Yesterday King 5 released a poll of Seattle voters. The poll shows that Seattle voters are evenly split 47%/46% for or against the tunnel with a 4.5% margin of error. While these results are a toss-up, all of the other results bode poorly for tunnel supporters. For example 81% of voters are very or somewhat concerned about cost overruns. 52% think that the state should be responsible for cost overruns, 63%want to wait till the state agrees to pay for cost overruns, and 58% want a public vote on the issue. More after the jump.

Lets not forget Seattle voted on the viaduct just three years ago.  On the 2007 advisory ballot, both the cut-and-cover tunnel and the elevated structure lost badly, 70%/30% and 57%/43% respectively. The 2007 results were the results of a gerrymandered voting process designed by the city council to kill the elevated structure. Rather than asking voters to choose which they liked more, an elevated structure or tunnel, Seattle voters had the choice to support or oppose both separately.

So what does the split in support mean? In general public support for things with a price tag go down as it comes time to vote, especially on a project like this which is going to be relentlessly hammered with fear, uncertainty and doubt. It shouldn’t be to hard to do that. Tunnel supporters aren’t helping their case either as Josh Feit has discussed multiple times. Throw in tolls, close to a $1 billion dollar bill for Seattle tax and rate payers, and lack of transit, and opponents have plenty of things to attack. And this time around the city council won’t be able to dictate terms. As I see it, if tunnel opponents can qualify enough signatures for a ballot measure, tunnel supporters will be in a bind.

A few noteworthy points from the poll:

  • Seattle residents in all age, sex, race and location categories overwhelmingly support delaying construction until the state agrees to pay for cost overruns. That is pretty damning evidence and is exactly where McGinn has drawn a line in the sand.
  • Downtown residents are extremely bullish with 72% supporting the tunnel and 41% “not very” worried about cost overruns.
  • Support is lowest in West Seattle with only 35% supporting the tunnel. West Seattle residents opposition doesn’t look like a result of worries about cost overruns, those figures are roughly similar to other parts of the city. This indicates that West Seattle residents don’t like the tunnel because of design, tolls, or something else.
  • Concerns about safety of the current viaduct are fairly uniform. Ironically 77% of West Seattle residents are somewhat or very worried about safety in the tunnel compared to just 73% with the current viaduct. Citywide 59% of residents are somewhat or very worried about safety in the tunnel.
  • A majority of downtown residents think that downtown property owners should pay cost overruns. The only other categories that concur are those 18-34 years old. Any theories to explain this? It makes no sense besides the fact that downtown residents are predominately in the 18-34 age group. Maybe renters don’t think they have to pay property taxes?
  • Support for a referendum on the tunnel is broad, with downtown residents supporting it the most. Again odd.
  • The typical sex/age biases show up. Men support the project more and worry less about costs than women. Young voters support the project more and worry less about costs than older voters.

44 Replies to “Digging Into the Deep-Bore Poll”

  1. The *safety of the tunnel* issue is strange. Maybe they are worried about something we haven’t considered. If the tunnel does cause a downtown building to sink, is there a possibility of collapse? Will they be closing down buildings as they tunnel under them for safety?

    1. Yeah it surprised me too. But then again WSDOT wants to build a tunnel under water level in soil that could liquify, which also happens to be on a fault line with no emergency exits. I certainly think it shows that WSDOT needs to address this concern.

  2. the real question is whether a double-decker tunnel is appropriate to replace a double-decker roadway.

    they really should have 3 bores … 1NB from Aurora Bridge; 1SB from Aurora Bridge; 1 center NB/SB to Elliot Avenue (towards Ballard/Magnolia/Queen Anne)

    1. If they were to run a tunnel towards 15th Ave W, McGinn could piggyback onto it for West Seattle light rail.

  3. Not even taking a stance on the issue, that is a fantastically craptastic poll.

    1. You can’t just call it craptastic and leave it there. Please explain in a bit more detail. This isn’t the Seattle Times.

      1. Fair enough, Adam. To be clear, my problem is with the poll, not your analysis of it.

        To me the biggest issues are questions 3 and 4, which are wordy and need to be stripped down so the pollster can be sure s/he is getting the “narrow” data desired.

        Question #3: “If construction of the tunnel costs more than the state budgets, who should pay the extra costs? All Washington taxpayers? Or Seattle-area property owners who benefit from the tunnel?”

