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I wouldn’t expect someone who wants to build everything — highways, transit, etc., to have much of a problem with the deep bore tunnel. I certainly wouldn’t expect a pro-highway, anti-transit person to like surface/transit. What less understandable is people that think the marginal dollar is better spent on transit, including the vast majority of the people hanging around here, are at the same time surprised that STB would take a strong position in favor of surface/transit/I-5.

I’ve tried several times to break down the numbers in different ways, but I think those articles may be a bit hard to follow. I think the chart below really lays it out. It shows what the money is being spent on in the deep-bore tunnel, four-lane rebuild, and surface/transit/I-5 options that were in play in late 2008 and early 2009 when Governor Gregoire, Executive Sims, and Mayor Nickels reached their agreement. For clarity, I’ll leave out the $1.1 billion in “Moving Forward” projects, mainly the highway through Sodo, that are uncontroversial and apply to any option.  S/T/I-5 has the most transit and the least highway.

All figures in millions


“Other” includes the seawall, mitigation, the park, and so on.

In the current debate, spending $1.2 billion on highways and hundreds of millions of more on city streets is viewed as irretrievably hostile to drivers.

Once again, I have to point out that of the $2.4 billion in gas tax money committed to this project, $1.1 billion is going to the aforementioned moving forward projects, and all the plans have well over $1 billion in highway projects, so it’s simply not true that the bulk of the gas tax money couldn’t be used for the other options.

Lastly, a word about our continuing coverage of this issue. STB staff are encouraged to write about whatever interests them, within reason. This debate has been prominent for a while, which creates interest. Second, the level of public discourse has been exceptionally poor, filled with distortions, fearmongering, tangents, and lots of misconceptions; I think articles not afraid to get into the numbers and bring the subject back to first principles are a useful corrective. Third, the tunnel is very likely to happen given its very strong support at all levels of government and divided public opinion. The Protect Seattle Now initiative is a necessary but not sufficient step, but the most important task is to convince people there are better options.

* The $190 million in transit capital for DBT isn’t going to materialize. It’s really “$0.”

131 Replies to “The Viaduct Replacement in One Easy Chart”

  1. Very clear thank you! I have meaning to ask a question for a while. A few months ago I attended the presentation by James Corner’s construction company on what is possible for the Waterfront. From what I understand his company has won the bid to rebuild the waterfront in their image. What I’ve been a little in the dark about is would Corner only develop for the Tunnel option? What if the surface option does get on a ballot and is passed, if this project was changed so drastically would his company still be used to develop?

    It’s a little off topic so sorry!

    1. Minor correction: JCFO is “only” the framework design agency. They may or may not design specific parts of the waterfront, but they will establish the principles to hold the various subprojects together. “Their image” is important, but it’s a error of overgeneralization to say they’ve won a bid to build.

      I do think the central waterfront design program is technically independent of the effort to replace SR-99, but the latter imposes parameters on the former. Today, JCFO is working with a requirement to integrate a surface road with specific attributes, if the SR-99 plans change and the waterfront road needs to adapt, then their work on the waterfront will have to accommodate, but that’d be a change order on that program (similar to if a major change occurred regarding the seawall replacement) not starting over or even reselecting partners.

      (Disclaimer: I have no special knowledge, I’m just an interested citizen.)

      1. Well, I don’t think the surface/transit option changes the Alaskan Way portion much at all, it’s more about funding more transit, improving some roads into downtown, and adding a lane to I-5. So I don’t think it would substantially affect the waterfront design.

  2. This is a totally meaningless post. Everyone knows the DBT is the more expensive option (“Well Duh”). That fact is hardly newsworthy. But the reason the DBT is the preferred option is because the perceived benefits are greater than for the other options – and you conveniently ignore the benefit side of the equation.

    (perceived benefits of the DBT include better freight mobility, increased through-put, longer live span, reduced congestion on city streets, etc).

    Also, your post doesn’t consider sunk costs. A lot of money has already been spent on the DBT, and changing the plan now means that money will be wasted (effectively adding those costs to the other options).

    Per the $192M in DBT transit, you are correct, it has about zero (0) chance of happening, but I’m not sure the transit components of the other options have much chance of happening either. Such things take permission from the State Legislature, and I don’t think they are going to be very friendly to transit if the current DBT agreement is scuttled.

    In general, I don’t think taking on the DBT is going to do transit or this blog any good. In fact, I think it does transit in this city a disservice.

    1. Martin doesn’t ignore the benefit side of the equation – as a transit advocate, he is focused on the benefits each option brings to transit. And clearly the S/T/I-5 option brings the biggest financial benefits to transit. What benefits does the tunnel bring to transit? Of the benefits you listed, the only one that seems potentially beneficial to transit is reduced street congestion, but there is no proof the tunnel will reduce street congestion versus S/T/I-5.

      We’re about to spend a boatload of money on transportation infrastructure in the city. Sunk costs are sunk costs. How can we work to ensure at least some of these Billions of infrastructure have some benefits to transit?

      1. The S/T/I-5 option is little more than vaporware. It’s the least studied of all the options and has the most potential to unzip, particularly in regards to the I-5 component. Do the I-5 component on the cheap and you get little benefit, do a more complete job and you get high risk and Big Dig like problems.

        And I’d argue that there isn’t any more chance of getting the “T” in S/T/I-5 than there is of getting “T” as part of the DBT agreement. It’s just wishful thinking.

      2. I was just in a “real city” this month.

        Los Angeles.

        Seattle is far more like LA than NYC.

        The real problem with all transportation are the highway bottlenecks.

        Billions have been wasted skirting the issue. Wider highways with more lanes.

        The “I5” option should be expanding it to 5 full lanes + 1 HOV lane in both directions at all times of day.

