Rob Holland

In Wednesday’s news, Port Commissioner Rob Holland has come out in favor of putting much of the Port of Seattle’s $300 million contribution to the viaduct replacement project into a streetcar project, instead of into road construction.

Considering that the so-called “tunnel plus transit” option the state selected doesn’t have any funding for transit – his proposal could actually be within the project plan. I called him yesterday afternoon for details, and the conversation took a different angle.

It turns out that two things happened. First, Holland read the Nelson/Nygaard report which points out surface traffic – meaning most of the freight at the Port – would be just as bad with a tunnel as without. Second, he’s been riding the Seattle Streetcar, and as he says, watching it fill up. He went on to point out that a transit user represents a car off the road, and the streetcar shows him that people are clearly willing to take transit.

The result? He’s open to the $700 million cheaper surface/transit/I-5 option, saying that with some creativity in freight management, it could work. He detailed a few options, such as running trucks at night, and using staging areas, that could mitigate the impact of the lack of bypass.

He said that while he’s on record supporting the tunnel, he’s “an environmentalist at heart,” and in light of the changes we need to make in the next decades, he said he wants to support building more transit – and we shouldn’t be building more roads.

46 Replies to “Port Commissioner Holland is Open to Surface/Transit/I-5”

  1. Wow. That’s an encouraging and enlightened position.

    I hope it may lead to some more critical thinking by other Port commissioners and maybe by our city council, who seem more focused on their conflict with McGinn than on what’s best for Seattle.

    1. Huge news. Some of the main political pressure for the tunnel has come from the trucks and freight lobby, so for the Port commissioner to endorse the idea of Surface/Transit seems incredibly important. Maybe not too surprising in that the Port has seemed lukewarm at best toward coming up with their $300 million.

      1. I haven’t ever seen evidence that trucking and freight cares that much about the tunnel – it is the politicians, business community, and developers who want to build the tunnel that keep saying it is important for freight mobility.

        The tunnel EIS says that like 97% of the truck traffic from the Port and south industrial area uses I-5 and I-90, and minimal freight traffic would use the tunnel.

        I-5 improvements are a better investment than this tunnel.

      2. Right Carl, I should have said that freight has been used as a reason for the tunnel by some of our political leadership. Anyway, it does seem important to me that the Port Commissioner is willing to reconsider the necessity of the tunnel. I keep thinking that this could be the first of many dominoes to fall.

  2. I’m interested in hearing what Mr. Holland has to say about serving the Interbay/Ballard Industrial Area. I don’t think any plan floated so far adequately serves the area. Have we resigned ourselves to losing this industrial zone?

    1. I wonder if rail would make more sense for this corridor, considering Ballard and the port are connected by a heavy rail line. I know street-level rail still exists throughout the industrial area (my wife and I have gone over our handlebars thanks to this fact) – it seems almost trivial to start maintaining and using this system again.

      1. Well, the developer who owns many of the properties in Interbay (Unico, I think) would probably object. They seem to be trying (and failing) to turn Interbay into a middle-income residential community.

        Also I don’t know how many businesses in the area produce enough output to make rail economical. The existence of the short line railroad on the north side of the canal shows there are at least a few.

      2. Maybe the developer could help out. A little historic trolley would be well used, increase property values, and could help keep the tracks maintained.

        (ouch, the Ballard Terminal Railroad, which I just found out about while researching my comment, was down to one customer as of 2008)

      3. Interesting. I’ve never seen that trolley car before.

        Regardless, there’s no sense competing with Seattle Streetcar in Ballard, which by God I hope gets rerouted off the Leary/Ballard couplet and instead goes up 8th Ave to Market Street. As far as running a streetcar to Interbay, what is it going to connect to? We’re hoping to get Link routed up 15th sometime in the next generation. I’m not seeing how a streetcar through that neighborhood helps.

      4. Probably doesn’t help at all. Just a fun cheap and quick idea* I had that really hasn’t had thought put into it at all.

        * simple bus barn + our unused waterfront streetcars + retired railfan conductors working for cheap = fun way to get from Ballard to Fremont, possibly attracting tourists.

      5. Yes, aren’t their tracks that would take say a LINK train all the way up into Ballard…and beyond.

        As much as I like Sounder, I think the sorry state of northbound BNSF tracks will always make it dicey at best for real rail and commuting.

