To follow up on Martin’s post I just want to make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to Environmental Impact Studies. This has yet to be done for the deep-bore tunnel, with the draft EIS to be released in February of next year and the final EIS completed in the spring of 2011.

As defined by the International Association for Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as:

The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.

Emphasis mine. Furthermore from the Washington State Department of Ecology;

Q: What is SEPA?

A: SEPA is the abbreviation or acronym for the State Environmental Policy Act, Chapter 43.21C RCW. Enacted in 1971, it provides the framework for agencies to consider the environmental consequences of a proposal before taking action. It also gives agencies the ability to condition or deny a proposal due to identified likely significant adverse impacts. The Act is implemented through the SEPA Rules, Chapter 197-11 WAC.

So when is a SEPA review process needed?

Q: When is SEPA environmental review required?

A: Environmental review is required for any proposal which involves a government “action,” as defined in the SEPA Rules (WAC 197-11-704), and is not categorically exempt (WAC 197-11-800 through 890). Project actions involve an agency decision on a specific project, such as a construction project or timber harvest. Nonproject actions involve decisions on policies, plans, or programs, such as the adoption of a comprehensive plan or development regulations, or a six-year road plan.

More below the jump.

Then what is considered government “action”?

(1) “Actions” include, as further specified below:

(a) New and continuing activities (including projects and programs) entirely or partly financed, assisted, conducted, regulated, licensed, or approved by agencies;

(b) New or revised agency rules, regulations, plans, policies, or procedures; and

(c) Legislative proposals.

(2) Actions fall within one of two categories:

(a) Project actions. A project action involves a decision on a specific project, such as a construction or management activity located in a defined geographic area. Projects include and are limited to agency decisions to:

(i) License, fund, or undertake any activity that will directly modify the environment, whether the activity will be conducted by the agency, an applicant, or under contract.

(ii) Purchase, sell, lease, transfer, or exchange natural resources, including publicly owned land, whether or not the environment is directly modified.

(b) Nonproject actions. Nonproject actions involve decisions on policies, plans, or programs.

(i) The adoption or amendment of legislation, ordinances, rules, or regulations that contain standards controlling use or modification of the environment;

(ii) The adoption or amendment of comprehensive land use plans or zoning ordinances;

(iii) The adoption of any policy, plan, or program that will govern the development of a series of

Basically the deep-bore tunnel.

The International Association for Impact Assessment goes on to describe the basic principles of an EIS as:

  • Purposive – the process should inform decision making and result in appropriate levels of environmental protection and community well-being.
  • Rigorous – the process should apply “best practicable” science, employing methodologies and techniques appropriate to address the problems being investigated.
  • Practical – the process should result in information and outputs which assist with problem solving and are acceptable to and able to be implemented by proponents.
  • Relevant – the process should provide sufficient, reliable and usable information for development planning and decision making.
  • Cost-Effective – the process should achieve the objectives of EIA within the limits of available information, time, resources and methodology.
  • Efficient – the process should impose the minimum cost burdens in terms of time and finance on proponents and participants consistent with meeting accepted requirements and objectives of EIA.
  • Focused – the process should concentrate on significant environmental effects and key issues; i.e., the matters that need to be taken into account in making decisions.
  • Adaptive – the process should be adjusted to the realities, issues and circumstances of the proposals under review without compromising the integrity of the process,and be iterative, incorporating lessons learned throughout the proposal’s life cycle.
  • Participative – the process should provide appropriate opportunities to inform and involve the interested and affected publics, and their inputs and concerns should be addressed explicitly in the documentation and decision making.
  • Interdisciplinary – the process should ensure that the appropriate techniques and experts in the relevant bio-physical and socio-economic disciplines are employed, including use of traditional knowledge as relevant.
  • Credible – the process should be carried out with professionalism, rigor, fairness, objectivity, impartiality and balance, and be subject to independent checks and verification.
  • Integrated – the process should address the interrelationships of social, economic and biophysical aspects.
  • Transparent – the process should have clear, easily understood requirements for EIA content; ensure public access to information; identify the factors that are to be taken into account in decision making; and acknowledge limitations and difficulties.
  • Systematic – the process should result in full consideration of all relevant information on the affected environment, of proposed alternatives and their impacts, and of the measures necessary to monitor and investigate residual effects.