        And just like CalTrain in LA, built a centerline high speed interurban train to replace the current northbound Sounder line and be the backbone of a new real high speed line.

      3. The “I5″ option should be expanding it to 5 full lanes + 1 HOV lane in both directions at all times of day.

        Supposing there were no second-order effects of expanding I-5 to 6 lanes, then you really have to look at cost-benefit of the project compared to transit. Adding just one lane to I-405 will end up costing $11 billion, more than the price tag for all the light rail in ST2. Adding a single lane to I-5 in the city limits is supposedly around $25 billion, enough to built LRT to most neighborhoods around the region.

        Now, if you consider the second-order effects, the costs become even worse: infrastructure costs related to sprawl, increased congestion on side-streets, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. Adding more lanes to I-5 is really not possible.

      4. JohnBailo: “And just like CalTrain in LA, built a centerline high speed interurban train to replace the current northbound Sounder line and be the backbone of a new real high speed line.”

        Caltrain is in northern California. And it will need significant work to adapt to HSR, which will actually be limited to about 125mph in the area.

      5. “Adding a single lane to I-5 in the city limits is supposedly around $25 billion”

        The surface option supposedly includes adding a lane in each direction to I-5, and the cost of doing that, according to the chart at the top of this page, is about $1.2 billion.

        Why would building freeways cost more per mile than light rail? With freeways, you don’t need the rails, the stations, or the trains. If you want to compare construction costs of light rail to freeways, the only way that makes sense is doing so by cost per lane-mile (or track-mile for light rail).

      6. Why would building freeways cost more per mile than light rail? With freeways, you don’t need the rails, the stations, or the trains. If you want to compare construction costs of light rail to freeways, the only way that makes sense is doing so by cost per lane-mile (or track-mile for light rail).

        A single tracked LRT can carry more people than a single highway lane, so a better comparison is per user or per trip.

      7. Well, that is not correct that light rail can carry more per track than a highway can per lane, but I would agree that comparing the number of people past a point on one highway lane to the number of people past a point on one light rail track is a fair comparison.

        Right now, where I-5 and Link light rail parallel each other just north of the I-5 exit going to the airport, each lane of I-5 carries on average 40,000 people per day, while each track of Central Link light rail carries on average about 5,000 people per day.

        So, in the one example we have in our area now, one lane of I-5 is carrying about 8 times as many people per day as one track of Link light rail.

      8. @Norman: You’re using usage (“each lane of I-5 carries on average 40,000 people per day, while each track of Central Link light rail carries on average about 5,000 people per day”) to argue your point on capacity (“that is not correct that light rail can carry more per track than a highway can per lane”). Those two concepts are not equivalent.

        Does someone have available the figures for the number of people carried by crush-load 4-car Link trains during one hour at minimum headways? That’s the capacity figure Norman would need to apply to his comparison.

    2. Also, your post doesn’t consider sunk costs. A lot of money has already been spent on the DBT, and changing the plan now means that money will be wasted (effectively adding those costs to the other options).

      This doesn’t mean what you think it means. The whole point of the term “sunk costs” is that once you’ve spent that money it’s sunk. You shouldn’t factor that money that into equations about what to do in the future since you can’t recover it. You’re not supposed to consider sunk costs.

      So money has been wasted. If we pick a better plan and avoid wasting more money in the long run, we’re making the right decision because that cash is sunk.

      1. Semantics.

        If you spend $1B in sunk costs on the DBT and then change the plan midstream and spend another $1.2B on the S/T/I-5 option instead, as far as I’m concerned you’ve just spent $2.2B on “replacing the viaduct.”

        It’s the total cost of replacing the viaduct that is important, so when sunk DBT costs are considered it’s pretty clear that we aren’t going to see any net savings by changing the plan at this late date.

        And, yes, I know that some of the sunk costs could potentially be repurposed to support the new plan, but at that point you’re just playing around with the margins..

      2. Sunk cost means:

        Sunk costs are unrecoverable past expenditures. These should not normally be taken into account when determining whether to continue a project or abandon it, because they cannot be recovered either way. It is a common instinct to count them, however.

        Words and phrases have meanings, in this case very precise ones. I suppose that is semantics, but in here you have brought up the phrase that highlights exactly the opposite of what you mean it to.

      3. Actually, on closer reading you have a very good point (sorry to be so pedantic). If you have to re-design everything, it’s sort of a self-fulling prophesy about cost-overruns.

      4. Exactly right. Consider the Vietnam War. Many people responded to opposition by saying “but so many soldiers have been killed already, do you want their lives to be wasted?” Same logic. The damage has been done, no need to keep wasting more lives (or money in this case) on a bad project.

    3. Probably a title of “costs of viaduct alternatives in one chart” would be better but the whole post is clearly only about the costs.

  3. I hope, for the sake of DBT supporters:

    -The cost of driving and/or owning a private vehicle does not rise so much and so fast that the demand for two limited-access highways within one mile simply goes away. I.E., not enough tolls are collected because the remaining traffic is easily accommodated by “free” I-5. Once Saudi Arabia falls to the Jasmine Revolution, look out.

    -There are no major cost-overruns. I recall that the Big Dig in Boston was supposed to cost a little more than $2 Billion; the final price-tag is still not settled but is well over $15 Billion.

    -Once the tunnel opens, there are no major accidents, or worse yet deliberate acts, involving flammables. This will be a tunnel with a very long distance between access points (emergency stairs don’t count). See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Blanc_Tunnel#The_1999_fire
    for an especially tragic example.

    -The tunnel has no major leaks or other design flaws rendering its capacity limited or use too dangerous. Milena Del Valle v. Commonwealth set an expensive precedent.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig_ceiling_collapse

    1. In addition,
      -Once the tunnel opens, the toll isn’t too large a disincentive to drive that we are stuck digging up extra funds to pay off that $400 million.