    2. The tunnel isn’t useful to reach Interbay or Ballard. Traffic headed there would use the Alaskan Way surface road under the tunnel plan.

      1. Right, which I would think competes with the City’s desire to see the Central Waterfront revitalized as a leisure destination.

    3. Kyle, we don’t even run much of our port at night, from what I hear. We could solve a lot of our freight issues if we just went outside 9-5.

      1. It’s worse than that. From what I hear the union that staffs the terminal gates takes a lunch break and closes the gate for an hour at mid-day, which creates a queue of trucks.

      2. Is that really the case? When I lived on the west side of Queen Anne (admittedly 2+ decades ago), there was terrible noise pollution at all hours of the night from industrial activity from both Interbay and the port. I surmised it was trains being coupled/decoupled that made the crashing noises.

      3. Ben, that’s all good for the port. But what about Interbay? I know that the Ballard Terminal RR (I think that’s the right name) only runs its trains at night. But a lot of the businesses in the area are of the light industrial variety that, I can imagine, rely on being open during the 9-5. The only mitigation I’ve seen for these businesses is “the Mercer West project will let them get on I-5.” Which we all know is a farce.

      4. 9-5 is a problem, but if we focus on improving transit and the street grid to get SOVs off the road it will help freight at well.

        All Freight Cannot Be Moved At Night

        Noise restrictions, daytime-only operations and a tight labor pool for drivers prevent this option from being appealing. Most businesses that can move their goods at night already do so.

        Focus Congestion Solutions on Commuters

        Almost all the businesses surveyed recognize commuter solutions to driving alone have the best chance of reducing congestion during construction or during an emergency that shuts the viaduct down.

      5. So, Kyle and Josh, seems like the solution is transit instead of building the tunnel. ;)

      6. I don’t think “transit” or “the tunnel” has provided a complete solution to the problem I’m referring to. The problem is how do freight vehicles from the Fishermen’s Terminal, Interbay, and Ballard get to the southern portion of Alaskan Way without conflicting with the City’s plans for a human-scaled leisure destination on the Central Waterfront?

        The answer from the tunnel planners has been “use Mercer to get to I-5.” I haven’t heard a concrete answer from the surface/transit camp.

        But that may very well be because the “problem” doesn’t actually exist: much of Interbay has been bought with the intent of converting its land use. Maybe Nickerson and a human-scaled Alaskan Way really can handle the current and project demand from Interbay.

        If we don’t try to follow the tunnel plan’s “advice” of shunting all the freight across town just to get it back on 1st Ave South, we might be able to handle a certain number of 18-wheelers using Elliott to get to a pedestrian-scale Alaskan Way. But that might be contingent on resurrecting the waterfront streetcar to provide non-automobile access to the length of the central waterfront. This is different from the problem of providing commuter access to Interbay and the ship canal.

      7. Kyle – I think you move them at night, you move them by rail and put them on trucks north of downtown, you use staging areas… like Holland said, creative solutions.

  3. I am sorry Ben, but regardless of Mr Holland’s thoughts on streetcars, they cannot be expected to move freight into and out of that corridor and the Port of Seattle has to factor that into its economic thinking.

    I appreciate your unwillingness to give up – in other personal areas of my life, I am every bit as tenacious and as much a fighter, but on this subject of the tunnel, all of this activism against the idea is really divisive and purely focused on what is best for those without cars in their transportation portfolio of options, and not for those with them in their portfolio somewhere. I have a car, but I also take mass transit all the time and enjoy the possibilities of both and understand the limitations and respective costs of each mode of getting around.

    Yes, I totally support you on more mass transit for Seattle, and yes, I find it embarassing that Seattle has fewer options in some ways than most other major cities on the West Coast, but I also look at some of the reasons for all of this. Topographically, we obviously cannot just put in Light Rail and streetcars anywhere without some thought as to the costs of tunneling, bridging or grading certain sections. Politically, we so often discuss these things to the death of the original idea or even forget what it was – witness the collapse of the Monorail Green Line. Cities such as Los Angeles – where mass transit is currently being pursued as feverishly as they once built freeways – is a great example of both above differences between ourselves and other cities. Los Angeles is largely flat in its main corridors and equally importantly no one seems to vote or argue on anything transportation-related.

