[UPDATE 2: Apparently the McGinn plan is not exactly the WSDOT surface/transit plan.]

[UPDATE: As commenter Chris points out (and confirmed in the report), the $200m in savings on Moving Forward is actually due to putting less money into the Battery St. tunnel and the viaduct North of Lenora St.  Most or all of this money would have to be put back in for the Surface/Transit option.  This reduces the Surface/Transit option savings to roughly $100m-300m plus overruns.  We’re still peeling the onion.]

I just chatted with Kadeena Lenz of WSDOT, who pointed me to this report (pdf).  The Moving Forward project cost has dropped from $1.1 billion to $900m due to some unanticipated savings from not having to redo the Battery Street tunnel; of that, $300m is supposed to come from the Port of Seattle, and $600m from the State.

McGinn doesn’t include port contributions in the budget, so I think it’s fair to score this as a $600m $800m shortfall in his budget plans, not $1.1 billion.  (Split the difference!).  To get his surface/transit plan, delete the $1.9 billion tunnel from the chart above, add $553m for I-5 improvements, about $170m for transit, and about $200m more for local roads.  Then remove $400m in tolling, and you get a little under $600m $800m not covered by the State, the feds, or the Port of Seattle.

Oddly, aside from the moving forward issue, McGinn’s cost estimates for surface/transit are about $175m higher than Nickels, so you can give him credit for that difference if you like.  It also has to be said that the cost overrun risk is lower for surface/transit than the tunnel.

The bottom line: assuming the State and Port are willing to spend $2.7 billion no matter what, surface/transit is cheaper for the City and County by $300m-$500m $100m-$300m, but it isn’t free.

32 Replies to “Dueling SR99 Plans”

  1. I don’t think McGinn or his supporters are suggesting it’s free, or you can blame the media for that one. McGinn asks why we are spending $930 million on a tunnel we don’t need and we don’t want.

    As you point out above, with the Surface+Transit+I-5 option, we get I-5 improvements and much more transit not otherwise currently planned or paid for. That seems like a win to me.

    I also don’t think you can overemphasize how much lower the risk of cost overruns is for the Surface option. The Bored Tunnel is less than 5% engineered at present and involves using the largest machine of its kind. The Surface option has been studied extensively already by WSDOT and SDOT and, by its nature, involves work mostly done at-grade. You might also “credit” Surface supporters with getting projects paid for that we need done in this area that will otherwise still be in search of funding after we build the tunnel.

    1. When McGinn sends a statement to Dominic Holden that comes up with $2.5 billion of state and federal funding sources and comes up with a budget that spends exactly that, that’s a pretty clear statement that the project can be done with no further burden on City and County taxpayers. I think it’s pretty clear that’s not the case.

      As a surface/transit proponent, I agree with your other points, but I was trying to be a pretty neutral referee in this particular piece.

  2. Actually, to be fair, McGinn does suggest that not building the tunnel will free up some unnamed amount of $$ for non-transportation things.

    To follow your argument above, McGinn is correct in that statement. We might have $300-500 million which would presumably be in the form of taxing capacity that could be put towards parks, libraries, community centers, health care, etc.

  3. The Moving Forward cost reduction was not unanticipated savings. It’s from eliminating work on the Battery Street tunnel. A choice made to squeeze out every last penny for the deep bore tunnel.

  4. Seems like the only argument that anti-tunnel people have is that the tunnel is expensive and might have cost overruns.

    1. Might have cost overruns? Might?!?! 90% of these mega-transportation projects do. And this mega-tunnel is the largest diameter tunnel attempted in the world. The machine to dig the tunnel will take 2 years just to build and it will be the size of a major WA state ferry.

      It will be a machine just like the two that are broken down in the Brightwater tunnels right now – only way way bigger. You’d have to be an insane Pollyanna optimist to not expect major cost overruns. The project is less than 2% engineered.

      1. The last time we did a tunnel in the region the project came in $200 million under budget.

        I honestly do not care about any of the arguments against the tunnel. The tunnel is the only option that does not f*** up traffic along the waterfront while it’s being constructed. Yes, I know they plan for transit improvements. I wholeheartedly support these improvements. But the truth is that not everyone will get out of their car to take some form of public transit to work. I will never understand why they are that way. Not to mention all those people that can’t take public transit–those driving commercial vehicles.

        I’m done on this subject.

    2. @ Tim, please see my comments here.

      Many of us who oppose the tunnel actually have no problem with spending money for a large project. We object to spending it on this project, which we feel does not solve any of the existing problems with moving people and goods through the SR-99 corridor.