    2. If they add a second tunnel to Alki and a connector to I-5 northward, and spend another decade before starting anything, then maybe it’ll grow like the big dig. Also WSDOT has gotten through the bid stage. And it’s design-build. Not much real parallel.

      Vehicle miles per capita might fall substantially, but this region will keep growing. That plus fuel efficiency might keep total VMT fairly stable long term. At least that’s my theory.

      1. That’s a good point. Big Dig comparisons are another example of how poor the discourse around this issue is.

      2. Agreed, and VMT per capita isn’t the only parameter.

        If current trends continue we could expect to see more people living in city centers. In such a situation VMT per capita would surely drop (and that is a good thing), but more of those actual vehicle miles would occur in the city such that any given city road might see more trips and more congestion.

        So I don’t put a lot of credence in the argument that we don’t need to make these investments because “VMT per capita is declining.” You need to look at where those VM’s are occurring too.

    3. The Deep Bore Tunnel has *all* the hallmarks of Boston’s Big Dig. Massive construction risk, unknown geology, under the water table, weakly supported buildings above it, etc. — also, it’s the product of a political process which rejected all prior “alternatives analyses” and research in favor of an unresearched option.

      The alternatives analyses showed that a shallow tunnel combined with the seawall was both cheaper, *and* better in every way whatsoever, than a deep bore tunnel. This makes the deep bore tunnel stink.

      So it’s a design-build. That doesn’t change the picture financially. It means that when the contractor comes back and says “We couldn’t finish it competently for the amount of money we bid”, either more money gets ponied up or you get left with a half-finished or badly built tunnel.

  4. Can you give us some idea what is included in “other costs”?

    Also, what about “operating costs” over the first 30 years, or so, after the project is completed? How much is the transit expected to cost each year after project completion for operating expenses, in each of the three options?

    1. The DBT by itself will have significant operating costs. Ventilation and fire suppression systems, lighting, potentially drainage pumps, etc.

    2. For transit operating costs, consult the links in the post. I couldn’t compare these across the plans because there’s no comprehensive operating cost analysis of each plan that I can find, just one that separates out transit.

      1. There is nothing in the link you provide to the surfact/transit option that even mentions operating costs.

      2. My bad, the rebuild and s/t docs have total operating costs, not transit-only, which come out to $48m and $55m annually, respectively.

        The tunnel is $15m for transit only. The doc is a different format so it doesn’t have total costs. And since the transit improvements are DOA, the actual transit cost is roughly zero.

      3. I’m curious how the improvements for surface/transit are non-DOA but the ones for the tunnel are?

      4. Ah. That elevated plan includes about the same amount of transit as the surface/transit plan. What a stupid elevated plan that is.

        The elevated that I support is a rebuild of the current viaduct, or a new 6-lane viaduct, which has also been put forth in the past. This would require no new transit, and would have virtually zero operating costs.

  5. I think two of the anti-tunnel arguments that make the least sense to me are the Dan Bertolet “green house gases are out of control so stop this one project” and the similar “in the coming low energy future we need to build no roads” or whatever. Stopping the building small, expensive, urban road projects is not even in the top 100 best ways to cut green house gas emissions (especially given the state is still building and expanding much cheaper suburban and exurban highways), and that low energy future is almost certainly never arriving, at least not in our lifetimes.

    When two or three sides are arguing about completely different tangentially related things, it’s impossible to find a middle ground. In this case one side has a very spurious “we need the road to attract business and stave off gridlock” and the other has an equally spurious “we need the road to stop global warming” and each are looking at each other and thinking “you can’t be serious, can you”. There’s another group saying “I don’t want to be saddled with the overruns” while Olympia is says “we wanted to give you a cheaper elevated option but you demanded a tunnel and now you want us to foot the whole bill.”

    Why do I bring this up? It goes to your point about the paucity of substantive debates. In this particular case, there are too many options (three) and too many pet issues to make for a clear majority. That’s really what representative government is for, to sort out the complicated issues that the voters can’t do for themselves, but in this case they seem to have gotten it very wrong.

    1. You hit on one of the most underappreciated arguments in favor of the tunnel – sucking away $1 Billion of restricted gas tax revenue for this one-for-one replacement project is $1 Billion that can’t be wasted on $1 Billion worth of new exurban highway expansion projects.

      Plus, burying SR99 underground guarantees we get a moderate-sized waterfront boulevard. What most tunnel opponents don’t appreciate is that the state and freight/business interests are so determined to maintain SR 99 as a highway, we’d likely get a waterfront expressway, not some charming urban boulevard, as a substitute for the tunnel. Remember, right before the backroom deal on the tunnel emerged at the time of the 2008 snowstorm, the surface option we were looking at was a 6-lane couplet – southbound traffic on the waterfront, northbound on Western, something that would have been devastating to the pedestrian environment around Pike Place Market. Just as many of the tunnel fans are irrational zealots, so are many of the surface-transit backers.

      1. Did you even read the post? That gas tax money has plenty of application to the viaduct replacement no matter what option is taken.

        It’s entirely alternate sources of revenue — unspecified City taxes, unspecified County taxes, unspecified Port taxes, and tolls — that fund all project costs above $2.4 billion, which is well below the cost of even the Surface/Transit option ($3.3 billion).

    2. Andrew, I’m sorry you that you choose to categorize “low energy” future (as you say) as a spurious argument. Further, you claim that we will not see that low energy future in our life times. I beg to differ. Our economy currently is tied to oil and in case you haven’t looked lately, it’s gotten rather expensive. Today’s price for oil is $105/bbl West Texas and $115/bbl Brent Crude. We will probably see a see-sawing of prices but the general trend is going to be up. These prices were predicted 15 months ago by Jeff Rubin a noted energy economist and he has hit the nail right on the head on this again. Like it or not, driving is going to get a whole lot more expensive. There is still oil available but can you afford it? Driving our current crop of cars on $5/gal gas is not going to work short of mortgaging the house and we all know how that turned out last time.