So, not only is WSDOT failing to meet SEPA requirements (in my estimate at least, but I’m not a lawyer), but the process related to the deep-bore tunnel is exemplifying why the principles of environmental impact studies are so critical for making sound policy choices.

Let me be completely clear. I have abstained from this debate because I have changed my opinions on the tunnel more than once. What prompted me to write about the tunnel over the last few days is my concern that informed policy making, based on data and studies, is getting utterly trampled by politics. Some are pushing this lawsuit as a way to delay the viaduct, and I don’t agree with that. To me the lawsuit is about ensuring the highest level of integrity and transparency while ensuring that decisions are made upon facts. I believe that once a study is complete a decision should and must be made based on the study, regardless of the outcome.

UPDATE: As of September 15th WSDOT released a Request for Qualifications. Also on September 17th WSDOT requested that the State Treasure sell $500 million dollars in bonds, part of which will fund among other projects;

A bored tunnel will be constructed under downtown Seattle between approximately Dearborn St. and Harrison St. to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct along the central waterfront. The new bored tunnel moves SR 99 to a new below ground alignment under downtown Seattle and will bypass the existing Battery Street Tunnel.

These bonds have been sold and I assume could be considered a government “action”.

52 Replies to “On Environmental Impact Studies”

  1. Does the same set of process issues described above for the Seattle road tunnel go for the ongoing NEPA and SEPA environmental studies on East Link Light Rail?

    Or is building that passenger railroad a decision already made because the people already voted in Prop 1 for the “mass transit now” taxes to pay for it?

    Last I checked, the East Link final EIS is not anticipated for publication until mid 2010.

    1. East Link has already been decided by the public and the momentum is behind it at all levels of government – as it is for the tunnel too – only the STB Board seems to be against the tunnel and running a sustained campaign against it.

    2. One big difference is Sound Transit isn’t soliciting for contracts to build East Link prior to finishing the EIS process.

      In fact I’d say the EIS process has worked as designed with both North Link and East Link. In both cases additional alternatives have been suggested and added to those studied. The public comments and meetings have helped steer the selection of the preferred alternatives.

      For example the UW station and alignment across campus selected in North Link was one suggested by the UW. In Roosevelt the neighborhood input helped push toward an underground station at 65th & 12th rather than an elevated station at 8th & 65th.

      With East link there have been a number of additional alternatives added. The B3 modified alignment, the C9T downtown Bellevue tunnel, some adjustments around the Bel-Red and Overlake Village stations.

      1. Well stated. I would argue that not only has the State started the bidding process before completing a draft EIS but they have in fact started constuction as the current staging and approach work being done only works for the deep bore tunnel along the waterfront. The way this project was decreed can’t help but leave people with the feeling that “the fix was in”.

        Let’s say a tunnel is the right solution. A very viable alternative under 6th was proposed with architecural work and engineering level comparable to the waterfront alignment. There are significant differences in traffic patterns to these two alternative both south and north of downtown. Studying both options in the DEIS process would add nothing to the schedule and since this is proposed as a “design and build” project very little to the cost.

        I don’t know if this is better or if a tunnel is even the right answer. But, as Chris pointed out, the DEIS has produced alternates that are both more acceptable to the stakeholders and provide cost savings. There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t apply to the viaduct replacement project. I believe that over the next twenty years the viaduct replacement will have a far greater impact on the character and function of Seattle as a city than light rail. In fact it will shape the future of mass transit through the downtown core. Reason enough it’s self to conduct the EIS process before committing to any alternative.

    3. John, there is no comparison for East link and the Viaduct. They are completely different. Not only has the precedence for using I-90 for HCT gone back since the bridge was built, but ST has already completed the draft EIS. WSDOT has yet to even finish the EIS but the state is set out an RFQ for the boring of the tunnel.

      That is the different. Plain and simple.

  2. Are you guys being paid by the McGinn campaign?

    Martin, may I suggest that you reach out to some government officials and other informed government parties who are in favor of the tunnel to provide some balanced commentary here. I cannot do this alone as I don’t have access to the facts and it seems like the STB is running a sustained campaign to discredit all of us out here who support the tunnel. We are losing balance and objectivity here and it is all turning into an ugly fracas with only one point of view being expressed. I know the election is next week, but one candidate at the mayoral level, two at the County level, the State’s Congressional Senatorial delegation and the governor all currently support the tunnel, so surely you can find someone out there who can provide some balance to Ben and Adam – the two of them are making me ill.