        The poll shouldn’t presume the respondent perceives the tunnel as a benefit to anyone, and if it does it needs to define whom it refers to by “who.” What is the class of “Seattle-area property owners” that will “benefit” from the tunnel? Downtown residents? People who own warehouses by the port? City of Seattle residents? King County residents? You and I might know the answer (although when they throw “area” in there even I’m not so sure), but it’s a stretch to assume random respondents know the answer, and bad form to make them guess. And the false dichotomy inherent in the question also assumes “all Washington taxpayers” won’t benefit from the commerce generated/facilitated by the tunnel. It’s a loaded question.

        Question 4 isn’t bad as a stand-alone, but since it is so bound up with Question 3 it should employ parallel language. For starters, both questions need to use either “the state” or “all Washington taxpayers,” as the terms are likely to evoke quite different emotions in respondents. And even throwing McGinn’s name in there complicates your data.

        It’s this kind of sloppy language—especially when coupled with a really high margin-of-error—that renders it difficult if not impossible to tease any meaning out of odd results, like the fact that only 52% of respondents think the state should be responsible for overruns, but 63% of respondents think the project should be delayed until the state agrees to be responsible for those overruns.

      2. Thanks for writing everything out. There were certainly were a few weird results.

        Your first point on “…seattle-area property owners who benefit from the tunnel”. I belive that is taken directly from the state’s law. The state law doesn’t specify who those property owners are, which is just one more reason some people are having heartburn over it. The language is messy because state legislators were messy.

        I agree about your point on the use of “the state” or “all washington taxpayers”. Saying “the state” isn’t very clear, but “all washington taxpayers” is a bit of a charge language as well. Maybe saying WSDOT would be better?

      3. I guess as long as it’s consistent I wouldn’t care too much. Either “city/state” or “Seattle taxpayers only/All Washington taxpayers” would be OK. Of course you could still get into discussions about bias, but at least it would be consistent bias.

        Also, just a footnote, but your post refers to “voters” while it looks like this was a poll of all residents, not voters/likely voters.

      4. Yeah i know but it was 2:00 am and I didn’t have the energy to make everything consistent.

      5. Be Nice, Jason! The fact Adam is willing to have the conversation means you got more out of this than you did out of Lori, Dennis and Robert.

  4. If this poll is reliable and accurate the tunnel is dead. Its always easier to defeat something than to create something, and its too hard to winnow something this big with this little support.

    I’ve always felt this city has viaduct fatigue, when the tunnel is stopped, I wonder what that portents for the future of those who defeated it? By that I mean, I don’t think its defeat will be heralded for long.

  5. I think the tunnel is terrible idea, but oh God not another vote.

    No solution is going to obtain a majority in this city, so if we wait for something to get 51% of the votes we’ll wait forever.

    I want our leaders to wait for the EIS to complete and do the right thing, not punt to the electorate.

    1. Transit projects have to be voted on so why shouldn’t freeway projects? It’s a bit of a double standard.

      1. Transit project votes favour our side in the long run, and that’s all that matters.

        Do vote-up-freeway elections favour us in the long run? Absolutely. Let’s get a Seattle-only vote on the vague-overruns-on-tunnel-means-no! How is that going to work for the pavement lobby exactly?

    2. As Lori Matsukawa says at the end of Robert Mak’s report, “We love to vote!”

      1. Yes, some tranportation proposals do get a majority in this town, so long as they aren’t about freeways. Bridging the Gap. Transit Now. ST. ST2. Monorail 1, 2, and 3. We had to vote on all these. Why don’t we get to vote on freeways?

    3. I disagree completely, Martin. Who would lose from that election? The full-steam-ahead-and-in-the-driver’s-seat tunnel proponents or the tunnel-is-a-bloody-awful-idea clan?

      I think a vote would bring brilliant sunshine on the debate, and as we know, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

      1. The polling indicates it’d be close, but what’s the endgame? They’ll want a vote on surface/transit, and that would lose too.

      2. How would the mayor’s Walk/Bike/Ride Initiative lose, if the most controversial element is a study of West Link? The biggest hurdle I see is the city council.