  5. Martin – your final assumption is ridiculous – the Port would never agree to pay $300 million for the surface because they don’t benefit from it. The only reason they will pay the $300 million for the tunnel is because it helps maintains through-put for their freight – and their facilities get good access.

    The assumption is also ridicuous because the State will never keep all their $2.4 billion on the table for the surface – they may choose to pull it ALL out. They won’t pay for the City’s seawall, they won’t pay for the City’s street improvements including Mercer and Spokane, they won’t pay for the City’s waterfront promenade, the 1st Ave Streetcar, etc. At this point they will use their money for a tunnel, or who know where the money would go? They would probably pay for the I-5 improvements and to take the viaduct down, but no more, which would result in the City being on the hook for WAY more than the current $930 million.

    Also, the Moving Forward projects are still $1.1 billion under a surface option because you would have to add the Battery Street Tunnel and other northend improvements back in. It is only reduced to $900 million under the tunnel option because you don’t need the northend improvements.

    So, bottom line is that under either the tunnel or the surface the city is still on the hook for about $930 million, which, by the way, the City has identified sources for all $930 million. McGinn only identified state gas taxes, which won’t cut it for this project. The gas taxes CAN’T be used on the seawall, utilities, streetcar, promenade etc. Look here http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/Final_BoredTunnel_folio_web_Feb09.pdf
    and you will see exactly how the City plans to fund it’s commitment to the tunnel. All the possible sources are identified, which is not true for McGinn’s scheme.

    1. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s in the minds of people at the Port and Olympia. All I’m trying to do here is fact-check claims on their own terms, while never losing sight of the important underlying assumptions.

      As for the Port thing, the only glimmer of hope I see is that it’s actually dedicated to the Moving Forward stuff, which does arguably help the Port. Not that it’s a mortal lock, or even likely, by any means.

    2. Why would we assume that the state would not pay for any of the improvements on the surface option. After all, whether there is a tunnel or a surface option it is still a state route. I’m not understanding where the state is let off the hook.

      1. I think because a surface option is less LIKE a state route to them? They could argue that it’s not purely designed get people from one part of the state to another. It’s more like a normal city street which makes it look to SOME people like the state is just paying for pretty Seattle park space. But I’m just guessing…

        That being said, I’d prefer the surface option all the way…

      2. Lake City Way is SR 522. How would the Alaskan Way surface options be different than SR 522?

      3. I see this point, but i would suggest that there are many state routes through out the state that look as if they are just city streets. Hell, 99 is just like this when you get past the west Seattle bridge. I guess my point would be that it sounds like a line from the Palin/Hannity book to suggest that if we don’t go a certain way then the state just won’t do anything. Lets get real here people.

  6. Might have cost overruns? Might?!?! 90% of these mega-transportation projects do. And this mega-tunnel is the largest diameter tunnel attempted in the world. The machine to dig the tunnel will take 2 years just to build and it will be the size of a major WA state ferry.

    It will be a machine just like the two that are broken down in the Brightwater tunnels right now – only way way bigger. You’d have to be an insane Pollyanna optimist to not expect major cost overruns. The project is less than 2% engineered.

  7. Really AGH? Which of our elected officials care so little for their career that they would abandon Seattle if they don’t get their way on the tunnel?

    The $930 million is a bad bargain for Seattle. The State and Port both benefit from seawall replacement and so should pay for their fair share of the project. It shouldn’t all fall on Seattle’s shoulders.

  8. Guys, the port isn’t playing ball right now with the tunnel, either. asking them to jack up property taxes by $300 million is a hard sell for anyone. So that money is speculative, regardless of which option is pursued.

  9. Of course the Port isn’t thrilled with the tunnel. A significant portion of their freight trips can’t use the tunnel and it doesn’t solve their concern about the interaction of ferry traffic with pier access by trucks.

  10. I think the idea that the state, county, and port will “play ball” with McGinn is hilarious.

    This thing went into the 11th hour, with everyone working hard for a deal they could live with. When the tunnel and surface option deal emerged, it seemed like something everyone could deal with.

    What nobody expected was the emergence of the anti-tunnel faction, who firmly believe they can keep their fist closed on the candy and still get it out of the jar. Now McGinn has made this attitude the centerpiece of his campaign.

    If there’s any “ball playing” to be done after this election, I think everyone involved would be wise to wear a helmet when they step up to bat.