    1. Tim,

      This blog is committed to the truth, but not to giving equal time to all sides in the debate. At our best, we address the strongest arguments of people with whom we disagree. We don’t approach Kemper Freeman to write an op-ed when we campaign for light rail, and we don’t ask Judy Clibborn (or whomever) for a pro-tunnel position.

      That said, if we were approached by a public figure to write a pro-tunnel piece, I’d strongly consider publishing it, as long as it didn’t have any demonstrably false statements. I’d even accept one from a private citizen if it met a higher standard of being well-reasoned and well-written.

      Aside from my last post on the subject, I’ve personally communicated some ambiguity on the tunnel — that’s it’s a bad project, but better than the politically realistic alternatives. No one’s really contested those points, so I’m not sure what else there is to say about it, except to point out the way in which the sphere of political reality stinks.

      And frankly, I take offense to your suggestion that we’re being paid by the McGinn campaign. That’s a pathetic attempt to question our motives on one issue where some of us happen to disagree with you.

      1. I don’t think it is pathetic at all – you have endorsed McGinn and are now flooding this blog with anti-tunnel arguments and posts – this seems as politically minded to me as Adam’s suggestion that the opposing arguments and motivations of WSDOT are politically motivated.

        Ben posts and blogs on the tunnel daily so that isn’t really valid as an argument either.

        If politics stinks, it is because we the voters make it so.

        No, I don’t expect you to post anything from Kemper Freeman, but pro-tunnel activists are hardly on a par with his selfish approach to the region.

        What is wrong with Rep. Judy Clibborn’s viewpoint?


      2. you have endorsed McGinn and are now flooding this blog with anti-tunnel arguments and posts

        You suggested we were TAKING MONEY from McGinn — that’s a far cry from being “politically minded”. That is not a light accusation and I’ll respond forcefully to it.

        We’re largely driven by what the stories of the day are. Other outlets are talking a lot about the tunnel and we are too.

        Ben comments, but DOES NOT post on the tunnel daily. There are zero examples of that since May. Stop misrepresenting the facts.

        What is wrong with Rep. Judy Clibborn’s viewpoint?

        Nothing’s wrong with it, except that we disagree. We’re not going to go and ask her to post an opinion we disagree with. If she volunteers it, fine.

      3. OK, I apologise for the question – I give up with you guys – you win and I refuse to comment any further on the tunnel project, it is just making me ill and depressed. I am sure there are plenty of arguments in favor of it, but no one here is posting anything in support of it and I refuse to be a lone gun. You guys can fight whereever and whatever you want, I just don’t care anymore – I have other fights worth fighting for and putting my energies towards. Count me out of this debate as it is not going anywhere and is just getting bitter and divided.


      4. This is not the “Pro/Con” section of a newspaper, where the paper indifferently publishes the arguments for and against. It’s more like an editorial section. A few people are allowed to post, and they all have similar opinions and goals — that’s why the blog exists in the first place. It’s no accident that the posts are pro transit, prefer cable-tethered vehicles, and dislike building general-purpose freeway lanes. (Buzzwords: renewable energy via cables, rising price of oil, pedestrian-friendly.) Singling out Martin is funny because he’s less anti-tunnel than others. Search for his post for some pro-tunnel arguments.

        I’m sure there are other sites with summaries of the pro-tunnel position. You can put links to them in the comments, or submit them for the Sunday Open Thread.

        Here are some pro-tunnel or middleground arguments for you:

        – In other cities that eliminated freeways, the freeway was just a spur (SF Embarcadero) or a minor auxiliary (Portland Willammette). Here, 99 is a relief valve for the severe design flaws on I-5. On I-5 downtown, southbound through traffic is limited to one lane. Most downtown exits are in one other lane. That’s ridiculous for a city this size. There’s insufficient capacity from downtown to 520, as is seen when the regular lanes are overloaded but the express lanes are a breeze. All this (and the ball games) make I-5 an intermittent parking lot from 6:30am-7:30pm weekdays and 10am-7:30pm weekends. 99 has been a reliable bypass when you have to get to the other side of town now. I’m anti-freeway in the long run, but I’m sympathetic to the idea that this project is more important than most freeways.