        There won’t be a straight-up vote on replacing the viaduct with only an at-grade boulevard (which would be perfectly consistent with the rest of Highway 99). The vote would be on a bunch of other stuff that voters will support for their own sake: more sidewalks, more bike infrastructure, catching up the backlog of bridge maintenance (which pedestrians, bikers, and buses all use), extending SLUT to the Roosevelt Bridge (if not across), studying West Link, and studying the various alternatives for DSTT2, just to name a few possible examples.

        Just as deep-bore auto tunnel boosters point to this window of opportunity before the viaduct comes down as the time to build their tunnel, we should be pushing this window of opportunity to build a second DSTT, which would alleviate the congestion of dozens of bus routes on the surface in the short term, and be the first step toward building West Link in the long term.

        If you’ve been to NYC, you’ll probably understand the importance of rail line redundancy. As one line shuts down for nightly or major maintenance, a parallel line is already up and running. That’s how major maintenance on Link will have to happen in the long run.

        But getting back to ballot items, a mere study of DSTT2 shouldn’t bring down a walk/bike/ride tax proposal. Indeed, I think it would bouy it up. Unfortunately, the city council is becoming the Circle of Dithering.

      3. Not Walk/Bike/Ride, the Surface/transit viaduct replacement alternative.

      4. I genereally agree that nothing will win at the ballot, however if you put a proposal on the ballot that included the surface alternative with some I-5 improvemetns AND light rail to West Seattle and Ballard, that stands a better chance than anything else to pass.

        As I have said before the problem with this project is that it has been views as a highway project, when it really is about improving N/S mobility and access to downtown. Throw that construct out the window and you can come up with a much better project that is built around transit.

      5. Well now you’re talking a much bigger price tag. The whole tunnel project is $4.2 billion, surface/transit/I-5 is $3.5 billion, and you’re looking at $1 billion to do light rail on the cheap and as much as $5 billion to do it to Link standards. Even the on-the-cheap option is straining at the city’s revenue capacity.

        Meanwhile the wild card is how much the state, port, etc would contribute to this project. One thing you lose for sure is the $400m in tolling you were counting on.

      6. I agree there are certainly a lot of unknowns, my point is that add light rail into the mix and it completely changes the dynamics. You’re right though that it would probably cost more, although that depends on how heavy you build the light rail.

      7. But light rail would give us so much more bang for the buck, particularly in providing access to downtown, which the tunnel will not do.

        And I think this is the main reason West Seattle is against the tunnel: it actually takes direct, grade-separated access to the center of downtown. Really, who in West Seattle will use the tunnel? Very few people, I think.

  6. “It makes no sense besides the fact that downtown residents are predominately in the 18-34 age group.”

    Is this true? Downtown is not the cheapest place to live so I doubt there are many 18-24 year old students or people in their first jobs. So this would imply the bulk of downtown residents are in a narrow band of 25-34.

    1. How was “downtown” defined? It would be interesting to look at the demographic profile of the area amd respondents. I did 98101 at city-data and the largest group is roughly 25-34 but there are healthy numbers of older groups as well (median age is 42). Also I’d think downtown would have more diverse demographics since there is a mix of low income, young professionals, and wealthy.

  7. Sadly, the poll combined all of the North End as an integrated group; both those that could benefit from the tunnel (northeast) and those that will be penalized by the Viaduct’s removal (northwest). We can only wonder what responses would be returned if separately considering the citizens of Magnolia, Ballard, Loyal Heights and West Queen Anne as a group?

    The entire Northwest Quadrant of the City (inlcuding the Port and the Cruise Terminal) will be unable to access points south, including the Airport, Boeing Field, Train Station, Light Rail, Stadium and industrial areas, and vice versa, without viaduct or tunnel access via Elliot/Western.

    Nickerson and Mercer were proven unacceptable alternatives this weekend due to gridlock (Mercer, Westlake, South Lake Union, Broad and Denny) from events at the Seattle Center.

    1. Yeah I noticed that too. It would have nice to have had NE and NW Seattle broken up.

  8. West Seattle resident responses don’t surprise me much…

    Aside from the high level of support in my side of town for a viaduct rebuild, this could probably be explained by two key factors:

    1) A high percentage of drivers from West Seattle are traveling to/from the two Downtown exits and NW Seattle. That travel is shifted to surface streets under the tunnel proposal and/or complicated by how the final design of the north portal plays out.

    2) Any safety issues — be it structural issues or just accidents or traffic backups in the tunnel — are likely to spill over into West Seattle just like major traffic problems on the current Alaskan Way Viaduct or Spokane Street Viaduct/I-5.