      As for global warming, it absolutely amazes me that people refuse to see the evidence as it piles up. People are so adverse to acknowledging the existence of global warming that they will embrace any snake oil salesman that offers a chance to do nothing.

      Well, many people in this city and region are wanting to do something about it and the argument should be embraced that the best way to combat global warming is to transform our habitats. We should be arguing for a comprehensive land use plan that says no more growth outside of a certain boundary. It means, we should focus on building more density, and walkable neighborhoods within the existing cities. It means that we build transit systems to replace the cars that people will not be able to afford to drive in the not too distant future. It means that we should sharply curtail any future road building. It means we tell greedy road builders and lazy homebuilders that the gig is up and you’ll have to work differently in the future.

      The DBT, in addition to being a colossal waste of money is money spent for the wrong solutions that will not benefit us in a future where oil is not affordable. Sure, we can and will switch many of our cars to other forms of fuel but ultimately, our way of life is going to transform.

  6. I’m not surprised that a transit advocate would be strongly in favor of surface/transit on the merits; I’m one of them. I am surprised that anyone with functioning political antennae would not see which way the wind is blowing, and pick their battles more wisely. Greater and more diverse taxing options for TBDs and RTAs are far more important for Puget Sound in the long run than the differential $286 million one-time transit capital funding. Every day this tunnel fight drags on makes everyone else in Olympia hate Seattle that much more and erodes our political clout at the state level.

    1. Yes, thank you! McGinn et al are making this issue all or nothing when they really don’t have to. We could actually have tunnel + transit if McGinn were able to be in a room with Gregoire.

      Both have made stupid decisions, but one is throwing more bombs than other. Declare a cease fire, salvage what you can out of this legislative session, and make some progress, huh?

      1. salvage what you can out of this legislative session

        Uh, like maybe 2-3 BILLION dollars by NOT building a tunnel Seattle, the primary benefactor, voted against.

      2. You lost all credibility when you typed “tunnel + transit.” It doesn’t exist and it’s not McGinn’s fault. Gregoire vetoed it long ago.

    2. “I am surprised that anyone with functioning political antennae would not see which way the wind is blowing, and pick their battles more wisely.”

      Being caught supporting something as stupid as the Big Dig was not a good political move, long term. The Deep Bore Tunnel really looks that stupid.

      I wonder why the Shallow Tunnel has vanished from consideration?

  7. One thing I don’t get is why all of the votes and current campaigns are restricted to Seattle given that the bulk of the money is coming from tax payers state wide. The best option was the cut and cover combined with the seawall replacement. The State could have just pulled a “stadium” on that and built it anyway.

    Also, looking at the costs in the graph and for many other reasons I really don’t understand why a single level 4 lane elevated option was never seriously promoted.

    1. Because the city is kicking in some money. Does it make sense in the grand scheme of things? Not really, but does it make sense that Eyman can use statewide votes to try and defund Sound Transit which ultimately doesn’t cost the rest of the state a dime? No, but that’s how our legal system works.

    2. Bernie, a 4-lane elevated option was the one that survived till late 2008. It’s one of the three traded off in the chart above.

  8. In the current debate, spending $1.2 billion on highways and hundreds of millions of more on city streets is viewed as irretrievably hostile to drivers.

    I love this framing. Has anyone done the arithmetic on cost per lane-mile of road? It’s a nonsense metric, but it resonates with drivers.

  9. I have to say that I find the surface/transit supporters to be disingenious if they only want to compare capital costs, and don’t compare operating costs of the different options. So, what are we talking about for yearly operating costs for the surface/transit option? Also, what would be the cost of buying all new buses for the surface/transit option about every 15 years (the tunnel or viaduct would not have to be replaced every 15 years)?

    Also, what about the number of lost parking spots in each option? This could add up to millions of dollars per year in lost parking revenue for Seattle, if the surface option includes removing all the parking from 1st Ave, for example, plus losing all the parking that is now allowed under the viaduct. A new viaduct may allow continued parking underneath it that removing the viaduct would not allow.

    And how many people would be expected to shift from using the viaduct to taking transit, in the surface/transit option? I think I saw that breakdown somewhere. Does someone have a link to that info on the surface/transit option?

    1. Why don’t you search for that information in the WSDOT alternatives analysis instead of concern trolling?

      I’m sure we’re all interested in that, and it is very salient to the debate in general and this post in particular.

      1. Doesn’t it seem to you that the person who writes an article comparing the costs of the different options should have the operating costs, also, and should share them with the public? I did not write the article about it, nor did I bring up the subject of comparing costs. In my opinion, it falls on Martin to post the operating costs as well as the capital costs, if he is concerned about an honest comparison.

  10. The cost of construction disruption is often ignored by tunnel opponents. The tunnel will have less construction disruption than any other option, including surface. For example, you won’t find many tourism-related businesses in support of tearing up the waterfront/market area for five years. So they tend to support the tunnel.

    Also ignored is the costs created permanently, not just to operate things but to people and businesses. The “trip reduction” talked about by surface proponents is heavily dependent on companies reorganizing their infrastructures for example, i.e. a business that needs quick access to Sea-Tac or Boeing better locate on the right end of town. That would be great for my construction employer (buildings, not transportation), but a big expense for those businesses. Of course it’s very common for companies to leave town entirely for any sort of reason, and something like taking away their main supply route would certainly trigger a lot of that.

    1. The disruption argument is really uniquely in favor of the tunnel, I suppose. I’ve changed my mind over the years and I think I mildly support the rebuilt option: it’s cheap and realistic, but I guess it has still more knocks against.