    I think you would find that if we in Seattle argued less and did things more, then all of the surplus energy from arguing about a less than two mile tunnel would pale into the background of a wider picture that would include more mass transit elsewhere, or even on the same corridor as the tunnel. At the end of the day, we need to keep focused on how easy is it to get ourselves from any point A to any other point B and when I consider this, I look at all of the available options and sometimes I say ‘car’ and sometimes, I say ‘bus’, othertimes, I say ‘train’. Sometimes, I even choose one or more of the last three of these even when a car would be more convenient and easier. This places me firmly in the mass transit community as I like the fact that we have these options.

    In other words, transfer some of the energy you have opposing the tunnel to getting SDOT started for example on the First Hill Streetcar which should have broken ground long ago and hasn’t. Neither has East Link started doing much either beyond the usual arguing about very little. Therefore, I’d like to see the tunnel be allowed to get going as so much of it has already begun and for us to start badgering decision makers on all of these other important projects in our area.

    A good Sounder/Amtrak station for Tukwila would again be important. Where is this project currently? Stalled in design or funding somewhere? Extending Link south of SeaTac? Again, in design mode, but why so long to build a less than two mile straight shot extension? If it was about adding a second shorter platform for the airport for the south terminal, I could understand it, but it isn’t. It is about funding it. Right now, Los Angeles is in the process of bulldozing a five mile extension to its Orange Line in Chatsworth-Woodland Hills. Another extension to its light rail network is finally reaching the West Side directly from downtown Los Angeles. I would wager that no one publically discussed or voted on these moves and rightly so. If in fact they didn’t, the decisions were rightly entrusted to those that work on civil engineering projects in that city. If we could beg, steal or borrow some of those same processes for us here in Seattle, I think we would find that we would get more done and better too, because environmentalism is stronger in Seattle than it is in Los Angeles. We also nicely devote 1% of construction costs to turning our stations into outdoor museums, so it has to be better, right?

    Opposing the tunnel here is ultimately a diversion of energy from where we need to direct matters. Let’s accept the tunnel and move on to these other projects and see what we can do to embrace the integration of options on the palate and not paint with just one brush which is now getting encrusted with the same old paint drying to its bristles.

    1. Tim your argument is based on an incorrect premise. The tunnel will play virtually no role whatsoever in moving freight. It’s not projected to carry much freight traffic and it doesn’t connect to any major freight destinations. Trucks headed to Interbay and Ballard will use the surface Alaskan Way, not the tunnel. 97% of truck traffic from the Port and industrial area uses I-5 and I-90. The tunnel is largely irrelevant for freight traffic.

      The reason this topic is important and deserves more study is that if $2 billion is spent on this tunnel, the revenue sources to pay these bonds are not available to use on projects that have much greater benefit to both mobility of freight and people, and to quality of life in our region. It is an extremely poorly performing infrastructure investment and it doesn’t deserve to get funded. Note that the roadway rebuild from Spokane St to the Pioneer Square area – which is what traffic from the south will use to access the city and Alaskan Way under both the tunnel and the no-tunnel scenario – should be completed as planned.

      I don’t see this as arguing for argument’s sake, or obstructionism, but pushing for more critical thinking about our region’s transportation investments.

    2. “A good Sounder/Amtrak station for Tukwila would again be important. Where is this project currently? Stalled in design or funding somewhere?”

      Stalled behind figuring out what’s happening with the Strander Blvd. extension and how it affects the station design. More details in this 2.25MB PDF.

    3. Tim wrote: “At the end of the day, we need to keep focused on how easy is it to get ourselves from any point A to any other point B…”

      I disagree wholeheartedly with this premise. The point of a city is to be a space where lots of people, living together, can meet their needs and accomplish their goals. “Ease of transportation from any point A to any point B” is not a core function of a city, and is really almost antithetical to the whole idea of a city, which is a dense space where people exist, work, live, dream, not one which they simply pass through as efficiently as possible.

      1. Brian, I certainly don’t want folks to pass through Seattle without stopping to see the Emerald City, but regrettably some folks do need to get beyond the city center to other points still within the city limits and beyond. Seattle is not like a terminus station in its geographical positioning within the state at least (although nationally, it probably looks and feels like we are). To us, it feels like we are at the end of the proverbial line up here in the Northwest, but to others, we could also be described as midway between Portland and Vancouver, BC and midway between London and Tokyo. So yes, parochially, we are a destination city, but at a macro level, we are part of a wider picture of interconnections between the United States and the Pacific and European rim countries.