    1. (disclosure: I am a daily cyclist, not a driver, and sometimes take the bus or ride my motorcycle if I absolutely must have a motor vehicle)

      1) Absolutely. This effects not only daily commuters but also after hours and weekend visits to the city.
      2) I agree with this. Most people I speak with about safety issues are tunnel accidents and how the heck to get out of there.
      3) Transit is not being increased or helped by the tunnel design. Metro and the city consistenly state that it will indeed take LONGER to get into town via bus, estimated 10 mintues longer (for a ride a couple miles long!). That is a travesty since they could incorporate complete bus only lanes from West Seattle to downtown instead of disjointed bus only lanes here and there (Alaskan SW, maybe for a few blocks down Avalon for “RapidRide”, the existing 1/2 mile on eastbound WS bridge, and only on the exits/on ramps at the southern portal). No rail, no bus improvements only worsening traffic.

  9. It’s interesting to observe that this may give the new Mayor some political capital as the Council seems to presently have a rather dismissive attitude towards the Mayor. They will have to pay attention to this sentiment amongst the citizens and if they “bore” full steam ahead with this as they seem wont to do, they will suffer some severe backlash for not having proceeded with due diligence.

    1. I agree. Many commenters at the Seattle Times or publicola hate McGinn but my impression so far from “normal” people like coworkers or random overheard conversations is that McGinn is quite popular, especially in opposing the tunnel. Of course, as others have pointed out Seattle is pretty much split three ways–many of those people want an elevated replacement.

    2. We have been discussing this for nearly ten yars now – I don’t think the Seattle Council will suffer a backlash from a lack of deliberation.

  10. If the concept of Surfact (overlooked +) Transit goes to the ballot as a viaduct replacement, then sure, it wouldn’t get a majority either.

    But each individual piece will get a majority, if it stands alone. Go figure.

  11. Another vote on the Viaduct solution would simply delay the day that the city takes the next steps toward better transit, which should start now.

    It would delay the day the legislature gets real about supporting transit, which should start in 2011.

    And say voters reject the deep bore tunnel?

    That does not translate into the surface solution, not by a long shot. The most likely outcome would be for the state to walk and leave Seattle with a bigger problem.

    The City would lose about $1 billion that can’t be spent on transit. That money would likely be spent on building roads in rural places.

    Adam needs to do better research. There have been plenty of votes on road projects. Hey, let’s have a vote in Bellevue on the alignment of Sound Transit!

  12. “Don’t delay” is just an excuse from tunel proponents right now…

    Prep work is already underway in the corridor for the south end of the project.

    And nothing can be done on the central portion until they actually release the Final EIS.

  13. From the vantage point of temporary exile in Los Angeles, and from the confined wasteland that exists down her, Seattle’s concerns over the tunnel seem incredibly petty-minded. Wanting a brief escape from McGinn’s lack of leadership of my beloved Seattle, I find instead that the guy haunts me even down here, with his election las year making even less sense. I am still waiting from a good decision from the mayor that takes Seattle forwards and not backwards.

    Seattle’s dithering doesn’t look any better even from 1200 miles away and I hope by the time I get back that things will be a lot better on this front.

    My support for the tunnel hasn’t wavered, even from down here in car centric Los Angeles. We are after all just talking about a structure less than two miles long which has the potential to create thousands of construction and other related jobs, and which has the advantage of clearing the warterfront of an ugly existing structure whilst at the same time pushing all of the noise and pollution underground. It seems to me that with McGinn’s green credentials, he would approve but he doesn’t.

    The time for discussing overruns in costs is when they are close to happening, not now which just delays the project and makes those cost overruns even more likely to happen down the road.

  14. Has the STB asked Richard Conlin to write a guest piece on the tunnel? In the interests of fairness and overall coverage of the issue.

  15. Hmm.

    Maybe West Seattle residents, like Ballardites, are still smarting because the Monorail was voted down by the rest of the city and there doesn’t seem to be any urgency in providing mass transit to our two neighborhoods (other than Rapid Bus, but still…). (The “car culture uber alles” mentality has to end sometime with carbon at 390 ppm and this is where I draw the line. I don’t care how many short-term jobs it creates, it is a long-term LOSER.)

    I know I’m still p*ssed and I don’t really think much of LLR, either.

    Just a thought.

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