Executive Summary of Toll Impact and Mitigation Report

Yesterday SDOT released the executive summary of a report looking at the impacts of tolling the deep bore tunnel. The report focuses on WSDOT’s SDEIS tolling analysis, highlighting major issues that have yet to be addressed. Regardless of your position on the tunnel, and especially if you support this tunnel and want it to function better for Seattle, this report points out significant issues that WSDOT has yet to address.

Tolling of the tunnel, and the significant resulting diversion is a major outstanding issue that WSDOT has yet to plan for and mitigate adequately. Toll diversion is expected cause 50%-55% of tunnel traffic to divert to surface streets or I-5, which will have a large effect on Downtown’s transportation system and in some ways undermines WSDOT’s rationale for building the tunnel. If the tunnel is built, the best tolling system would be structured to minimize toll diversion and maximize utilization of the tunnel’s capacity.

In a letter that accompanied the report, Peter Hahn, Director of SDOT, accuses WSDOT of canceling Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) comment discussion meetings and not rescheduling them, essentially cutting SDOT out of the process. The letters says that after the cancellation of these meeting, WSDOT informed SDOT that no other comments would be accepted from the city.

A summary of the major points made in the executive summary are below the jump.

  • Investments in surface streets, non-motorized modes, transit and transportation demand programs are necessary. Toll diversion will redirect between 40,000 and 48,000 vehicle trips from the tunnel to I-5 and surface streets increasing the need for a well functioning surface street system. Funds for these types of projects are not included and such a high toll diversion rate (50%-55% of tunnel trips) raises the question of whether or not the tunnel is the most cost effective investment.
  • Analysis in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) does not include the “Elliott/Western” connector that is being built. This connection will provide an attractive alternative route, parallel to the tolled tunnel, and will increase the rate of diversion beyond that identified by WSDOT.
  • Vehicle trips in Seattle are declining despite population and employment growth. Vehicle trips in Seattle has dropped 8% since 2003 and traffic volumes in downtown Seattle have not changed for 10 years.
  • The SDEIS does not included travel demand management (TDM) programs. The Partnership Process (stakehold group that looked at multiple options including surface options) identified an aggressive TDM program that removed 15,000 vehicle trips a day from downtown Seattle for a ten-year cost of $57 million. TDM programs are especially important for the viaduct since peak period vehicle volumes are twice as high as mid-day volumes, which can be handled by a four lane arterial.
  • Transit service south of Downtown may need additional protection from increased surface street congestion. Construction and operations of Metro’s RapidRide lines is important to reduce vehicle volumes and currently has an uncertain funding outlook.
  • Region-wide tolling of the freeway system is highly likely in the future, and will lead to an overall reduction of vehicle demand, particularly during peak periods.
  • Highway ramps are the primary cause of congestion on downtown surface streets (see yesterday’s post). The new northern and souther portal areas will see large increases in vehicle volumes because all Downtown bound traffic and diversion traffic must exit before the tunnel.
  • The land use model used to generate inputs for the travel demand model does not take into account changes in the transportation network. As our transportation system changes, people adapt their housing and work location decisions to the changing transportation system. The interaction of the two are not accounted for currently.
  • The viaduct is important for “light” local goods movement but I-5 is a significantly more important freight corridor on a regional and state level. Investments that reduce congestion on I-5 would overall have a more meaningful impact on freight mobility than the tunnel. Also, freight traffic to the Ballard/Interbay manufacturing and industrial area does not benefit from the tunnel compared to a Surface/Transit/I-5 option.
  • The purpose and need statement was revised in the SDEIS to explicitly call for a maintenance of vehicle capacity, not mobility — this is contrast to earlier decisions for the corridor that favored a maintenance of mobility.

Most of these points should not be new to readers of the blog.

37 Replies to “Impact of Deep Bore Tunnel Tolling Diversion on City Streets”

  1. Toll Diversion is a red herring issue brought up by the opponents of the DBT to sow FUD. Somehow we are supposed to believe that 50% diversion under WSDOT’s plan is a major problem whereas 100% diversion under the “no replacement” plan is somehow not a problem? Give me a break.

    Proponents of the S+T plan will say that their plan solves the diversion problem by providing transit. But the sad truth is that, 1) none of the plans have a funded transit component, and 2) it’s just as easy to add transit to the DBT plan as it is to put it in the S+T plan.

