[UPDATE 2: I received a link to this WSDOT document (pdf-see bottom of Page 3), which clearly depicts a highway with extensive bridge crossings.  Perhaps not an “elevated viaduct”, but I believe McGinn’s point about not having so many crossings stands.]

Viaduct day continues on STB.  This is getting really interesting.

mcginn Mike McGinn emailed me with the details of his plan, which is different from the WSDOT surface/transit plan.  Key points:

  • Halting the work on the viaduct between  Holgate Street and Royal Brougham.  [UPDATE: However, as commenter AGH points out, the current WSDOT plan is for this to be surface roadway.  See also UPDATE 2 above.]
  • Considerably more spending on buses and mitigation.
  • Zeroing out the First Avenue Streetcar.
  • $75m from making cheaper choices on city streets.
  • The plan apparently does not include $500m for the Western Avenue couplet, although I have an email in to McGinn to confirm this.

The chart really lays out the differences more clearly, and is consistent with its own assumptions about what the State is willing to pay for.  If I read it correctly, the $300m Port of Seattle contribution would no longer be necessary.

Also from the email:

The biggest savings is, of course, not spending 1.9 billion (plus) on the deep bore tunnel.  But without a tunnel, we can reduce other costs on the Moving Forward projects.

Given the Metro funding crisis, I also don’t see financing a 1st Avenue Streetcar at this time.  I see streetcar expansion and light rail expansion in the city as desirable when we improve transportation financing regionally and statewide.

77 Replies to “The McGinn Response”

  1. so – now we’re talking about the “mcginn” plan. a plan that he made up? and you’re cool with the “assumptions” from a guy who’s not an engineer? i’m sorry, but – regardless of if the tunnel is the right plan – this is ridiculous. there was no “mcginn” plan in the viaduct stakeholder group. no dept. of transportation on any level has examined a “mcginn” plan. i would expect a little more from STB. hey – can i send you the “sarah” plan?

    1. The “assumption” is a political one about what the State will agree with; it has nothing to do with engineering.

      If “sarah” were a serious candidate for Mayor, we’d report on it.

      1. yeah – mcginn totally has a handle on the viaduct politics at the state level….

        Laura Lockard, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire, said the governor believes the debate is over. “It [the tunnel] will move forward as planned.”

        “The state is building that tunnel,” Clibborn said in an interview. “It’s a done deal.”

        But she (Clibborn) also said the debate is theoretical because the tunnel is a done deal and the state will build it regardless of what the mayor thinks.

      2. It ain’t a done deal until the dirt starts to move. Plenty of time for the project to get derailed during the EIS process, or to come in way over budget. If the City balks at covering the cost overruns the tunnel is as good as dead. Then there is also the possibility of lawsuits causing further delay.

      3. Given that the EIS hasn’t even been issued, it’s actually illegal for them to even select an alternative. Plenty of time to stop.

      4. @sarah,
        The projects to keep the current viaduct from falling down aren’t exactly the same thing as building the tunnel. In fact as far as SEPA and NEPA are concerned they are entirely different projects. Moving electrical lines again hardly triggers the EIS process. Besides any work on the South end of the Viaduct is part of “Moving Forward” which specifically excludes the work for replacing the portion of the viaduct on the central waterfront.

  2. As much as I hate to see the first ave streetcar axed from the board, I do have to say that I like the idea of doing things as we can afford them. We will never be able to do everything all at once and we have to prioritize these things. This email from the McGinn campaign certainly demonstrates this.

    1. It really makes little sense to me. He’s just allocating that money to bus service. It’s not the right thing to do. Removing the streetcar saves him $0!

      1. If you delve into the analysis, the bus improvements increased transit ridership by 50k while streetcars were about 2k. I don’t think he saved nothing by increasing bus investments.

      2. The analysis I spoke of is related to last year’s replacement scenario process.

      3. I don’t think increasing ridership is the only measure of successful or good transit investment, and certainly not a capital investment. Where does the money for operations for buses come in a handful of years?

      4. Actually, increasing ridership is the only metric by which to judge a successful transit investment. What other metric do you propose we use?

      5. For starters,

        VMT reduced, % of the population with viable transit options, riders per dollar invested, greenhouse gas reduction…

        I could go on.

      6. I’m not so sure I buy the streetcar argument. Then again, I’m never, ever going to ride them, so I haven’t made a lot of effort to swallow it.

        That said, buses are a lot more friendly to bicyclists than streetcar tracks. Given that I’m an avid bicycle commuter in a city with a Bicycle Master Plan that hardly deserves the name, I’d want some reassurances about the impact to cycling. If transit is a way to move people in a more-efficient, greener manner, there isn’t a more green option on earth than bicycling, so I think it’s a valid ask.

