakdown. They seemed to meet the schedule pretty darn well considering that it was single tracked. They have a middle passing spot which they use to synchronize the run.

        New brakes every two months hardly rates a call for 2x the maintenance cost. Last I had heard from the brakeman on the street car was that it was making money, not losing it like the bus system.

      8. I don’t know much about the condition of the old Melbourne cars, but as I recall they didn’t have a full rebuild before being put into service here. Most heritage lines are now running cars that have been fully rebuilt or new replica cars. In theory if you do it right the cars should be good for 20-30 years after a rebuild.

        If that still doesn’t get the cars where they need to be we can buy some rebuilt PCC or Peter Witt cars or even order replica Birney cars.

        Just look at the Mattapan High-Speed line in Boston, they are using 60 year old PCC cars in daily revenue service.

      9. My understanding from talking to the fare collector on the street car was that they had a complete interior refurbishing. I don’t know about the mechanics, but if they did as good a job with the interior varnish as they did on the mechanics then a complete rebuild was done. Those cars were in great shape.

        And my understanding was that there was a collection of volunteers who loved working on them as well. (free labor…)

        Anyway Down in San Francisco they run rebuilt street cars on the waterfront and they were packed with riders. Seems a money making scheme to me, and it gives us another street car line.

      10. Can the Waterfront Streetcar and the Skoda/Oregon Iron Works cars share the same line? As I understand it the WSC runs on 600VDC traction power, whereas the Skoda model uses 750VDC.
        I don’t know if this is easily addressed or not. Perhaps the WSC can be upgraded, or have voltage regulators installed between the pickup shoe and the motor?

      11. Ben is being overly pessimistic here. Those street cars can run as long as we want them to.

        And yes you could step down the voltage without too much trouble.

      12. The old cars are high platform cars. It is possible to buy ‘heritage’ streetcars, that is to say, new streetcars that are essentially the same as the old, made in America today.

        The issues with the brakes and current denomination are not impossible, or even particularly hard, to solve. We could probably buy off-the-shelf bolt-on technology from Czechoslovakia to fix those things- after all, they sold something like 30,000 PCC cars worldwide.

  4. I think in the very least we need to start rebuilding our streetcar network and it needs to be done now. Does anyone know if they have looked at the option of running it down the center of first ave? I’m thinking of the market street center lanes as a great example of how this could be done.

    1. Yes, a 1st Avenue streetcar is being considered. They are talking center lane design. It will require creation of a Local Improvement District with a vote by those affected. Maybe after the election?

      1. Awesome, down the center seems like best idea to me. Could really breathe some new life into first ave.

      2. If you are relying on a local improvement district, a poll of the building owners on 1st ave would be in order. And with Deutsche Bank forecasting 50 to 60% defaults through 2012, they aren’t likely to want to add to their costs.

      3. your vote won’t count. Only your landlord’s does in a Improvement district vote. The only reason the South lake Union car passed was that Paul Allen owned a majority of the property along the route.

      4. I’m having a hard time envisioning the center lane streetcar… how do you board and exit? Is there a little mini platform in the middle of the street? Does it just let you out like the cable car in San Francisco?

    2. I think network is the key word here. The problem I see starting to develop is that we’re planning multiple streetcar lines (SLU, First Hill, 1st Ave, etc.) but there’s no plan to connect them to form a single network. This leads to increased costs in terms of multiple maintenance facilities, disconnected track and non-interchangeable lines, and planning by a mish-mash of agencies and interests.

      A large streetcar network would be great and I think we should start expanding. But we need to find some sort of way to connect what we already have so that the network expands in a way that the lines have synergies and grow as a system rather than isolated lines with very specific purposes.

      1. Thanks for the link, Ben. I had not previously seen this idea, but it makes a lot of sense. What an exciting plan for that area, which is currently a tangle of streets jetting off in all directions; currently very pedestrian unfriendly.

      2. True, but think of all the bus service that can be eliminated once the Link and Streetcare extensions are complete. As a city, our transport future is with rail, for better or worse. Think of all the routes that will be replaced by Link or the Streetcar: 70, 71, 72, 73, 41, 550, etc. not to mention all the truncating that can occur. 3rd Avenue will more than be able to absorb 5th Avenue’s service due to the reduction in bus routes downtown. We need to stop seeing these types of improvements as “reductions in bus service” but rather in rationalizing and improving the overall mass transit network. Bus service will be reduced and/or shifted downtown, and that’s not a bad thing.

  5. Whether or not pushing cost overruns onto the City is “legally enforceable” is somewhat moot to the current political discussion. The present FACT is that the state legislature passed a law that says precisely that. I don’t know why we would trust any elected official who says we can just move forward and ignore that point.

    The other FACT to consider is that, while the State could divert much of this money to roads elsewhere (like the Cross-Base Highway) that doesn’t change the fact that they are legally responsible for various aspects of 99, since it’s a State Route. If Seattle citizens want another option, the State can’t just throw up its hands and refuse to pay anything.

    So, the better question, which perhaps Keri is trying to go after, is what exactly will the State for and what won’t they pay for?

    1. It’s unlikely that they can politically move the funds outside Seattle. Our legislators voted for the bill based on the funds being for a Seattle project. It’s unlikely they can get consensus again without funding other Seattle projects, like 520, Mercer, Spokane St., etc.

    2. As I’ve said before, I don’t think the tunnel is ever going to happen, especially if both the state and the city are planning on welching on cost-overruns. No governor wants the barrel of that particular gun awaiting them on election day.

  6. Y’know, it seems to me that if there was anything to this McGinn guy, he would have a fairly detailed plan about how Seattle would force the removal of the Viaduct and deal with the aftermath.

    If the Seattle Mayor wanted the Viaduct taken down NOW, it would happen a lot quicker. Everyone involved has huge amounts of potential liability in case it collapses in an earthquake, not to mention possible criminal charges of negligent manslaughter, considering all the considering that has been done.

    A small panel of commenters and bloggers on this site would have no trouble sketching out the “surface options” and even guesstimating their costs and possible revenue sources.

    McGinn would be a lot more believable if he had a plan that voters could look at and judge for themselves whether it seemed desirable or realistic.

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