When the Alaskan Way Viaduct undergoes demolition next year, WSDOT plans to use the Battery Street Tunnel as a disposal site for the Viaduct’s debris, but a group of residents is pushing for a second life for the 65-year old tunnel.
The group Recharge the Battery says anything is better than the current plan to fill and seal the tunnel, however with only a year left before leveling of the viaduct is scheduled to begin the group is racing to rally support from the community.
The group envisions the tunnel becoming a “defining urban icon for the City of Seattle and valuable public asset for the Belltown neighborhood and surrounding communities.”
The cut-and-cover Battery Street Tunnel, which runs under Battery Street from Highway 99 to 1st Avenue, was the first tunnel designed and built by the City of Seattle Engineering Department, according to the final environmental impact statement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.
Earlier this year Recharge the Battery made an open call for proposals reimagining, without limits, a future use for the space. Ideas ranged from building a mushroom farm or a wine cellar to constructing an underground beach or allowing drone racing. One award-winning conceptual design envisioned a publicly accessible forested ravine which could also filter stormwater before returning it to Elliot Bay. Back in April Zach discussed the idea of using the tunnel for transit.
The group says there’s a wide range of possibilities, pointing to projects such as Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River Restoration which uncovered an ancient river while creating a public recreational space after removing a large highway. Or the city could imitate New York City, using the space for a transit museum.
The group wants the current plans to fill and seal the tunnel suspended to allow for a robust public discussion, which they say never happened as part of the wider waterfront revitalization project happening just steps from Belltown. Some residents concerned about WSDOT’s plan, say filling the tunnel with debris just creates a new garbage dump in the middle of the city.
Part of the waterfront revitalization plan (see 3-13) includes a park near the sound end of the tunnel. According to a spokesperson for SDOT, the agency has reached an agreement with WSDOT on the demolition and decommission process to make it “relatively easy to develop as a park in the future.” And SDOT is starting the conversation with the Parks and Recreation Department about options and strategies for funding design and construction of the future park.
But any reuse of the tunnel would require a hefty monetary investment to retrofit the tunnel. According to the FEIS, “While other uses of the old tunnel could be possible (such as pedestrian or bicycle use), the tunnel would require costly retrofits to meet current standards, including structural, seismic, and health and safety standards.”
And, using the tunnel for debris disposal “would avoid the need for seismic retrofits and reduce construction-related traffic, noise, and debris disposal costs.”
With downtown real estate at a premium, reusing or converting infrastructure can create valuable new public spaces, but without a clear source of funding the group is facing an uphill fight.
The conversation over the tunnel’s future continues tonight with a free panel discussion to explore alternative solutions for the tunnel co-hosted by Recharge the Battery and Design in Public starting at 6:30 pm at Seattle’s Center for Architecture and Design at 1010 Western Avenue.