      I wonder if it’s Frank Chopp, et al, who really don’t want a tunnel. If you looked at the opposition to the tunnel, I’d guess at least as large a part are people opposed to the “overruns” provision as are people opposed to the highway idea. If overruns really aren’t going to be a big deal, taking care of that provision now would split the opposition and bring a majority, or at least a pluarity, in favor of the tunnel.

      What a mess.

      1. Keeping a viaduct on the waterfront is the worst of all. Any viaduct is going to be an obnoxiously loud eyesore and a huge barrier between Pike Place Market and the waterfront, and it’ll always be at the highest risk for casualties in an earthquake. That the people who are pushing it are the usual anti-urban cars-are-wonderful crowd should tell you something.

      2. Bruce –

        You mention a couple of intangibles and then take a jump that a new viaduct will be an earthquake problem. Where’d that come from?

        The “designers” of seattle understood that commerce was dependent on the ability to move from North to South and South to North and that downtown was not the ultimate destination for workers, sleepers or production. And it still isn’t.

        Kobe replaced their viaduct with ?????? A better viaduct.

        Anybody want to re-analyze or re-engineer the tunnel option in light of a tsunami?

      3. I assure you there is nothing inaudible, invisible or intangible about the viaduct I see from my roof. It is, in fact, the cacophonous eyesore that some uninformed Eastsiders think East Link will be; its presence cripples the economic and social development of the waterfront. I suspect that’s why some anti-urban types like it so much.

        Last I checked (and by that I mean this morning, when I walked down the street to work) downtown actually was a pretty major destination for a lot of workers and tourists. And if you look at the interactive census maps linked to on the most recent STB post, you may note that two of the densest tracts outside of Capitol Hill are in Belltown, which the current viaduct and tunnel bisect. So, contrary to your sneering dismissal, there’s actually quite a lot of people who are invested in the aesthetics of this part of town, and getting it right will benefit the region as a whole.

        If you’ve been paying attention to my comments elsewhere on this subject, you’ll know that while I think surface/transit was the best option, that ship has sailed, the tunnel is going to be built, and I can live with it; moreover the current referendum, if it succeeds, will have exactly the same effect as Mike McGinn personally taking a shit on the floor of the state senate. Cross-downtown mobility, like mobility through and around downtown, and quality of life for the people who live here will all be improved by the tunnel.

        Finally, I’m pretty sure the men who “designed” Seattle (if you could call this mess a design) knew nothing about freeways, as they didn’t exist. In fact, I think they built lots of trains and streetcars, instead. Perhaps we could relearn something from them.

  11. I’m tired of this topic. This horse is dead, stop beating it!!! Let’s talk about something relevant like light rail from ballard to west seattle.

    1. I don’t think there is much to talk about with regard to west side HTC. There is no plan. There is no money. No new information.

      The reason Portland built it’s first MAX line was because it *didn’t* build a new freeway. SR-99 and west side HTC are intertwined and although I’m also tired of this debate, SR-99 is the most important discussion to have concerning west side HTC.

      1. Of course there’s no plan for west side light rail. Mike McGinn won’t invest any effort into it because it would require him actually building something instead of knocking something down. He doesn’t have the requisite skill set for the former.

  12. “Also, your post doesn’t consider sunk costs. A lot of money has already been spent on the DBT, and changing the plan now means that money will be wasted (effectively adding those costs to the other options).”

    What money has been spent that wouldn’t need to be spent on other alternatives? What are the actual ‘sunk costs’?

    1. It also forgets that the tunnel’s cost is mostly known, with contractor’s price in hand and contractor responsible for some key categories of potential cost variation (like design errors/omissions).

      The other options have extremely little idea about cost. All have design slightly above napkin stage, very little site investigation, and very little community input or mitigation concepts. As a construction guy I find it ludicrous that these comparisons would be considered parallel.

      1. Yep. And this is particularly true of the I-5 component of the S/T/I-5 proposal. Almost nothing is known, and we know even less about the costs.

        Changing I-5 through DT Seattle has the potential to turn into a real mess. Lets see…rebuild an urban freeway? Through the DT core? With buildings on each side? And do it without shutting the freeway down?

        One city in America did such a thing and they called it The Big Dig. That is what scares me the most about the S/T/I-5 proposal.

      2. Well the Stakeholder Committee recommended that S/T/I-5 be studied in an EIS, but then Gregoire, Sims, and Nickels made their agreement and WSDOT only advanced the tunnel to EIS stage. The original EIS studied quite a few options for the SR-99 corridor itself, including surface options.

        The plan is hardly a “rebuild” of I-5. It’s restriping the existing pavement, closing an exit, converting some HOV ramps to GP ramps or vice-versa, and automating the gates on the reversibles so switching the direction doesn’t involve a guy in a truck driving to each ramp.

      3. Can’t help feeling that all of what you describe is reasonably affordable and very sensible regardless of what happens on 99.

      4. I also find it amusing that lazarus is comparing the Big Dig to the proposal that does *not* involve putting a highway underground.

      5. Doesn’t anybody read these proposals. The surface option does not “rebuild” I-5 (although that does need to happen eventually). It takes the existing shoulder and turns it into a lane. This is mostly about paint. It will not be that expensive.

      6. zefwagner, you mean the idea is to put I-5 below code, and dramatically more suceptible to traffic jams. Taking the shoulder away is a much bigger deal than you think.

        It’s also a strengh of the tunnel. The current tunnel has no shoulder, but the new tunnel will have one.

  13. If this is true:

    “The plan is hardly a “rebuild” of I-5. It’s restriping the existing pavement, closing an exit, converting some HOV ramps to GP ramps or vice-versa, and automating the gates on the reversibles so switching the direction doesn’t involve a guy in a truck driving to each ramp.”

