For all the things have happened on the Deep Bore Tunnel project, my opinion on it hasn’t changed. Of the seriously considered options, the DBT has the least money for transit, spends the most on environmentally destructive freeways, and is the infrastructure least useful for buses. For my values, that made it the worst option by far. Unfortunately, through some combination of elite consensus, car dependence, and exhaustion, most voters disagreed with me.
I think most people would agree that the program’s current troubles — long delays and escalating costs, that will probably end up in litigation between contractor, city, and state — should make the project less popular. And a fair amount of rhetoric has aimed at capitalizing on that, as tunnel supporters made lots of nonsense assertions about risk during the campaign. But I haven’t seen much evidence of people changing their minds on the tunnel, and that’s consistent with what I’ve observed about how people decide how to vote on projects.
I argue that within an order of magnitude, voters don’t care how much a project costs. They decide whether or not the project is valuable to them and people they care about, and if it is, they vote for it. I submit to you that whether a project is quoted at $2 billion or $3 billion is a difference of approximately zero votes.
Think back to the dark days of Sound Transit, when it became clear that Sound Transit 1 was going to take much longer and cost more than predicted during the election. Those of us who thought that high-quality rail was the most important thing for the long-term sustainability of the city were disappointed, but the best path to making progress was to get as much built as possible. People who thought Link was a waste at the original price definitely thought so at the final one, but it was only the general air of mismanagement at the time that dented ST’s popularity. If the actual scope and schedule had been on the ballot, I doubt the outcome of the vote would have been much different.
Now obviously one can take this argument too far. If the cost seems wildly out of proportion to the norm that can hurt a project’s reputation. As I said above, the air of incompetence can damage the public trust in an agency. However, scaling back a tax package – as the Seattle Council did with the 2011 license fee – actually costs votes by appeasing no one and reducing the bag of goodies for which people are purportedly voting.
Given all the above, it’s Sightline’s data on decreasing viaduct traffic that is the most potentially damaging. If enough people accept that no tunnel does not mean gridlock, the project is doomed.
What I find somewhat disconcerting is that the fate of the really important stuff might be tied to the completion of an unnecessary tunnel. The most important transportation project on the region’s drawing board is a light rail tunnel to Ballard, and possibly other places. Of course, there are a number of technical reasons to distinguish a light rail tunnel from the DBT: ST’s project management record, project size and scope, and the difference in soil conditions. The relative environmental impact of the projects themselves determines whether they’re worth the inherent risk of tunneling.
If the DBT opens in 2016, or even 2018 or 2020, in the long run no one will care about the current setbacks. But if the DBT project collapses in a fiasco, the misleading attack ads on the region’s next tunneling enterprise practically write themselves, even the though the technical risk of ST3 tunneling is in no way affected by either outcome.
So has anyone out there actually changed their mind on this project given the new information?