    In fact, some would argue that adding transit to the DBT plan to solve a 50% diversion problem is easier than adding it to the S+T plan to solve a 100% diversion problem.

    That said, let’s just put our big boy pants on now and put the tolls on the viaduct now. Early tolls would allow us to access and get on top of the diversion problem early. And reducing the number of people on the viaduct at any given time by 50% would improve safety in the interim before we remove the viaduct for good.

    1. I’d support that.

      However, I disagree about the diversion issue. It’s a significant issue that we’re spending this much money and only half the people will use it. And it’s significant that the DBT will increase traffic on I-5 by 15k cars, compared to 4k cars with the surface plan (thanks to flow improvements on I-5 as part of that plan).

      1. My point is that it’s fallacious to claim that 50% diversion is a problem whereas 100% diversion isn’t.

        And if transit is the solution for the 100% diversion S+T option, then it is certainly just as effective a solution for the 50% diversion problem of the DBT.

        But the solution is simple, put early tolls on the viaduct, see how bad the diversion problem is, and move forward with learning how to deal with it. If viaduct toll diversion is untenable, then we transit supporters have solid ammunition to get transit added into the DBT plan.

        Put early tolls on the viaduct and I think we will be able to build a solid case for more transit.

      2. It does say something about the value of the tunnel and the value of the $2 billion investment when retiring $400 million of bonds, only 20% of the cost of the tunnel, causes 55% of the potential users to elect not to use it. It tells you that the majority of motorists think it isn’t even worth 20% of its cost in user fees, and that is not an econmically supported investment.

      3. @Lasarus

        Lets put the surface option aside for this discussion. A tolling system should not reduced demand on a facility by 50%, especially when you spend so much to build it. Diversion could partly be mitigated by tolling traffic further north and south of the tunnel so anyone heading towards downtown on SR-99 is tolled, not just tunnel users.

      4. lazarus, unless you assume the surface street in Surface/Transit had ZERO CARS ON IT, you couldn’t claim 100% diversion.

        And even if you had *equal* diversion in the Surface/Transit option and the tunnel option – look at that, the Surface/Transit option saves you a billion dollars and several years for the same result.

        You’re teetering on the edge of trolling.

      5. Also, lazarus, some of the money spent on the tunnel plan could go to transit – the Port’s component, especially. So it’s demonstrably false to say it’s “just as easy” to add transit to the tunnel as to surface/transit.

      6. Ben,

        What I mean by 100% diversion is that the no replacement option will divert 100% of the current viaduct traffic to city streets.

        If what you are really claiming is that it wouldn’t be 100% diversion because of reduced demand deriving from congestion avoidance, then fine, but please at least acknowledge that your preferred option relies on increased congestion to achieve its goals.

        However, if you are saying that it won’t be 100% diversion because of mode shift to transit, then please acknowledge that the same mode shift could be obtained by adding transit to the DBT.

        And just stating that the Port *could* divert its $300M to transit doesn’t mean that there is any realistic chance that such a thing would *actually* happen.

        Don’t get me wrong, I want more transit, it’s just that I think that the best route to getting more transit is to attempt to get it added to the DBT.

        Put early tolls on the viaduct, asses the problem, and move on towards transit based solutions.

      7. Simply putting tolls on the current viaduct will not give us an accurate assessment of what will happen once the DBT is built. To simulate the DBT experience, we’d also have to close the downtown entrances and exits to/from the viaduct.

        Also, the very premise of the surface/transit plan is that a lot of the money goes to increase transit service. Meanwhile, the DBT plan provides $0 to improve transit. So yes, Lazarus, it might be as effective to “add transit to the DBT.” However, that is completely irrelevant because that is not going to happen under the DBT plan. Increases in transit would, however, be an integral component of the surface/transit plan.

      8. If I understand things correctly, the 50% diversion figure is from the number of people who would use the tunnel if it wasn’t tolled.

        The concern about 50% diversion, then, is that the tunnel’s 50% diversion costs the state money. The “100% diversion” of surface/transit doesn’t cost WSDOT a dime, and in fact they save money building the thing.