      7. This is a rubbish argument. Where do they have more streetcar and light rail tracks at grade than Seattle? Portland and San Francisco. Where do more people bike than Seattle? Portland and San Francisco.

      8. “If transit is a way to move people in a more-efficient, greener manner, there isn’t a more green option on earth than bicycling, so I think it’s a valid ask.”

        You’re missing the main point that buses are massively less efficient than streetcars. You’re trying to pretend like it’s streetcars vs bicycles, but we both know that’s not true.

      9. I’m not trying to pretend that at all. It’s just I never hear bicycle safety talked about with respect to streetcar placing, and I’d like it to be.

      10. Thank you! It’s nice to get a response that actually addresses my concern and provides me with facts. :)

      11. I have to say, the streetcar vs. bike argument is pretty silly. From my experience, I would say the Netherlands has at least 10 times the use of bikes that we do here in Seattle. Yet many Dutch cities have streetcars. How do they coexist?

        The important thing is to make sure the streetcar is on an alignment that doesn’t conflict with bike traffic. Put the tracks in the middle of the road, and put the bike lane on the right side. Problem solved. Crossing tracks on a bike at greater than a 45 degree angle is no different from driving over any other bump.

        I’m a bike commuter, and I’d welcome streetcars into my city. The air quality improvement going from diesel buses to streetcars would be immeasurable to those of us riding along side. Add to that the fact that the streetcar never swerves, never goes anywhere you don’t expect him to, and it’s significantly better, IMO, than a bus.

        I’m against taking the streetcar budget and dumping it into more buses.

        Other than that, the McGinn plan looks good. I hope he continues to fight for it even if he doesn’t become mayor.

      12. what’s nuts is that this very bit of information was told to the city council before the SLUT tracks were laid, and yet we have tracks on the edge of the street.

  3. Martin, I know you like the surface option, but this all sounds like smoke and mirrors from McGinn – a plan based somewhere else besides reality.

    McGinn is going to stop the southend work that WSDOT has already begun? Really? (and if he knew anything he would know it’s not an elevated structure they’re building)
    MCGinn is suddenly a traffic engineer and can cut $75 million out of the street improvements? Really?
    MgGinn doesn’t include the Western cuplet? Really? How does he expect people to move around. Even transit won’t be able to move in his plan!

    And Martin, you should know this…the streetcar is a city project, not Metro – it’s completion is in no way determined by Metro’s financial situation.

    1. McGinn seems to be confused about how funds can and can’t be used. In the beginning of his campaign he said the cost savings from the tunnel should be used to fund schools, which is impossible.

      1. Impossible is too strong a word. “Violates current law” would be more accurate. “Unconstitutional” would also be accurate, but impossible? No. The law, including the constitution can be changed. It is difficult, but not impossible.

        In fact, money is actually much more fungible than most people think. For example, the money dedicated to the tunnel could be used to fund 520. As a result, other taxes that would be needed to fund 520 would not need to be raised. The citizenry, now free of the higher tax burden that funding both the tunnel and 520 would impose, now becomes more willing in vote to increase their property taxes to fund schools. Of course there is no guarantee of this, and people don’t always vote in rational way, but from an economic standpoint, McGinn’s position is completely viable. We created many of the constraints we live under; we can remove them.

      2. So wait, you’re saying if we give back the state’s money, they’ll send their money on 520 and put the rest of the 520 money (which will be raised from tolls) on education?


      3. No, I’m not saying that. 520 is currently underfunded. The State needs to raise new revenue and they have exhausted the constitutionally restricted gas tax money. One possible source of new revenue is tolling, another is a sales tax or a vehicle license tab, which the state has already proposed once (remember roads and transit).

        The citizenry responds to this higher tax burden and becomes less willing to raise their taxes to fund other projects / issues. This is a perfectly reasonable line of thinking for a person considering whether to support a school levy:

        “Well I like schools, but my taxes are sooooo high, and I don’t see any benefit from it. I’m gonna vote no because the government will just waste this money like they waste all the money I’ve already given them.”

        If people perceive government to be spending their money wisely, they will support spending more. If their taxes are lower (because we spend less) they are more willing to raise them than they are if they perceive their taxes to be “too high”. Wasting money on a project no one wants is the surest way to inspire a tax revolt that will almost certainly harm other areas of government. These pots are only separate in the minds of politicians, lawyers and policy wonks. They are not separate in the minds of the populous, nor in objective economic terms.

    2. AGH,

      I think I’ve basically refrained from stating an opinion on this plan vs. the others.

