If we had to choose between a new viaduct or a deep-bore tunnel, which should we choose? First, I think the reality is that a deep-bore tunnel will be constructed since “important” people are interested in it succeeding. If I’m wrong and the tunnel project does collapse, the ensuing political chaos would result in an environment where surface/transit/I-5 has just as much of a possibility as being built as a viaduct.
However, for this first part, let’s assume we could choose just between a new viaduct and the tunnel. Martin has gone to great lengths to show that the city would save hundreds of millions of dollars if a viaduct were built instead of the deep-bore tunnel. It’s true, but money saved isn’t necessarily spent and it’s not obvious that Seattle would tax itself to invest in transit and bike projects just because it would have taxed itself for a deep-bore tunnel. Major transit investments like the Central Streetcar are dead-on-arrival — there isn’t local political support — and we wouldn’t see money from the state for transit: improvements beyond basic mitigation are certainly considered optional by the state. The state has already ignored the transit funding it agreed to with the deep-bore tunnel agreement.
These things are important, because in any scenario where a viaduct is being rebuilt is over the very strong objections of the Seattle mayor and city council members: if the state is already overruling us, why would they sweeten the pot? Heck, why not build a bigger viaduct or one with more off-ramps? And if the city is upset with the state, would it partner on strategic transit improvements?
After all, the transit elements of the rebuild plan were included in the same stakeholder process that was completely ignored when state and local officials agreed to build a deep-bore tunnel. I think Martin’s comparing a fully politiked deep-bore tunnel to a conceptual viaduct. It could be the case that a rebuild would result in tremendous local spending on transit, but even more transit spending is possible with surface/transit/I-5 where transit is moved near the forefront of the plan.
More after the jump…
That is, we shouldn’t assume a rebuild and a tunnel are the only two options. The rebuild option is just as dead as surface/transit/I-5 and to resuscitate one necessarily resuscitates the other.
Much of the intrigue regarding the tunnel has to do with Seattle’s mayor his relationship with the city council, a group that is much more amenable to surface/transit/I-5 than a rebuild. I don’t think it’s just the state legislature that matters; clearly a rebuilt viaduct is a favorite of business interests that would lobby the legislature, but if the deep-bore tunnel project collapses I’m not sure that’ll be an excuse to ignore what the city desires about the basic premises of the highway’s design. The “pragmatic” and the business community who would support a viaduct currently form the coalition supporting the deep bore tunnel, and they’d lose credibility if the tunnel collapses.
Surface/transit/I-5 is the best alternative, but my intuition is that a bypass tunnel is better for our urban environment than a rebuilt viaduct that serves downtown. If all our highways bypassed our urban core, we’d have a much better transit network for it. Admittedly, a rebuilt viaduct with just Western ramps would be a substantial improvement over today’s viaduct, but I’d ask Martin to reconsider whether those ramps are a “bonus.”
The waterfront will not be a dense, urban neighborhood as some of us hope, but in any case it can still be much better than merely the shadow of a highway. There may be some reason for optimism regarding the waterfront. While the best option is that the city opens up its requirements to allow for more waterfront development in conjunction with the park, a showpiece urban landscape that combines some local business with an interesting park may turn out to be a better thing for the city than we expect. I think a waterfront park can be simultaneously all three: 1) a wasted opportunity, 2) better than a viaduct, and 3) something we’re proud to have.
Finally, who wants to say we had the chance to tear down an elevated roadway on our waterfront but decided to rebuild it instead? What compels me to write this post is the fact that I do not want a viaduct along my waterfront and I suppose I’d swallow a tunnel if I had to. It’s almost entirely emotional, I admit.