      9. Sure, 50% diversion and 100% diversion are both problems.

        But the 50% diversion raises the question of whether the Deep Bore Tunnel is a *BIG WASTE OF MONEY*. Get it? The 100% diversion option doesn’t involve an expensive tunnel.

    2. Hello Lazarus, I’m not sure how modeling the expected results of tolling the tunnel is “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”. Are we to dismiss any and all evidence against the tunnel as part of some nefarious campaign by tunnel opponents no matter how accurate it is?

      I’m not sure how you can write about the I5/surface/TRANSIT option on the Seattle TRANSIT blog and also claim “100%” diversion of cars from the viaduct onto surface streets and I5. What you’re ignoring is the significant number of viaduct drivers who would take improved transit under the I5/surface/transit option. As other commenters pointed out you’re also ignoring the improvements to I5 which would increase it’s capacity.

      Also, the “50%” diversion is only comparing the tolled and untolled tunnel, not the existing viaduct and the tolled tunnel. If you compare the viaduct with the tolled tunnel the diversion rises above 50%.

    3. @lazarus
      Tolling the current viaduct wouldn’t tell the whole diversion story unless you closed all the downtown exits and onramps, as well. It’s gonna take a lot more than big boy pants to make that happen.
      Also, you say, “best route to getting more transit is to attempt to get it added to the DBT.” How do you propose we do that?

      1. I keep coming back to that one as well. With no downtown exits, what transit route(s) benefit from using the DBT? I guess we could have a West Seattle Ballard express bypassing downtown, but…why?

  2. My favorite paragraph was this one:

    “The freight pathways most impacted by the choice of an SR 99 replacement alternative are those that connect the SODO/Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial area with the Ballard/Interbay Manufacturing and Industrial area. Interestingly, of the major infrastructure alternatives considered in the Partnership Process, a deep bored tunnel produced travel time results closest to the Surface and Transit Alternatives for this particular freight route. This is primarily due to the fact that the Elliott/Western corridor can only be reached by surface Alaskan Way in the Deep Bored Tunnel Alternative as well as the ST5 alternative considered.”

    Considering freight mobility is the argument I hear the most about any project, really (road diet on Nickerson, completing the missing link. . .) it is interesting to have this information.

    1. Re: freight mobility: To add, I can count on one hand the number of semis I’ve seen proceed through interbay to Ballard (where I live). The only ones I usually see enter and exit are near the magnolia bridge. Its a fiasco as they merge and cross lanes. I wish I knew how a DBT would do anything to improve this. It’ll just make it more awkward since they’ll all come down the “revised mercer ramp”

      This DBT is total fail on every level. It will be over budget. Anyone who claims otherwise is delusional or heavily drugged. The supporters can’t name one urban tunneling project of this scope with the expected conditions under downtown that has succeeded without incident or overruns. It will be be a giant financial albatross that the city and region will be dealing with for 10+ years and will prevent us from improving all other city infrastructure. And who are these people who are going to pay $4 each way to go through the tunnel?

      The only hope is that we can convert it to a West Seattle-North Seattle rapid transit line when they realize no one uses it otherwise.

      1. How feasible is this? I admit I’m no engineer, but making it useable for transit seems like wishful thinking to me. How expensive is it to add stations to existing tunnels? Where would the lines go from there and how?

      2. From an engineering perspective I would put the chances of this ever happening at close to zero.

      3. If the tunnel were designed with (1) the correct ceiling heights, (2) the correct grades, and (3) the correct curve radii, it might be converted to a rail tunnel possibly in the future.

        It won’t be, will it?

  3. Its time to put the Elliot Bay Bridge back on the table. I read about it impacts and sure the salmon nay be affected but the design can be readjusted to solve that issue. IMO,it combines the best of all three alternatives.

    1. You can’t put anything on the table that isn’t already in the EIS at this point – it would add years. Surface/Transit is in the EIS already.