    4. Tim, you continually show yourself to be unable to adapt to new information when it conflicts with your existing beliefs.

      1. Well Ben, you have found yourself one guy on the Port who has said this. Apparently he is also on record as agreeing with where the Port’s official stand is on the subject. If he feels as he does, then Mr Holland needs to take his fight to Port boardroom discussions.

        I have no doubt that you have a thousand counter arguments against the tunnel for every one I could put forward, but that is besides the point. There is a time for activism in any decision-making process and a time to look beyond it to action. I say this, even as someone who to save my daughter from ruin in Los Angeles has laid their life on the tracks of an on-coming destructive legal train. I know how you feel as I am there with you, but on a different issue obviously. The tunnel is not part of a political campaign and it is not worth this level of rancor. It is not in and of itself running for office and a decision to build it has been taken at three levels of government – State, County and City (notwithstanding McGinn). I am also saying that our mass transit activism which I also support wholeheartedly, should move on to other local targets. The languishing of Light Rail in Bellevue for example. What is to stop Sound Transit starting to build East Link now from the Seattle end of it? By the time, they reach the I-90 tunnels, maybe Bellevue will be panicked into coming to a quicker solution as to stall a project already begun is somewhat harder than to stall one not yet begun and makes less visible sense. Kemper Freeman and the likes of Tim Eyman fully appreciate this unfortunately and they play on it like a pipe to the rest of those more skepticle than we are about such matters.

        Like I said, I am sure you have a legitimate case, but decision makers outside of the confines of this Blog (and I am not one of them) have to look at the wider picture. And I am sure they have at some point, addressed your concerns. Anything less would be irresponsible on their part, but I am not picking that up from the decision makers. Both Governor Gregoire and County Executive Constantine have both placed their reputations behind this thing and most members of the Seattle City Council are not that far behind them. If Mr Holland wants to be the O-Brien of the Port Commission, then that is fine, but as of now, he seems to be positioning himself as nothing more or less than this.

        If the rest of the Commission runs from their decision, then come back to us – well actually don’t as you won’t need to at that point. I am sure you will find some less than committed tunnel supporters and naysayers at all levels of the process – not all of the City Council are as pro-tunnel as their votes indicate, but that doesn’t matter too much as they still voted for moving forward whatever their enthusiasm level. The point is, you can take pot shots at the facilators and the edifice will fall, but at what price decision making or the willingness to engage the city and state on major projects.

    5. Tim,

      That is what I’ve been trying to tell my friends, too. As much as we would love for people to take public transit wherever they need to go, it is not going to happen here for at least two more generations at this rate. Sometimes, regretfully, it IS easier to drive to a destination and get your business done than it is to take a bus/train. Until public transit here is at the level of say, Berlin, London, or Singapore, than people will use their own private cars to get to places. On my work days, yes, I will take the bus(soon a train!), but on my days off, it is easier to drive to Home Depot/QFC/Starbucks/Alderwood Mall. With gas prices being what they are, people just need to be able to consolidate those trips and also decide “is this trip really necessary?” I, too, wish people would start using all their energy to push for faster completion of North and East Link as well as the First Hill streetcar than fighting the Tunnel. There will be enough to fight over about future alignments(Roosevelt, Northgate, Bellevue) and everyone is using all their political capital on the tunnel.

    6. I am against the tunnel, and yes, while I will be selling my car when I move back to Seattle next Spring, when my wife moves back this Summer she will be keeping her car and will continue to own it for the foreseeable future.

      Both of us are against the tunnel.

  4. The business community and chief customer now supports McGinn’s Surface/Transit/I-5 Plan.

    Shouldn’t Olympia be supporting business as well?

    1. Sounds good to me, brother. I’ll be tipping a few beers tonight and turning on the music. Heck with this. Anyway, good job, bro.

    2. This is the stakeholder committee plan. It predates McGinn’s entrance to the scene – it came from WSDOT.

  5. Imagine how the surface boulevard could actually work just fine, rather than imagining the fearful scary gridlock monster, RAaaaa! If you can imagine that much, you’ll find the seawall should remain in current location, pushed west maybe 30′ at Old Dock. Overall roadway width is needed. Omitting rail omits historical character.
    Why is the open-pier design still under study? You don’t want to know.
    Thanx Mikes. The dbt fiasco should end soon. MercerWest too back to the drawing board. Retain BST & consider also retaining BSU, per, DOT Aurora grid reconnect design work.