        – The region is not going to die just because an overpriced tunnel is built. It’s sad the money won’t be available to transit, but it’s not the end of the world. Maybe this tunnel will be the last mega-car project.

      5. I might disagree with the notion that this some ideal objective news source out there, and we do have some straight-up factual reporting here, but I’m basically in agreement with what you’re saying about this blog.

        There are actually only a few issues that we “litmus test” staff members on, and the tunnel isn’t one of them. If Sherwin, or Adam, or John, or Oran came out and said they were for the tunnel and could articulate how that fits in the framework of their pro-transit values, I wouldn’t muzzle them. Apparently the cookie hasn’t crumbled that way.

        And I’ll say again that if someone wants to submit a pro-tunnel guest essay I’d strongly consider posting it. We’re not such delicate flowers that we can’t handle a post that we disagree with.

      6. Tim,

        I’m sorry you think that I’m unfairly representing the tunnel. As I said in this I use to support the tunnel.

        Of course I’m trying to affect the outcome of the tunnel. If I didn’t care about politics I wouldn’t be writing here. But let me underline this again. There is a difference between having information and then playing politics with it and playing politics and binding you into a decision that you don’t have information about.

      7. I would actually really, really like to see a well thought-out, reasoned argument for the tunnel.

        I find myself always being forced into a position of defending the surface/transit/I-5 alternative which I support. And pro-tunnel folks seem to spend more time arguing why this alternative or a new/reinforced Viaduct are bad.

        Why should I support the tunnel other than some belief that there are ~110,000 vehicles on the AWV every day at present, and we should continue to allow some amount of these vehicles to bypass Downtown in this corridor???

        Perhaps you could get one of the Stakeholders Advisory Group tunnel supporters to write something?

      8. Mickymse,

        Practical or fundamental?

        If you want a case for why it’s a good idea in an absolute case, I don’t think it can be done in the value system of this blog: you have to say moving cars is more important than anything else.

        If you want to see the practical case that the other real alternatives are worse, I could actually take a shot at that.

      9. you have to say moving cars is more important than anything else.

        No, no, no. You still don’t get it! Moving my car is more important than anything else. :P

      10. Well, Martin, there are folks who generally support the views of this blog — and even post on here — who strongly support the tunnel.

        We know something has to be done. The status quo doesn’t work.

        How have they made peace with this decision? Nickels, stakeholders, etc. It can’t just be that they think the other options are worse. That’s debatable, but silly. How does the tunnel address the problem?

    2. And furthermore:

      By my count Ben hasn’t posted on this subject since May 12th. He’s complained about the tunnel in the comments, where his megaphone is just as big as yours.

    3. Just because a bunch of political leaders are behind a project doesn’t mean the laws regarding impact assessment, decision making, or transparency can just be ignored.

      Furthermore there is some question as to what will really happen if the cost estimates for the state portion of the project exceed the budget or tolling studies show there is no way to raise the up to $400 million the state is counting on.

      I’d also hardly say there was a consensus among the public for the tunnel. The fact it has generated such controversy indicates there is at least a substantial minority opposing it.

    4. Tim can we talk about the issue at hand. What did I write about the EIS process that is incorrect?

      I also find your comment very insulting. I worked for WSDOT for over two and a half years. I’m very proud of the writing I do on here and I try to stay as close to the facts as possible. If I’m wrong please call me on it and I’ll either explain why I disagree or admit that I’m wrong.

      So please, don’t attack the blog just because I write something you don’t like.

      1. Well nothing is wrong with it, I just am asking for a balanced viewpoint that has other arguments. I refuse to write any more on the tunnel as I am in a minority of one at this point and there is nothing further to be gained by challenging the STB Board on this subject. I would rather return to issues we do all mostly agree with – namely, who should win the County Executive race for example and building trains and streetcars in corridors throughout the city. This tunnel debate is currently producing more heat than light and is making me ill and depressed. You guys win, I lose and apologies if I have said anything wrong or incorrectly taken. This just shows the level to which we have fallen in this discussion where everyone is insulting one another for no good reason.