      1. Ben, sometimes the best solution comes at the last hour. Plus, this bridge was initially study in the original EIS but was shot down because of its unproven technology and salmon impact. Nevertheless, no lie, I just got off the phone with Roger Patten and earlier this year his new bridge technology was patten-ed and approved. The bridge would be light rail ready form day one and of course it would provide accessibility for cars and pedestrians. I also mention too him about the current 6 lane bridge configuration which could be reconfigure too four lanes for cars and two lanes for light rail. Can you imagine light rail running across this bridge and the views of the city and sound you’ll have. Also, this bridge could partake in connecting West Seattle and Ballard, which could save ST billions from having to build another tunnel in the future. I’ll take this bridge over the DBT or a viaduct rebuild any day. It’s no doubt in my mind that if some how these alternatives was put to a public vote that Elliot Bay Bridge would win There’s to many advantages to ignore this project. http://youtu.be/KPnCDSwIb-I

    2. A bridge of that scale on our waterfront would be a monstrosity. If an elevated viaduct is a blight because it walls off the city from the waterfront how is a wall that blocks the waterfront from the bay an improvement? It also provides no way for people to get off downtown. A tunnel is better in every respect for accomplishing the same goals. And I oppose the DBT utterly.

      1. How is the tunnel better if it doesn’t provide mass transit option right out the gate? How is the tunnel better when its one of the most risket project ever(cost overruns)? How is the tunnel better when it will take away Elliot Bay view from the riders who currently use the viaduct?! Out of all the options presented, the viaduct rebuild is the best but I’ll take this option over that. Put this option on a ballot with the other alternatives and I have a gut feeling this would get the most votes. It just makes too much sense.

  4. From my perspective the tolling issue isn’t only about tolling and diversion rates. It’s about where the funding is spent.

    *If WSDOT mandates that the tunnel is built and provides very little funding for impacts in the streets surrounding the tunnel and zero for transit improvements, and then 50% more traffic hits those unimproved streets becuase the drivers want to avoid the tolls, and buses get stuck in the gridlock as well, that’s the problem.

    * If the tunnel isn’t built and WSDOT assists funding to tear down the viaduct AND simultaneously helps re-work the street grid and adds transit improvements so that people can move through the area there would be little problem.

    It’s well documented that there is very little streetgrid improvement and no transit funding (heck, WSDOT didn’t even want to assist with putting in the meager “bus only” lanes on the exits/entrances near the tunnel in the beginning) with the tunnel option. What the studies are saying is that the tunnel is not a magic pill that will instantly solve whatever “problem” there is (save the viaduct coming down) and that the streetgrid/transit needs to be addressed no matter what.

  5. How did Conlin ever allow this thing to get out the door.
    Maybe a public book (or report) burning, outside city hall is in order.

    1. The whole thing was a crazy backroom deal in Olympia. The Deep Bore Tunnel was *rejected* by the EIS. The “shallow tunnel” combined with seawall was found to be the best, with surface/transit a second-best. Then this was mysteriously thrown out and Olympia politicians showed up with this Deep Bore Tunnel scheme. It’s all very odd.

    1. This whole DBT process sounds like a dysfunctional family squabble, only of epic proportion.
      Mom has let the contract to start building a 2 story house in Wallingford, the contractor has purchased all the tools, and is staging to get started to get some bonus money for an early completion.
      Meanwhile, Dad is still pouring over neighborhood demographic studies to see if Ballard or Phinney would be better choices, and then the whole issue of how many floors and square footage is up in the air.
      Kids are feeling left out of the decision making, as a family meeting and vote hasn’t happened in months.
      Jeezze. Is this a perfect Sitcom or WHAT!

  6. What I want to know is that if the state is somehow so broke that it has to take back 3% of teacher’s salaries, how can we even think about building the most expensive option on the board?

    It costs more, it does less. At least with the surface option we can dig a tunnel later if we really need one. My guess is that we won’t if we build out the transit that the mayor has been recently talking about.

    It makes no sense to me.

    1. The deep bore tunnel first achieved state government support suddenly in a backroom deal after being previously rejected by the studies. I’d love to know who benefits from it.

  7. (FWIW, I read the summary and find Adam’s synopsis accurate.)

    I like the “better off focusing on I-5” tone of this. Though S+T includes I-5 improvements, I worry it was poorly branded. Putting attention on the potential to improve a highway could attract supporters beyond the obvious audience here.

    Also, even though I’m car-free, I’d welcome I-5 corridor improvements for the potential of working in lids, or at least friendlier overpasses. And traffic flow improvements for my neighbors, as long as it doesn’t increase the amount of city land dedicated to automobiles.

    1. Thanks Hans. I tried my best to summarize and summary, without adding anything else.

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