  6. This is rare and excellent news. And it shows real courage on Rob Holland’s part. The easy way is to dig in and ignore new facts that upset one’s beliefs and position. The much harder – but much more valuable – way is to integrate new data and be open to changing a position. The Nelson/Nygard report (and Seattle Times reporting about impacts of tolls) are significant new data, and I am very encouraged to see that we have at least one elected official who is open to changing his position based on it. Hopefully more will follow suit as the data showing the tunnel is a waste of money that does worse at moving people than I-5/Surface/Transit continues to come in.

  7. The Surface/Transit plan either has not been sufficiently planned out or not sufficiently marketed to the public. While I want more transit rather than more roads, I can’t blame the public for being skeptical, considering how bad it will be if the Surface/Transit plan is bungled and how bad the monorail plan went. Holland is going about this much more intelligently than McGinn. He’s right to say that it may be possible to solve the freight problem and make it work, but you can’t expect the general public to have the same faith in transit projects that pro-transit folks do. You have to explain exactly how you are going to make it work before the public will trust you to do it. The public may be at fault for not being better informed, but you have to deal with that.

    Finally, this has to get done ASAP. Building a tunnel that creates more congestion is better than bickering until the viaduct falls down and kills people. Make a more detailed plan, market it the public effectively, and do it quickly. Don’t be mad that people are skeptical about a vague plan.

    1. “Building a tunnel that creates more congestion is better than bickering until the viaduct falls down and kills people.” If that’s really the issue, remind me why we haven’t closed it already.

      1. “remind me why we haven’t closed it already.” We should have resolved this issue long ago, but that’s a different story. It’s worth taking some time to get a decision right, but not an infinite amount of time. The viaduct will fall down one day. Maybe that is not the issue for most people, but it is a real concern.

        I like what Holland is saying and we should listen to more specifics about making the Surface/Transit plan work, but I would prefer building the tunnel to killing the tunnel and then debating the issue for another two years.

    2. I’d say the majority of us aren’t angry with skeptics, as much as with our irresponsible transportation planning agency cheerleaders who discuss things ad nauseum somewhere and settle these things amongst themselves there.

      THE DBT is such terribly bad engineering. Your DOTs should be more embarrassed than defensive. Seriously. MercerWest too, poorly done and does NOT help Phase One Mercer potential.

      For Alaskan WAY,

      I prefer ====PRE-AWV * POST-SEAWALL====
      Study the b/w photos to see == a frontage road ==
      Alaskan Way should have 2 streetcar line tracks, (not just 1 line).
      A possibly “permanent” bridge over RR at Broad to manage traffic.
      A Trolleybus Line & Turnaround across from Coleman Dock running straight up the Furst Hill & back every 10 minutes.

      My transportation studies tell me the current Alaskan Way surface boulevard designs are inadequately arranged in ALL options. Just try the frontage road and see what you get. I’m telling you, it may be a necessity. mixing thru-traffic with headed to and from the parking garage traffic. Frontage road might do it.

  8. I knew Rob in college; he was a good guy then, and it’s nice to see him fight the good fight now.

    What’s particularly interesting is that he was elected with support from labor and manufacturing. I wouldn’t see him acting against industry in SODO and along the canal, if he really thought that a surface/transit option was going to hurt them. Maybe he is a conduit back to them, someone who can open up a dialogue with the blue-collar slice of Seattle that is often ignored by city hall until they’re needed for window-dressing an initiative like the tunnel. They need someone to champion their interests, the tunnel option doesn’t do that, nor does the surface/transit option threaten them.

  9. Another nay-sayer who disses the work of the volunteers on the committee who spent thousands of hours examining all of the options in great detail, just what we don’t need is another non-participant casting stones without doing any of the heavy lifting. I’ll remember to vote against Mr. Holland his next time up for re-election. The DBT option is the only one that saves 3-4 years of no viaduct, its 110,000 vehicles per day going elsewhere, most likely to I-5, since only a handful of Sound Transit buses pass through Seattle, those en route to the U District. About 70% of the viaduct trips are to pass through Seattle, not go to Seattle. Meanwhile, all transit agencies are in the throes of substantial cuts to their service, Metro’s is in the works: 600,000 service hours, about the size of either of the surrounding counties’ present service. The DBT plan includes surface street improvements. We should be giving the process a chance vs. continually second-guessing it. Volunteer to be on the committees!

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