    How does that increase the capacity of I-5, and enable it to carry much of the traffic that now uses the viaduct? If they are not adding lanes to I-5, how can it carry more vehicles?

    Isn’t I-5 through downtown considered at or over capacity much of the day right now? If the surface/transit plan does not include adding any lanes to I-5, then it’s going to make traffic on I-5 a whole lot worse than it is today for everyone, inluding those on buses.

    The surface/transit option is sounding more and more like a scam the more I read about it.

    1. I know reading isn’t your strong suit, but if you actually read the Surfact/Transit fact sheet linked to above, you’d know the answer to most of those questions.

      1. I know sophistication is not your strong suit, but if you had any education you would know the meaning of, and be able to recognize “rhetorical questions.”

      2. Is too sophisticated for you? You asked:

        If they are not adding lanes to I-5 […]

        From the PDF:

        Northbound, a new lane would be created […]

        and:

        […] allowing general purpose traffic to use the southbound HOV lane between Mercer Street and S. Spokane Street

      3. ““[…] allowing general purpose traffic to use the southbound HOV lane between Mercer Street and S. Spokane Street””

        That is not adding a new lane, nor does allowing general purpose traffic to use HOV lanes increase capacity, or that should be done on every congested highway right now.

        A little too subtle for you?

      4. Norman, it does add a lane. The point is they don’t need to widen I-5 itself, they just repaint the lanes since there is space in the shoulder. Also allowing all traffic to use an HOV lane obviously adds capacity. It takes away a restriction.

      5. Norman, 98.9% of the questions you ask are rhetorical, which is one of the many reasons your contributions to the dialog on STB merely serve to infuriate others rather than being constructive.

  14. Interesting chart on a discussion item that will never go away. Hopefully, the “mitigation” $ includes, for the rebuild and the surface options, the 3-4 years of there being no Alaskan Way Viaduct during reconstruction. Hopefully, we’re looking at 100 year costs; two re-builds vs. one DBT would be needed during that timeframe. If neither of these are being done, the comparison is “apples” to “oranges.”

  15. I don’t understand why we can’t spend the “surface and transit” amount for transit to support the other plans. In fact, I think that should be an even higher priority than killing the DBT, and I hate the whole idea of the DBT. I’d rather have the DBT plus the extra money for transit than focus only on killing the DBT and end up with the non-transit alternative currently on the table.

  16. Well, the elevated option Martin is using here is certainly a poor compromise. The elevated option I support is the new 6-lane elevated or rebuilt viaduct with zero transit, since that would not be reducing capacity on SR99 at all.

    The operating cost of surface/transit is estimated at $55 million per year in 2008 dollars! The operating cost of a new 6-lane elevated is very little.

    So, over 30 years, the surface/transit would cost about $1.65 billion in operating costs. Over 50 years, the surface/transit would cost about $2.75 billion in operating costs. Over the expected life of the tunnel, of about 100 years, the surface/transit option would cost about $5.5 billion in operating costs.

    The operating costs of the tunnel would likely be around $2 or $3 million per year, or around 6% of the surface/transit option. The operating cost of a rebuilt viaduct, or new 6-lane viaduct would be almost nothing.

    So, when you add in the $55 million-per-year operating costs (in 2008 dollars) of the surface/transit option, and add that up for 30, 50, or 100 years (plus add in replacing all the buses every 15 years or so), the surface/transit option becomes easily the most expensive option of all.

    1. You’re adding the cost of operating buses but failing to account for the cost of operating private vehicles. When I balance the books it doesn’t really matter if the expense was a tax or a purchase. It all comes off the bottom line. Keep it up Norman, you might turn me into a transit advocate yet :=

      1. We are talking about costs to taxpayers in all scenarios. There is no cost to taxpayers of operating private vehicles. Does the tunnel option include the cost of operating the vehicles which would use the tunnel? lol

      2. There is no cost to taxpayers of operating private vehicles.

        I’m a tax payer and it costs me to operate my private vehicles. Not only do I pay for the vehicle, maintenance and operation but there’s a sizable tax burden as well. On the other hand, if I can use a bus then that’s a direct savings in gas, maintenance and over the long term capital cost. Even if I don’t use the bus I get a benefit from less people on “my road”, less congestion and lower capital cost versus having to build in more peak capacity. Transit, unlike new lanes are adaptable to peak demand. There is no capacity problem with out highways (in fact we have a huge over capacity with it’s associate cost and negative impacts); there is a peak capacity problem.

      3. “There is no cost to taxpayers of operating private vehicles.”

        Funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Do you write copy for the GOP?

      4. It was revealed to me today via Farcebook that Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore are actually one in the same (have you ever seen them together at dinner???). I finally figured out that Norman is actually Ben using a nom de plume. I have to admit, what a brilliant way to up site traffic!

      5. “I finally figured out that Norman is actually Ben using a nom de plume”

        I’d have an easier time believing that than some of the stuff Norman comes up with. Only a fictional character could be so intransigent on so many subjects.

      6. Ok, geniuses. Please show me in the links that Martin provided exactly where the “cost of operating private vehicles” is listed in the cost of the various projects, and just how much that cost is. For example, the “operating cost” of transit is about $55 million per year in the surface option. Where do you see the “cost of operating private vehicles” in the tunnel option?

        Because I don’t see that anywhere.

        So, are you saying that WSDOT doesn’t know how to figure the cost of these options, since they are not including “cost of operating private vehicles”? lol

      7. Quite frankly, Bernie, that is one of the stupidest things you have ever come up with, and that is saying a lot.

        When WSDOT estimates the cost of a new 520 bridge, does that include “cost of operating private vehicles”? No. There is NO cost to WSDOT from operating private vehicles! The people in those vehicles pay their own way, unlike transit users.