      2. Yes, and you’re the one throwing the insults!

        Look, I’m sorry that the facts don’t agree with your position, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I mean, they just cited state law, for chrissake – that’s not opinion. It’s fact. No one can make you agree with the facts any more than anyone can bend the facts to fit your point of view.

        This isn’t personal. No one is attacking you. There is not some conspiracy to drown tunnel-lovers out. It’s really much simpler than that: you’re just wrong. And that’s ok! Being wrong is important! It helps those who have the facts sharpen their positions and learn how to frame the arguments correctly – you are, in fact, a valuable resource, to an extent. But the time comes when you need to swallow your pride take a good, hard, objective look at the facts as they are, and just admit that you’re wrong. There’s no shame in that. Everyone is wrong sometimes.

      3. No, I’m beaten and beaten hard and I have nothing further to add on the tunnel. I just want the existing viaduct gone, the waterfront returned and to be honest, don’t really care whether we get a tunnel or a surface street option. In fact, I have often said this, but I have also said that if something has been decided on, then it should be followed through on. Like I said, though, I am beaten and too depressed to really say anything more on the subject. I’ll let you guys fight your way through to the top echelons of power and see what you get out of it – so long as you get the existing viaduct out of the way before it falls down and we get our waterfront back.

        I am wrong, you guys win and I am sorry – can’t argue any further or I shall be checking into the ER.


  3. Is this the “Seattle Transit Blog” or the “I Hate the Tunnel Blog”. Scrolling through the recent posts, it seems about 1/2 are against the tunnel. Fine, you have your opinions, but the tunnel is going to happen. The tunnel has been agreed to by the state and the city, including those running for city government. Let’s quit beating a dead horse and get on with the debate. Furthermore, I don’t really grasp how the tunnel is even that relevant to this blog.

    Many of you seem to want a surface transit option, so now that we’re getting a tunnel and the surface improvements, let’s talk about how we can get the transit side of the equation. What bus routes can be improved? What can we do to get link to the westside of Seattle faster? What would such a route look like? How can we improve bike connections in the western neighborhoods of Seattle? Let’s talk about the way forward rather than rehashing pointless old arguments.

    1. Agreed, thanks Ryan – finally someone who is speaking some sense here. The blof has been completely hijacked by anti-tunnel activists.

      1. “hijacked by anti-tunnel activists”

        Go back and read Adam’s last paragraph in the post. He’s hardly a rabid anti-tunnel bombthrower.

        The other person who’s recently posted on this is me, and I fully concede that the tunnel is probably the best politically possible outcome. I just want to hold the State to what the governor originally agreed to.

      2. The DBT is also probably the best technical solution to the viaduct problem too.

        But I do think STB has picked the wrong fight here. The DBT is the solution that has been selected — and with good reason. About the only thing that I think can derail it is if the bids come in substantially over budget, and even then the powers that be would probably look for more funding sources.

      3. You know we very well might have. But that is life right?

        But don’t you just get the feeling that the viaduct saga can’t end so simply? Its just not its nature.

      4. One of the reasons some folks oppose the tunnel so vehemently is precisely because we don’t believe that the DBT proposal will result in the best waterfront or any real increase in transit.

        I’m afraid the inevitable cost overruns — aside from impacting the city’s ability to work on other issues — will eat away at the funds available for any new transit options. It’s already having an affect on plans for a new streetcar in the corridor.

    2. The tunnel’s been in the news, and we’ve written about it. I’d be much happier with the tunnel deal if the Governor had delivered the transit taxing authority she had promised.

      The City has a long list of transportation projects that are important to us: sidewalks, bike improvements, bus lanes, streetcars, and with luck light rail. We have to fix the seawall in any case, but putting hundreds of millions of dollars to this project (and especially overruns) will suck the oxygen out of everything else.

      There’s a limit amount of license tab and MVET funding that can be used in transportation benefit districts, and dedicating it to roads instead of transit in Seattle is directly counter to this blog’s values.

      If you put back the bus taxes and remove the overrun provision, I wouldn’t love the deal but I could abide by it.

      1. One area we need to keep a close eye on is ensuring that the proposed MVET is targeted to new transit in this corridor and not to any road-building…

        Many of us monorail “kool-aid drinkers” suspect that opposition to the SMP from Olympia had much to do with the roads folks wanting an MVET for their projects.