    1. You mean except for the city of Seattle, the people who will ultimately have to live with this thing when they didn’t want it in the first place. Politicians come and go for a reason. Reasons such as this one.

      And anyone who didn’t anticipate an anti-tunnel faction is a moron and doesn’t deserve to be makign decision in the first place. A huge majority of Seattle didn’t want this tunnel. I can repeat this till I’m blue in the face. We are a liberal activist city. People had to have at least a slight idea that there would be a fight against this. We haven’t even considered what this could look like if green peace or the likes started in on this.

      You do have one thing right, everyone should be wearing helmets.

      1. You say that a huge majority of Seattle didn’t want this tunnel. On what facts do you base this assertion? If you’re referring to this supposed “vote” that occurred a couple years ago, you’re wrong, because the “vote” was not credible and the tunnel option presented then is substantially different than the one presented now.

      2. The Vote against the tunnel was just as valid as any other vote. The argument that the vote was against a different type of tunnel is nuance. Remember all the cynics we’ve encountered over Safeco Field. “The voters voted it down and the $%&^@* politicians forced it down our throats anyway!” they cry. “But it was a different plan with a different funding source” we argue back, to no avail.

        Well, building the big-bore tunnel in the face of the anti-tunnel vote just fuels such cynicism, and gives more weight to the Tim Eymans of the world who think that government is out to have it’s own way, to screw the people and the people’s opinion as expressed at the polls.

      3. Even if I was willing to concede that the tunnel is the same (which I’m not given the complexity and additional cost of the previous proposal), how can you credibly rely on a vote where the electorate can say yes to everything, no to everything, or pick one? It’s a matter of statistics and sampling – when questions are designed this way, the results are too vague to be reliable. Again, if the questions forced you to pick an option, and only one option, it might be credible.

        Trying to make an argument that “we voted against this tunnel” is incredibly weak.

        By the way, Safeco Field is a good case study. As you mention, there was all this screaming about how we don’t want this and it’s too expensive and everything else, but in the end it’s recognized as a Seattle landmark, it’s improved the city, and is generally seen as a smart decision to build. This tunnel will be exactly the same. Same with all the chicken-littles screaming about the cost of Link back in 2000/2001 – again, now that it’s up and running there is widespread support and the city in general realizes that it was a wise decision.

      4. If you truly believe that Ryan then I would say the McGinn is right, the people should vote on the new option. This is a lot of money to spend on something that the public has no clear approval, or as you are suggesting, disapproval of. I would agree with Transit Voter and say that the vote against the tunnel would stand either way, but it would be interesting to see if now, with whatever slight differences exist with this project, suddenly Seattle drops to its knees praising this project for all the wonderful glory it will bring our city.

    2. What freakin’ planet do you live on?

      The results of the 29-person Stakeholder Advisory Committee are the textbook definition of “solutions everyone can deal with” and Gregoire, Sims, and Nickels not only went with something they didn’t recommend, but didn’t even study!

      How on this green Earth is a solution that we got by the leaders of our state, county, and city government giving everyone the finger count as “a deal they could live with”?

      You, sir, are the one who is hilarious.

  11. The bored tunnel is best possible outcome for the viaduct debacle. Loonies like McGinn are ready to destroy a delicate public process that resulted in billions of State transportation funds being allocated for this Seattle project in order to satisfy his power ambitions. One thing I know is that I am not renewing my Sierra Club membership when it comes due, it is obvious to me now that it is a California organization bringing California dysfunction to Washington State.

  12. Let’s say it again: There has been absolutely no “delicate public process” regarding this deep bore tunnel proposal.

    It was never brought to public forums. The stakeholders saw it in exactly one meeting. It was not scoped by either the WSDOT or SDOT staff at the time.

    It was proposed at the last minute.

    And the Mayor clearly stated after the previous advisory votes by Seattleites that he heard loud and clear our wish not to have a new highway on the waterfront either above or below.

  13. Big picture question: why do we even have a preferred option selected before doing the EIS studies? I get that it’s part of the process, but it seems completely ridiculous to me that we go through all this debate and discussion over alternatives, when it might be for nothing if the one we select doesn’t meet the EIS requirements. Maybe the reason this so called ‘Seattle Process’ is such a mess is that we try to make big decisions before we even have all of the important information.

    1. Didn’t the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (and the SDOT and WSDOT investigations) include some kind of EIS? I was pretty sure the did. In either case, the surface/transit option has WAY more of that work done than the tunnel, which wasn’t considered by any of those groups before we signed off to do it.

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