        Does the cost of operating my car come out of the WSODT budget? No.

        Does the cost of operating my car come out of the SDOT budget? No.

        Does the cost of operating my car come out of the ST budget? No.

        Does the cost of operating my car come out of the Metro budget? No.

        I pay for the cost of operating my car. I don’t get any tax revenues from other people to pay for my car, or my gas, or my tires, or my oil changes. I pay for that myself. That is not part of the cost of a new viaduct.

        Tax revenues, and perhaps tolls, would pay for a new viaduct. No tax revenues are going to pay for my car or my gas or my tires.

        You honestly can’t understand this? lol

        So, genius, how much should WSDOT add to their cost estimate for a new 520 bridge for “cost of operating private cars”? LOL

        Maybe you should inform WSDOT they forgot to include that. They could use a good laugh.

      8. Does the cost of building and maintaining all the city and county roads in Washington come out of the WSDOT budget or any other tax that falls exclusively on car users (MVET, gas tax, parking tax, car rental tax)?

      9. The amount of taxes, fees, etc. paid on motor vehicles and their use, maintenance, et. al. in WA state exceeds the amount of money spent on all roads and streets in WA state.

      10. The amount of taxes, fees, etc. paid on horses and their use, maintenance, et. al. in WA state exceeds the amount of money spent on all horse trails in WA state.

      11. “The amount of taxes, fees, etc. paid on horses and their use, maintenance, et. al. in WA state exceeds the amount of money spent on all horse trails in WA state.”

        That is good news.

        However, the amount of money spent on transit in WA state is many times the amount of revenue from transit fares paid by transit users.

      12. That transit is subsidized is not in dispute. You claim, however, that cars are not subsidized. I merely ask for evidence for your claim.

      13. I’m not trying to convince you of anything — that would be a waste of my time. Your claim is that driving is unsubsidized, and presumably you wish me and other readers to accept this as true. You established in a previous post that the overwhelming majority of WSDOT’s budget goes to roads, and according to WSDOT, cities and counties account for 68% of road milage in this state. As counties and cities cannot levy a gas tax, and only a handful of cities levy a car tab fee, I’m curious where you think the money to maintain all those roads comes from.

      14. Let me correct you on a few points.

        1) I don’t care what you believe. That doesn’t matter. I am just establishing that a lot of the claims of the transit advocates on this blog are false, including the claim that roads are subsidized by non-motorists. Whether you understand that or not, is unimportant.

        2) I established that WSDOT collects far more revenue from motorists than it spends on roads, and that motorists are subsidizing transit, railroads, ferries and other non-road projects at the state level.

        3) According to the site you linked to, city and county roads account for only 43% of vehicle miles traveled in WA state, and state and interstate highways account for 55.7% of vmt in our state.

        The money for city and county roads comes not only from MVET’s, parking fees, fines and taxes, and around $700 million distributed to cities and states from the state transportation budget, but also from city and county sales taxes on new and used vehicles, vehicle maintenance, parts, repairs, etc.

        At the state level, in 2009-11 motorists will pay in the neighborhood of $4 billion over 2 years more in taxes, fees, etc. than is spent by the state on highways and roads.

      15. I am just establishing that a lot of the claims of the transit advocates on this blog are false, including the claim that roads are subsidized by non-motorists.

        You have established nothing of the sort. You have asserted it.

      16. Roads are subsidized by non-motorists, as any non-motorist who pays local property tax knows.

        Norman should be banned from this blog for his repeated, outright lying.

    2. Jeez, Norman, read stuff carefully before you comment. The $55m and $48m figures are for all operations, not just for transit.

      1. Fine. But the cost of “operating” a new 6-lane viaduct would be close to zero.

        It doesn’t matter where all the $55 million per year operating cost of the surface/transit option is going. The point is that the difference in cost between the surface/transit and a new 6-lane viaduct would include almost $55 million per year more in operating costs for the surface/transit than the viaduct.

        Over 30 years, that means the operating costs of the surface/transit option would be about $1.65 billion more than for a 6-lane viaduct.

        Over 50 years the operating costs of surface/transit would be about $2.75 billion more than for a 6-lane viaduct.

        Over 100 years the operating costs of the surface/transit would be about $5.5 billion more than for a 6-lane viaduct.

        The public should be made aware of this.

      2. The 4 lane viaduct is $48m. You have no figures for the 6-lane, nor is the 6-lane at all politically plausible.

        So the difference is definitely not $55m. It’s probably more like $7m.

        You’re smart enough to understand this.

  17. I too am really tired of this debate. It is pointless framing the discussion around a broad-based assumption that either cars are evil and must be driven from our urban fabric or that because they will be dead sometime, but maybe years, in the future we should in consequence prepare the entire state now by anticipating their demise by accelerating it! As I have said before, I don’t like cars and so it puzzles me sometimes why those that also don’t like cars should want to continue to see so many of them as part of their daily routine should their preferred surface street option get taken up by everyone else who doesn’t feel this same way about either car or tunnel-replacement surface street option.

    For the most part, there are just insufficient reasons to debate this all further. The STB has been around for four years and whilst it might seem a fresh topic to most of us here, as far as most folks are concerned, this debate has been going on for at least a decade! It is not as if someone wants to replace a city block with a downtown nuclear power station/plant. At its most basic, this is just the State of Washington’s plan for renewing an earthquake damaged and unsightly road that happens to be in the control of WSDOT – SR99. We are not discussing a side street here on Capitol Hill and nor are we discussing an interstate. This is a state road at its most simple and unadorned.

