Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata has a thoughtful and informative suck-it-up piece directed at surface/transit/I-5 advocates. Athough I wouldn’t agree with every statement in it, it’s notable for not insulting the intelligence of its audience:
This is where the state legislators come in. None that we talked to indicated a willingness to transfer that money to a surface road project which would run through downtown and be augmented by expanding I-5 and adding more bus service. As recently as last month, in a December 2010 forum, State Senator Ed Murray, the sponsor of the bored tunnel legislation, spoke strongly against expanding I-5-a key element of a surface option.
Further, in a February 2007 Seattle Times article, State Senator Haugen, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, was quoted as saying the state might contribute only $1 billion for a surface replacement, and that the money left over from what was allocated for an AWV replacement could be used for 520 or other unfunded projects across the state. State House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn was quoted expressing similar sentiments…
The funding needs for a surface solution bring us back to the State Legislature. Given their need to vacuum up every available cent from capital projects, the probability of the State taking away a good portion of the current allocated $2 billion for a deep bore tunnel is fairly certain if the City opts for a street surface replacement for the AWV. We could end up with an even greater financial hit to Seattle property owners than possible cost overruns on the deep bore tunnel.
I have a few thoughts on this, below the jump:
The comments from legislators are of course from those trying to get the tunnel through, so the statements can be viewed as a somewhat inflated threat consistent with bargaining. On the other hand, it might very well be sincere and realistic.
Let’s assume the latter. Where would that $1 billion for surface/transit from the state leave us?
WSDOT then created two options from the eight proposals, one of which was called the I-5/Surface/Transit Hybrid. It converted Alaskan Way and Western into 3-lane one-way streets, with 28 stoplights in a new SR99 corridor on the waterfront. The option included a budget of $929 million for a SR 99 surface street, $553 million to add a lane to I-5, $216 million for city streets, and $476 million for transit. The total cost estimate was $2.2 billion, not including $1.1 billion in work farther south on SR 99 (which has proven less expensive, see UP 303). The intent was that all the elements would be needed to provide a solution.
It’s important to note that the $929m includes a $230m seawall replacement, which now seems irrevocably delegated to the city. So for $1 billion you’d get about $700m for the surface street and about half the I-5 work. The port, presumably, would be interested enough in freight mobility to shift their $300m commitment to cover the rest of I-5.
That leaves Seattle with $216m for streets, $230m for the Seawall, and $476m for transit, or $922m total, compared to a current DBT commitment of $840m with no transit. From the point of view of minimizing the city’s exposure*, the DBT would appear to be the winner.**
However, my concern about the city’s exposure is driven by the fact that too much spending on the waterfront saps our ability to implement the new Transit Master Plan. If the objective is to maximize investment in transit, as it is for me, Surface/Transit/I-5 is still the winner even if the state takes $1 billion away.
* and setting aside the issue of overruns
** Licata makes a good point that because surface/transit is composed of many discreet projects instead of a single tunnel, “if some elements cost more than expected, and the budget is running out, most of the work would likely get done, and theoretically at least, [overall] cost overruns could be avoided.” In other words, the DBT has higher risk of either paying a lot more or ending up with nothing.