      McGinn’s point on the Streetcar, I believe, is that it’ll be hard to shift the operating costs on to Metro as we’ve done in SLU.

      1. Moreover, it’s not as if the City isn’t committed to spending money on this sort of thing as part of the tunnel deal.

        I’d like to see how these 3 plans in amounts committed from the City, County, State, and Port.

      2. I believe the McGinn plan described above is $2.4 billion from the State and Feds, and zero from everybody else. Whether that’s realistic is a different question.

        The Tunnel plan’s breakout is explained a couple of posts down.

        There’s no settled division of expenses for the WSDOT surface plan.

      3. The operating costs are minimal – the city can probably pay them indefinitely, if they can come up with the money to build it.

      4. For example, the SLU streetcar has a grand total of 10,000 annual service hours. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really just a few hundred grand a year.

  4. Note how the only plan that doesn’t include widening of I-5 is the Nickels tunnel. Political leanings notwithstanding, I have to wonder what will happen to the interstate when the money that would have been spent keeping it usable and in decent condition dries up because of a tunnel that will take a decade or more to complete?

    Still, neither plan is preferable to the surface/transit option, something that far too few people up there seem to be going for.

  5. This guy is obsessed with buses over just about every other means of transportation – this will cause problems on this Blog in the future if he gets elected as we kind of like our streetcars and trains etc. I’d suggest that for a more balanced view of the region’s needs, to vote for Mr. Nickels. He is much more rounded than Mr. McGinn who seems like a one issue guy and that an issue i do not even thinks needs to be revisted. Please, 8 years of discussing this thing is too long. The City, County and State have all agreed on a tunnel – why reopen what is closed and wouldn’t be seen anyway if it gets built. I am betting that the funding will fall into place once they start construction – just keep on voting for Senator Murray and she will get us the funds when we fall short as I am sure we will.

      1. No I am not kidding – look at his figures – nothing for streetcars and everything for buses. He cannot eliminate cars altogether which would be his preference I think.

        Again, I ask, why revisit what has been decided. If we keep second guessing our elected officials like this, no wonder leadership comes at a premium. Who knows when we might next get the City, State and County to agree on a decision.

        Mass Transit Now was primarily about bus expansion – I rest my case.

      2. Let’s say it again: There has been absolutely no 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.

        And the Governor was quoted more than once as “promising” that the Viaduct would come down no later than 2012.

      3. Where was the public process for McGinn’s plan? I agree with your criticism, but he’s not supporting the surface/transit plan but a different one.

      4. I take your point John, but at least the McGinn plan is based on a plan that’s been fully vetted (i.e. used that plan and just tweaked things a bit to make it cheaper). The tunnel doesn’t even have that going for it.

        Also, I’m not so sure there was ever just a *single* surface/transit plan – I’ve been lead to believe the study was done as granularly as possible while leaving some details purposefully fuzzy for the sake of politics/finances – but maybe I’m wrong there.

      5. I don’t see the point in zeroing out money for the streetcar when the money obviously exists for it. $500mn to buses is great but what happens when this revenue source runs out? How is additional bus service not an on-going commitment from the city?

        We should spend this one-time money on capital investments, like streetcars, which are cheaper to operate per passenger mile than buses.

      6. McGinn was busy running the Seattle Parks campaign during the Mass Transit Now campaign (Mike O’Brien was the Sierra Club leader on the 2008 campaign). And, McGinn did make many skeptical comments about the proposed light rail alignments during the first Prop. 1 campaign in 2007. So, it would be really helpful for Mike to clarify his position on the ST2 extensions, as well as his vision for an ST3 and his ideas for how to get more revenue authority for an ST3. This is important because, as mayor, Mike would get a seat on the ST board and, as Martin has noted, ST will need an unyielding advocate in the mayor to assure the agency gets through any future crises. I’m not making any assertions here, but given how much of an advocate Nickels has been for light rail, I think it’s very important for Mike to compare and contrast his positions on ST with Nickels.

      7. Are you seriously quoting a 2003 article? Back when everyone wanted to kill Link because of ballooning costs and 7-8 years of nothing getting done between the 1996 vote and then?

        At that time, when Link’s costs were ballooning and people were into the grassroots-inspired SMP, McGinn could still be anti-Link AND pro-transit. I can’t actually tell the context because the link you posted doesn’t load. But seriously, if the most recent anti-rail statement you can find is from 6 years ago, you are grasping at straws?

    1. Tim, you can’t vote for Mr. Nickels. I suppose you could write him in but he won’t win and you will have lost your chance to indicate if you prefer Mallahan or McGinn.