    As I have also said before, this discussion is also about the nature of governance and how we choose to run ourselves and our affairs. This type of direct activist democracy in which decisions can be endlessly challenged is an incredibly inefficient and ineffective form of governing ourselves because taken to its logical conclusion, it renders the role of the legislature, the function of the governor and the point of other elected decision makers irrelevant at worst and their consequent style of governing can only be timid at its best. It is not as if we have little chance of approving or rejecting these guys! House members are elected at state and federal level every two years. Senators serve at our pleasure for four years at state and six at federal level. Governors and mayors can be dismissed after four years. This is a pretty democratic form of accountable governance and very demanding in its current form of our attention. We can endlessly approve or dismiss these postholders at pre-approved time intervals. The problem I have with all of the current wave of activism surrounding opposition to the tunnel is identical to the problem I have with the likes of Kemper Freeman and Tim Eyman – that it is ego, activism and unaccountability run amok. Elected plans and ideas delegated to our elected represenatives fall prey to individual unelected power without responsibility. We don’t thankfully elect either Eyman or Freeman but yet, they both feel they have the right to divert and subvert democracy through their lawsuits and initiatives that are subversive of the public will as expressed through the voting booth. These are tactics more apropos to dictatorships than to democracies.

    I don’t favor roads over transit, but a strategy that is both inclusive and representative of a whole host of options best suited to the corridors they serve. I guess I fall into the first part of Martin’s assessment above that I favor everything. I would only add – not at the same time I don’t but in increments of time. Right now, little of substance is happening visibly in Seattle as far as mass transit is concerned. U-Link is taking place underground, the streetcar expansion in Seattle hasn’t kicked off yet, East Link is stalled until Bellevue gets out of its tent of despair, Sounder and Amtrak improvements are some years off. In the interim, let’s build an exciting project that allows Seattle to employ many unemployed construction workers, and long term to get back to its waterfront with the minimum of surface street fuss.

    Once we get this thing underway, then we can move back to transit options which I believe Andrew once said correctly is the long term future and direction for our region regardless of the immediate.

    I know I look at all this the way most of you don’t here, but just like we did with the I-5 blasting its way through Seattle in the 1960s, we can improve this thing, if not now, then in the future.

    Short of someone being able to prove that buildings will collapse from the tunneling itself or that one of the boring machines will surely break down midway and cannot be repaired or moved backwards, then I am hard pushed to argue against a project that holistically achieves many of our other goals in one – a reclaimed waterfront, getting rid of unsightly cars and surface pollution and an economy moving commensurate with the current function of the much-detested current SR99 viaduct.

    1. Wow, initiatives and the rule of law “divert and subvert democracy”. I don’t know what those folks in northern Africa and the middle east are up in arms about. They’ve got it good by your standards. The DBT was a coup (as opposed to a coupe which I totally endorse :-) by a few elected officials that decided to ignore the vote of the people (yeah, you voted down two tunnels but not this tunnel). As far as the employment aspect, dig a ditch, fill it in; creates employment but not wealth. If an expensive tunnel makes sense for Seattle then why not a tunnel to replace 520 instead of repaving the lake and replacing it with new rafts in another 50 years? I don’t care if either project gets built but there are options over dry land (including the 5th Ave tunnel which got short shrift). Gregoire has done the same “trust me I know best” in pushing through both projects. One notable difference is people seem willing to vote with dollars via early tolling on 520 that it’s a worth while project but SR99 viaduct tolling shows an inability to collect enough to cover the cost of enforcement.

    2. I too am really tired of this debate.

      I was going to read TW’s entire comment but I only made it through the first eight words before deciding I heartily agreed and didn’t need to read the rest.

  18. “We know the viaduct is dangerous, its useful days numbered. Like many Seattleites,” writes Joni Balter, a common Seattler, “I would like to see something happen, to have a decision be made and the city move forward. But if requisite signatures come in,” refering to the referendum, “and they probably will, that jaunty thoroughbred will have left the barn.”

    I couldn’t help myself and responded robotically with, “Joni’s ‘jaunty thoroughbred’ in the same metaphor of transportation, is more accurately a diseased old nag staring in disbelief at its deathbed. They shoot horses, don’t they?”

    Over on Bertolet’s new blog, Councilwoman Bagshaw began a Viaduct Vision opinion piece with “The tunnel debate which has raged for years is getting old.”

    My robotic response: “Ms Bagshaw’s opinion piece represents the extent of the debate: Transportation planners with a glaring record of failure in Seattle, along with public officials suspiciously unable to answer detailed questions, have conducted and supposedly settled a contentious debate behind closed doors, and all the public has the right to know is that the debate is getting old.”

    [ot, ad hom]

      1. “Ms Bagshaw’s opinion piece represents the extent of the debate: Transportation planners with a glaring record of failure in Seattle, along with public officials suspiciously unable to answer detailed questions, have conducted and supposedly settled a contentious debate behind closed doors, and all the public has the right to know is that the debate is getting old.”

        Be satisfied with DISHONEST POLITICIANS is you like. [ad hom, ot]

  19. I like how you check off that the discourse has been poor and full of distortions and general puffery, but breathlessly predict a tunnel because of the high level of support within political circles.

    There was high opposition to Sound Transit from those same political circles, but guess what?

    1. Opposition to Sound Transit never reached the level of 8 of 9 councilmembers, the King County Executive, the entire Seattle delegation, and so on.

      1. This is seeming disturbingly like the Big Dig. I suggest you look up the history of the political machinations done to get every important politician in favor of the Big Dig, despite the technical dangers. It’s a chapter in a book, among other things.

  20. <a href="Poll: Keep or replace the viaduct, nix surface-transit

    A new poll shows that by a slight margin, people in Seattle would prefer to repair the Alaskan Way Viaduct or replace the Downtown double-decker highway with a new span, the Seattle Times reports.

    1. Ah, the initiative appears to be coming up short; the referendum looks like it’s going to get enough signatures. I thought a referendum came from the governing body to the people to either approve or disapprove an already enacted or proposed law.

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