What the Viaduct Vote means (even to those outside of Seattle)

[photopress:viaduct.jpg,thumb,alignright]I realize this blog reaches outsides of Seattle, so I will see if I can make this have meaning for everyone and for those of you that knew Dustin in his prior life, you will know this is right up his alley too :).

I am on vacation this week, but was catching up and reading Sunday’s Seattle Times article about the up and coming Seattle viaduct vs. a tunnel vote. For those of you who do not know about this vote (or like me and are a bit confused) here is a quick synopsis.  There are 4 options.

One: Yes on the viaduct.
Two: No on the viaduct
Three: Yes on the tunnel
Four: No on the tunnel

Seems pretty simple to me, but with the way the ballot was written these are actually two separate votes.  So in theory, both could win or both could loose.  They SAY the probability of this happening is very slim, but you never know, crazier things have happened i.e. 2004 Washington State Governor (if you have never read this, this is a great read!).

This may be a stretch, but in my eyes, this raises the question of how does any city solve a problem that affects a limited group.  The same was true for me with the Monorail where a finite group of people (primarily western Seattle) would have the convenience of using the monorail, but all of Seattle’s roughly 572,600 residents would have been on the hook for the bill.  While I have no political agenda in this post… I do believe in mass transit. This is a message asking if it is fair for an entire city to be called upon to pay for a major tax measure that limited number will enjoy.

I am not saying if a major section of a city needed repair, it is not up to all of the city’s population to pay.  The message I am attempting to convey is that the measure being voted upon can be solved in other ways.

[photopress:narrows.jpg,thumb,alignright]A great comparison would be the second Narrows Bridge connecting Tacoma and Gig Harbor.  This project is being financed through state tax exemptions, a bond and a toll. The basic difference here, is that users of the bridge (commuters and travelers alike) are paying, rather than all area citizens.

Again this is not about my support (or lack) of an issue, this is about what is fair.  If the viaduct is taken away and a tunnel is built, can we assume it will be similar to Boston’s Big Dig.  What about the young professionals who have puchased a downtown condo so they could avoid a nasty commute?  Should they pay for a tunnel or new viaduct that they won’t use?  Shutting down a major roadway to and from a large section of any city will have (in my mind) have a significant affect on traffic which will therefore have an affect on real estate values in that area (see I brought it all back to real estate).  In my own opinion, I am not interested in living in Queen Anne if I cannot use 99 (which is bordered by the major access highway that will be closed) .

So much for being unbiased.

26 thoughts on “What the Viaduct Vote means (even to those outside of Seattle)

  1. Thanks for tackling the viaduct, Jon. When I saw JP Patches in Fremont earlier this month, he told the Mayor he has “tunnel vision”. Greg was speachless and just tried to smile.

    Living in West Seattle, we would never use a tunnel and prefer the viaduct (repair or rebuild) option. The cost is less and when I do use 99, I enjoy the drive. It’s kind of like you’re on the TV show “Streets of San Francisco” (or what ever that show was). Living in Seattle, we paid for the monorail that never came to. I don’t want to pay for a tunnel that I won’t use.

    Maybe the City should consider having a toll for 99?

    It’s going to be interesting to watch how this unfolds with Mayor vs. Govener.

    I’m going to be doing a post on my blog to just remind people to vote (I’ll try to stay unbiased, too)…I’ll be sure to link to your post.

  2. Removing the viaduct has little to do with traffic in the long run. In an urban planning sense, one needs only to look to SF and Boston for the rationale of removing unsightly raised highways whenever possible and at whatever cost. The tunnel or surface options don’t matter as much as making sure the viaduct is TORN DOWN PERMANENTLY.

  3. The tunnel matters given the budgeted costs — and the actual costs will certainly exceed that. We’ll need to adjust to life without the viaduct during construction anyway, so why not save the 3+ BILLION dollars and simply accept life with the viaduct (or tunnel). Rather, invest in street and transit improvements and build a 520 replacement that includes light rail.

    The only “option” that does not exist is doing nothing. The viaduct WILL collapse in the next significant earthquake and will kill dozens if not hundreds. It needs to be torn down or fixed, and during that period, there will be no viaduct.

  4. Jon,

    Its interesting you talk about the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. When there was a vote for the bridge the users of the bridge voted no. It was the none users that voted yes and now the people that didn’t want it are having to pay for it.

  5. As a person who grew up living in Seattle and moved to suburbs because of poor schools and really bad downtown traffic, I really believe that fixing Hwy 99 is vital to City of Seattle. There always has been and it seems there always will be a traffic problem in Seattle and you can blame the idiot(s) that designed and built the road system thinking that we only needed one Freeway going North and South and that it would work okay by reducing the size of the freeway to two lanes each direction right in the middle of down town Seattle. Retro fixes have increased the size to three lanes each way, so hay that is a 50% increase from original design, what more could anyone expect.

    Since going North and South on I-5 will never improve, and if you want the business of shipping and manufacturing to continue in Seattle, then Hwy 99 as part of the transportation system must be resolved. That is unless you can figure out how to use mass transit to move shipping containers, business trucks and equipment and people who do not stop in downtown Seattle but are only traveling through it. The rest of the State of Washington is putting up a large portion of the cost to fix this problem as they should, the idea of a toll is not outrageous, other Cities do this. But most important is that there are not alternatives to using Hwy 99, so the Big Dig idea is stupid. Can the City of Seattle or the State of Washington afford the reduced income through lost jobs and reduced shipping into the Port of Seattle that would occur by losing Hwy 99 as part of the road system over the five to seven years it would take to build a tunnel?