  6. 75 million on “cheaper” choices for streets? Meaning what, dirt instead of asphault? I doubt he can explain away that one.

    Purchasing new buses – is this to increase frequency or to update the fleet? How is this sustainable? Is metro going to pay for it? Certainly doesn’t have the transformative effect of a streetcar and will probably be diesel buses instead of clean electric vehicles.

    I-5 needs to be widened even in its current state, let alone after punting 6 lanes of through-traffic onto it.

    This ‘alternative’ does nothing but slow down our mobility around our city and region, and presents no reasonable vision for the future.

    The goal is not to kill people’s ability to use cars by slowing the city down to a halt, it’s to create an alternative that is clean and efficient!

    1. Widening I-5 troubles me most about McGinn’s plan. Adding an extra lane simply shifts the chokepoint, which we know would exacerbate existing bottlenecks up through NE 45th past Northgate.

  7. What is this blanket $500M that he wants to throw in the direction of buses? What specific new routes or infrastructure improvements will be made with this $500M? How does bus replacement solve the mobility issues that will arise if the viaduct simply disappears?

    The “transit” part of this proposal is seriously lacking. Throwing a few hundred million into a “vague” transit plan is not a solution. I agree that any viaduct-related funding needs to go to CAPITAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS that increase mobility long-term, and improve upon what we have today. We already have bus improvements in this corridor on the way with RapidRide, so I’m highly skeptical that significant opportunities to improve bus service in the corridor will remain once RapidRide goes into place. Seems like at that point all you can really do to improve transit is a much more expensive light rail or exclusive BRT infrastructure, but his $500M transit afterthought won’t come close to achieving either of those.

  8. How is adding “ONE” lane to I-5 going to be the magic bullet? That is a complete joke. The VIADUCT is a 4 lane road in places. You expect to handle that traffic on I-5? Whachu smokin’ willis? The HWY 99 corridor is a distinct traffic pattern from I-5. If you’re coming from Ballard or Broadview and you want to go to Burien or Boeing Field, why would you take I-5? That would add about 30 minutes or more to your commute.

    1. Did you just miss the entire rest of the proposal? The goal of the entire plan is to replace the viaduct, including transit and surface street improvements, so of course only one part of the plan won’t cut it.

      1. Even with the whole plan considered you’ve got essentially a road wedged between two tourist/foot traffic dense locations (the ferry and cruise terminals) and the Market (include Qwest and Safeco farther down). In the summer anyone commuting from Magnolia, Ballard, Crown Hill, etc. to the airport, West Seattle, Boeing Field (all other points Southwest, will have to double their commute. I understand the goal of taking cars off the road, which I agree with, but you can’t take the road capacity away and have no plan to serve all these parts of seattle that have no transit options other than bus and aren’t planned to have any in any plan that is out there. I’m not wild about about this tunnel option, but McGinn is delisional if he’s not admitting this problem. NW Seattle is screwed.

  9. Charles is right on the money.

    Widening I-5? Um, unless he plans on ripping down the convention center and the buildings on either side, I-5 will still bottle neck downtown. Oh wait, we can eliminate the Seneca exit, that’ll do it. Just eliminate an exit to DOWNTOWN SEATTLE. We don’t want people to easily get downtown anyway, do we? Only if they use a bus or a train, right?

    I love mass transit but I’m not ignorant enough to think that cars are going to stop being the primary mode of transportation around here.

    And what’s with all the complainig about a public process for the viaduct replacement? We vote for these people to make decisions FOR the people. That’s what a representative democracy is all about. If you don’t like the decisions they make then, by all means, vote them out at the next election. But this constant wasting of time having meeting after meeting and putting every issue to a public vote is maddening. I realize this is a Seattle thing (I’m a native so I’ve seen it all my life) but it is just stupid. I want my elected officials to make decisions, not cower to every special interest group under the sun.

    1. I think many transportation experts believe removing an exit on I-5 would be the right thing to do. Also, the additional lane would be from re-striping not from a physical widening.

      1. There is not room to add more lanes without a very extensive rebuild of interchanges through that area. This is an extremely expensive proposition given the existing congestion and space constraints in the area. Of course, they could tunnel further down to add more room, but then we’re “tunneling” which apparently is a dirty word to a lot of people.

        I agree that we need to fix the bottleneck downtown by adding a third lane in each direction, but not as THE replacement of the viaduct.

      2. The cost is $553 million according to the state, which is pretty expensive.

        But no one is saying that widening I-5 is the fix. Surface streets could be modified to provide additional capacity and transit investments would be made to carry more people without even involving cars. Those main elements of the plan are why it’s called surface/transit, and not “widen I-5/watch traffic destroy the region.”