    3. Ryan,

      To your specific question of how we get Link to the Westside faster, the first step would be to find funding sources for the tunnel project other than a City Transportation Benefit District, which is the only likely authority to get funds to get started in the next decade or so.

      If we’re on the hook for overruns that’s a big problem.

      1. That isn’t entirely true, the city has other taxing authority it can use. Though the only one likely to generate much revenue other than a TBD is a property tax levy.

        I see the push for additional light rail in the City as a three prong effort to get to the point where it is ready for a ballot measure:

        1. A study of alignments and costs needs to be done. This needs to be at least as complete as the studies prior to the Sound Move and Prop. 1 votes were.

        2. A study of potential funding sources and revenue available without action from the legislature needs to be done.

        3. An effort to lobby the state legislature for additional taxing authority needs to be done.

    4. Did you read my post. At the end I indicated that I haven’t commented on this issue for over a year simply because I went back and forth.

    5. Let’s talk about the way forward rather than rehashing pointless old arguments.

      The EIS process is the framework in which to talk about the way forward and avoid digging our selves a hole we can’t get out of.

  4. I sort of read Niles’ question as a rhetorical one meant to bait the readers here. FWIW, for either or both of SEPA and NEPA, there has to be a “proposed action” just to get the whole process rolling; the proposal of an agency to build a light rail line connecting Seattle to the east side suburbs, for example. Once the proposed action is established along with its “purpose and need,” the action agency develops a certain range of “alternatives” to the proposed action whose effects in the human environment can be analyzed and published to ensure the eventual agency decisionmaker is fully informed when deciding on how to proceed on the proposed action. However, the action agency is not permitted make irretrievable or irreversible commitments of resources to the proposed action until the process is complete. For both projects this stuff is started. However, whether or not the contracts let already for the tunnel project constitute an irretrievable or irreversible commitment of resources seems like an open question. And if I were counsel to the decisionmakers on the tunnel project, I would urge they exercise a fair bit more discretion in their statements and other actions regarding the DBT because they appear to have already made the decision that is supposed to fall out the back end of the NEPA/SEPA process.

    1. I don’t think there’s been any irretrievable or irreversible commitment of resources for East Link. Only studies – and studies of multiple alternatives, at that.

      1. I believe R8A has its own EIS and is something we need to improve bus service even if East Link never happens.

      2. I know Ben, I was referring to the tunnel project and the contracts that have already gone to RFP, etc. I was also responding to Niles implication that there’s any similarity between East Link and the DBT processes.

  5. I want to clear something up. The posts that Adam has made have been solely his own opinions, not some “editorial board.” You should note the use “I” instead of “we.” I understand the distinction sounds thin, but there is some difference.

    I am unconvinced that the political or institutional winds make appropriate questions become inappropriate. In particular, Adam’s piece yesterday about the different tolling assumptions illuminated something we all know: The deep bore tunnel came out of left field and outside of the stakeholder group process for very political reasons.

  6. Adam, your references to the IAIA aren’t particularly relevant. More useful would be references to the CEQ NEPA regulations and the FHWA regulations.

    CEQ NEPA regulations

    FHWA NEPA regulations

    All federal agencies follow the CEQ regulations and often have their own NEPA regulations to cover their specific needs.

    I’ll also point out that a request for qualifications (RFQ) doesn’t commit WSDOT to build the deep bore tunnel.

    From the RFQ:
    “WSDOT is preparing an EIS for the Project in compliance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the NEPA. The WSDOT Project team is engaged in early coordination with all Federal, State, tribal, regional, and local agencies that have permitting authority, special expertise, or interest in transportation projects. WSDOT anticipates issuing a Supplemental Draft EIS for public comment in March 2010. The issuance of the Final EIS is scheduled for January 2011, and the issuance of the ROD, which completes the NEPA process, is scheduled for March 2011. Therefore, the NEPA/SEPA documentation, Section 106 and Endangered Species Act consultations, and environmental permits for the Project will not be completed prior to the award of the contract. In light of that, WSDOT anticipates issuing two phases of Notice To Proceed (NTP) for this Project RFQ for SR 99 Bored Tunnel Design-Build Project as further defined in Section 4.1. This is to ensure that no commitments are made to any alternative being evaluated in the NEPA process and that the comparative merits of all alternatives presented in the NEPA document, including the no-build alternative, will be evaluated and fairly considered.”

