This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

When the decision came in 2009, somewhat out-of-the-blue, to replace the Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, I was skeptical.  Still, I realized that the State was holding all the cards here.  Seattle could complain all it wanted, but at the end of the day it’s a State highway, the Governor wanted it, and the legislature likes roads and hates Seattle, so a tunnel it shall be.

One of the strengths of great leaders is that they know how to identify pressure points in the system and lean on them hard.    Mayor McGinn, on the other hand, likes to throw himself at brick walls, even (especially?) if he hasn’t found a pressure point.  The city doesn’t really have many cards to play here, and I don’t think this referendum will significantly change that.

My first instinct in this situation is to throw my hands up and declare there’s nothing to be done here. At least we won’t have that roaring viaduct through downtown, and maybe we can get on with some Seattle Streetcars and other important transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the city.  I’m perfectly happy to spend $150M of “Seattle’s” money on a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, which will at least benefit the thousands of Seattleites who visit and/or commute to the Eastside.

But then reason takes over, and there just isn’t enough lipstick in the world to make this pig of a tunnel look good.  Start with the EIS, which shows traffic getting worse through downtown as drivers avoid $9 round trip tolls and a tunnel with no downtown exits.  Then move on to the latest Federal Transit Administration letter, which warns of adverse impacts to transit in Seattle if the DBT is built as envisioned. And finally, consider the fact that WSDOT routinely over-estimates future car traffic.

As much as we might want the catharsis of building this f’ing thing and putting an end to the cursed “Seattle Process,” it’s hard to escape the fact that this project is a turd.

Oh, and by the way: the State of Washington is broke, if you haven’t heard.  Maybe the money for the new tunnel should go towards the new SR-520 bridge, which is still is still a couple billion short. Or maybe we should build the quieter 4-lane bypass viaduct and save a billion bucks.  Or maybe we should try this crazy Surface/Transit/I-5 option which seems to perform as well or better on every metric and cost less money than the tunnel.

So, I’m voting no.

4 Replies to “I’m Voting No on Referendum 1”

  1. Great wrap-up. I actually started this process against the tunnel – but very lightly against the tunnel. If they build it, not big deal, but I would love to see what happens if they just tore the thing down – past experience says traffic would just work itself out. But as the process went on the tunnel looked more and more like a giant waste of money. That Stranger article should be required reading – the EIS says that building a tolled tunnel is roughly equivalent to tearing the viaduct out. Not building surface improvements and fixing I-5, or adding transit, but just plain tearing the viaduct out.

    So let’s try it. Let’s just close the viaduct, and see what happens. If the EIS and experiments around the world are right, then not much will happen. If I’m wrong and traffic becomes unbearable, add transit until it’s not.

  2. Thanks frank. I was struggling putting my thoughts together on the tunnel. As in “I hate it, but I also hate banging my head against a brick wall” fatigue.

    Your summation helped me see through my malaise. Vote No!

  3. We may still get it. But don’t underestimate how a “no” vote could shift the momentum in the right direction.

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