      3. I always get confused when driving I-5 through downtown and the convention center. Much of the lanes split off as exits, collector-distributor roadways, and express lane access. This results in a lot of confusion, merging and weaving, which slows traffic down. Not to mention the (now non-standard) left hand exit/entrances with Mercer St and SR 520 being the worst examples.

      4. As opposed to building a new lane? Um, yes.

        As opposed to drilling a new four lane highway? Um, yes.

        Will you stop with the faux outrage already and make an actual point?

      5. Wow. What if it were two new lanes (one lane each way == two lanes)? Plus we all know that I-5 is the bottleneck, not SR-99, so way more vehicles will travel on that one lane on I-5 than on one lane for SR-99, especially if the SR-99 lane has no stops downtown.

        Serious, dude.

      6. Serious dude, it’s clearly more environmentally friendly than building a tunnel. I’m not making the argument that I-5 improvements are environmentally neutral; no one is. I’m saying that it’s the better of two evils.

        So if the tunnel isn’t environmentally friendly, and adding lanes to I-5 isn’t environmentally friendly . . . what’s your suggestion then?

      7. My preferences is that you build transit and do neither. If you have to do one, do the one that makes transit work better. That’s really it.

        I generally as a rule don’t support new highway lanes. But I think it’s hypocritical to say “I can’t support new highway lanes becuase of greenhouse gases” and then put out a plan that adds more highway lanes, just different ones.

      8. Andrew, you cannot equate making existing roadways work more efficiently with actually pouring more concrete for new or widened roadways.

  10. “more cost-effective bus service hours” !?

    No sir, I don’t like it.

    McGinn may have rekindled the argument about the viaduct but he sounds anti-transit to me.

    So the Waterfront Streetcar is dead now?

    I know we have this lovely useless goes-nowhere-anyone-needs-to-go SLU streetcar in its place, but I thought it was nice anyway.

    1. Not dead, just delayed. From the article:

      “Given the Metro funding crisis, I also don’t see financing a 1st Avenue Streetcar at this time. I see streetcar expansion and light rail expansion in the city as desirable when we improve transportation financing regionally and statewide.”

      In other words, his plan seems to be to use the money to shore up bus service that would otherwise be cut instead of building the streetcar in an area where bus service will not be cut. And then – later, when Metro’s budget stabilizes in a year or two – build the streetcar. I’m not wonky enough to comment on the specifics of this, but that sounds like it makes a lot of sense to me.

  11. I can’t really comment on the specifics of the plan; I’m not quite that studied on the subject. But, on the surface, I like a lot of this. (Sorry guys, I’m just not sold on the streetcar thing.)

    What I’m most impressed about . . . is how the hell he managed to do this. Nickels’s shot at McGinn was well-financed, using experts in policy, financing, and messaging. But McGinn basically has an army of volunteers. For him to turn out even a halfway-decent plan in a couple of days with his campaign’s resources is kind of impressive.

  12. What a laff riot! The McGinn plan turns out to be everybody else’s plan, but without the tunnel- and without the streetcars.

    Oh, you’ll get your streetcars later, when the bus system finances have “stabilized”. But the more buses you add, the less stable the system becomes.

    But, hey, not to worry! Lots more people will also be driving through downtown Seattle on the surface. Maybe some streets will be “improved” so they can drive faster. That should do a lot for those quality-of-life issues.

    But wait, there’s more- where the other plans budget over a billion for “Viaduct removal etc”, McGinn budgets a lot less. I’m not crazy about using the “cost overrun” phrase, but when a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate coolly drops a half billion from the anticipated costs for this work, you have to wonder if those costs won’t creep back in before all is said and done.

    McGinn is following a primal law of politics- “When you have a good thing, stick to it.” As a lawyer and, now, a career politician, he can arrange his schedule to avoid traffic jams. YMMV.

  13. So the “McGinn plan” is actually 100 Million more, right? His 2.4 plus the 1.9 saved by not doing the tunnel equals 4.3 versus 4.2, and that’s without counting what it will REALLY take to remove the viaduct. Oh, and I am *sure* there won’t be any cost overruns on the 1-5 Widening — where is he going to widen it? It is already hemmed in on th sides in a lot of places — wait, maybe he proposes and I-5 tunnel to expand capacity? We don’t know because this is not a plan, it is a campaign leaflet. This “plan” is a joke, [deleted, ad-hominem]

  14. Is it just me or does everyone else get these charts downsized just enough so they’re hard to see? It would be lovely if you had to scale down the charts to fit on the blog, would you mind including a link to a full sized version?

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