    If you want to read more, go here:

    Also, the fact that constructing a deep bore tunnel was listed as an example of how WSDOT would spend bond proceeds in a letter to the State Treasurer also isn’t a binding commitment.

    1. Yeah I choose to use the IAIA information because it wasn’t focused around specific laws but the rather the purpose of the process.

      Yes the RFQ doesn’t comment WSDOT to the tunnel but the next sentence in that update says that the state treasure has ALREADY sold bonds that are specifically dedicated to the deep bore tunnel.

      1. WSDOT has not taken any ‘actions’ on the tunnel as defined in WAC 197-11-704.

        The thing to remember is that, at the moment, the viaduct replacement is a deep bore tunnel project. As far as NEPA/SEPA are concerned, all the other alternatives are currently in the ‘alternatives considered but not carried forward’ heap. The deep bore tunnel is the preferred alternative. That doesn’t mean things can’t change – it’s already happened once on this project. Back in 2004, it was a cut and cover tunnel project. But the fact is, this is now a deep bore tunnel project. WSDOT can tell the State Treasurer they are spending money on the deep bore tunnel project to replace the AWV and they’re probably using the money to pay for the remainder of the NEPA process and related preliminary engineering. If the NEPA process takes another turn and WSDOT ends up building something other than the deep bore tunnel, the State Treasurer isn’t going to come back and ask for that money back.

        Anyway, my point is that it isn’t important what WSDOT tells the State Treasurer they are going to spend the money on. It’s important what they actually spend it on.

      2. I’m sorry Paul. If that state has not already taking “action” on the deep bore tunnel then nothing is “action”.

        First off how is selling a bond not an action? The fact that the government did something, as opposed to do nothing, means it is an action. And the fact that they are only forwarding one alternative means they have made a choice. Not only that but the City Council, the Mayor, and the Governor have signed a memorandum of agreement that chooses the tunnel as the replacement alternative.

        So it is an action under:

        1(a) – They sold bonds
        2(a) – They chose a single alternative
        2(b) i – They signed planning document (memorandum of agreement) that explicitly state a deep bore tunnel.

        Lets not be coy. These are actions plain and simple.

      3. By your definition of a SEPA action, I think government employees would need to process a SEPA DNS just to turn their computers on in the morning. After all, turning on your computer is ‘doing something, as opposed to nothing’. Seriously though….

        1(a) The State Treasurer sold bonds, presumably guaranteed by state gas tax revenue. That’s what the state did and it didn’t commit the state to building a deep bore tunnel or even building anything else. It just committed the state to paying off the bonds with the gas tax revenue. Period.

        2(a) – Technically, they haven’t chosen to proceed with the deep bore tunnel — at least in the sense that it matters under NEPA and SEPA. WSDOT and Seattle have simply announced their preferred alternative and are proceeding with the process towards eventually selecting it and building it, assuming they don’t change their minds (again). Bottom line, in the context of SEPA they have not chosen an alternative.

        2(b)i – The MOA is not a binding commitment to complete the tunnel. I’ll point out that the 1976 I-90 MOA, which had a description of what was to be built that was at least as proscriptive as the recent AWV MOA, was also signed before SEPA was complete. If for some reason, the NEPA/SEPA process for the deep bored tunnel takes an unexpected turn and they end up wanting to do something else, they can just tear up the MOA and write a new one.

        While the state and the city certainly are getting things lined up to pull the trigger once a final decision is made, from what I can see they have not gone past the point of no return and taken a pre-decision ‘action’ to build the deep bore tunnel.

      4. Again I have to say I’m no lawyer but I think your are trying to explain away the obvious. Please explain to me at what point WSDOT will have taken an action?

  7. Out of curiosity, what is the take of the folks here on the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel, and Ballard Oil lawsuit against the city claiming that the city needs to do a SEPA study before they build the Missing Link of the Burke Gilman Trail?

    …if the trail needs a SEPA study then the deep bore tunnel sure as heck seems like it needs a study…but I also am skeptical about the need for a study of the trail since hearing examiner found on the SEPA checklist that a study wasn’t needed.

    1. Michael, FHWA, WSDOT, and SDOT are preparing a NEPA/SEPA EIS for the project. The deep bore tunnel will get a SEPA study.

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