  6. Hi, My name is Marie. I am taking a blogging class with Jillayne and she is making me post this because I am a brand new blogger. I currently live in California and I think that the toll road system works well. The people who use the road, pay for it. In south orange county, the fast track system charges your account each month every time you use the toll road. You don’t have to stop and find change. It is fast and easy and doesn’t stop traffic.

  7. The issue is not $3 billion versus 0. Regardless of the option chosen, many of the costs of the project are fixed because of seawall replacement ($700 M), work south of King Street, including new ramping for SR319 over the rail yards ($300 MM), improvements to Battery Street Tunnel ($100 MM) and subsequent soft costs. The portion up for debate is the mile-long central portion, which could cost $250 MM plus soft costs for the rebuild, $400 MM plus soft costs for the 4-lane tunnel, or $125 MM+ soft costs for a surface option.

    All told, including risk premiums, the tunnel costs $400 million more than the rebuild. Question is whether $400 million and, lets assume a 4-lane alignment rather than 4-6 lane, reduced capacity, worth it for a much, much better urban design. If the “prime” benefeciaries paid for the delta via a LID, would it be worth it?

    I absolutely think so. The new waterfront could be remade into something uniquely seattle

  8. Jon,

    Can you please talk (blog, I guess it would be) about how the tunnel and Big Dig would be similar, other than the fact they both involved some form of tunnel? Maybe you can speak to the mileage of tunnel, type of excavation, cubic yards of dirt removed or number of cable-stayed suspension bridges built in each…thanks!

  9. Jon,
    Great topic, I follow transportation issues when I can, just one more item that I do not disclose because of weird looks, and will add this to my little list. The Big Dig is one of my favorites but is not the only. The State of Ohio and Michigan has had its share of transportation discussions and how the subjects would affect real estate so any time I hear of a topic my ears perk up. Michigan and Ohio have items that pertain to rural and metro areas and are similar to what you are describing in your article. As far as Detroit I would say that the topic is on the same time line of NASA achieving light speed, in fact I think that NASA will get there first, so I will not go into details on Detroit. But the subject of commerce is similar to two Ohio items and that is Rt 24 VS 80/90 Toll Road and the suspension bridge being built on 280 in Toledo crossing the Maumee River. The closest I can compare any Michigan project to what you are writing about is the Grand Rapids by pass and Southeast Michigan’s debate over a free way replacing U.S. 223.

    In Ohio, the bridge is underway and the Rt 24 stuck in study limbo, in Michigan the Grand Rapids by pass is completed and the US 223 project stalled by a population resistant to change. All of these projects involved state money and resources to some degree or another. Being from this area the only impute that I can stress to the residents of Seattle is take care of your commerce. In Southeast Michigan we have seen all to well what will happen if you do not… it goes somewhere else. While I do not have an easy answer, and am not a city engineer, as a businessperson I can tell you that distribution is key my wanting to be somewhere, as far as a resident I hate grid lock because I would much rather be somewhere else then a traffic jam! It’s that simple and I think that it is that way with most people. If I know that a system is going to make my groceries or gas cheaper or get me to the hospital faster when I need to get there or provide jobs where the workers will need to in turn buy my services and goods then I would most likely support it even if it does not mean that I may use it every day. I wonder if residents think of ROI? Well good luck and I will be following your topic.

  10. Rhonda-

    I am all for a toll… and I use 99 daily.

    Mark (& everyone about the danger of the viaduct)-

    I agree… the problem needs to be addressed. This post was almost as much as WHAT IS RIGHT than what should we do with the viaduct.


    I am surrpised how much the viaduct has been in the news compared to how little the biggest problem; 520 floating bridge.


    Your comment is very interesting and I believe makes my point. Those who would use the bridge a majority (My dad lives in Gig Harbor) voted no for the toll, because that would be a fee they would pay… where the non users who would be stuck with the tax voted FOR the toll. A perfect example of the vast majority saying pass that fee on to the users of whatever that may be.

  11. Jim-

    An intereting piece of informatioin. A friend of mine sits on the chamber and tells me that the a tunnel would limit oil, gas, etc tankers to travel via this route. Therefore making them use I-5.

    I heard my father in law talking about an idea to add a NEW freeway from Tumwater/Olympia to N Everett. I doubt that will ever happen, but wouldn’t that be interesting!


    Maybe pay for a new route by developing that vacated land? I know a stretch, but think of the value of that land.

    As far as the similarity to the Big Dig… there really is no other comparison except the fact it is a tunnel and the gross overerages. I was using it as an example of an estimate gone wrong.


    Residence and ROI… what a great point and future topic. It takes money to make money. I agree 100% and again great support for a toll.

    Think about the increase of clothing because of the cost of theft. Although no one directly can see what that cost is, if there was no theft… therefore no security guards, systems, etc… the general publics costs would be much lower. If everyone could actually see these expenses if you will… do you think there would be more social security guards???

    In the same way, maybe if everyone could see the direct cost it would be for a city to take an actioin, maybe the fight would be black and white???


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