Reject Referendum 1 | Seattle can do better than a tunnel replacement for the dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct, write guest columnists Denis Hayes, David Bricklin and Cary Moon. The tolled tunnel will be the start of a nightmare project that will not solve transportation challenges.

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OPPORTUNITIES to transform the urban environment and redefine a city’s sense of itself do not come along often. When they do, we must ask hard questions about government spending priorities and think clearly about the kind of city we want to pass on to our children.

Here in Seattle, we face precisely this kind of decision right now: how to replace the aging and dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Despite the vigorous debate, there’s plenty of common ground. We all want the viaduct taken down as quickly as possible. We all want a solution that makes the wisest use of the $2.4 billion in state funds and the full $3.1 billion budgeted for this project. We all want better transit options, freight mobility and less traffic congestion. We all want an open and beautiful waterfront.

And we all agree that it’s long past time to make a decision and get to work on a solution.

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However, deciding to green-light the tolled tunnel will not be the end of the process as proponents proclaim. It will be the start of a nightmare project that we cannot pay for and that will not solve our transportation challenges.

Let’s start with traffic. Think the tunnel will provide for a traffic-free waterfront and improve traffic downtown? Think again. The state’s environmental-impact statement shows there will be as many cars on the waterfront and city streets if we build the tunnel, as there would be if we tore down the viaduct and did nothing. Those are the state’s official numbers, not ours.

How can that be? The environmental-impact statement explains that 70,000 of the 110,000 vehicles that use the viaduct today wouldn’t use the tunnel. It’s a bypass tunnel, so it has no downtown exits. Faced with a $4 to $5 toll — which is required to raise funds to meet the budget — many people would opt for city streets or Interstate 5 instead, making traffic around downtown worse, not better.

Because the current plan for the tolled tunnel doesn’t include a single dollar for transit, very few of the people in those 70,000 vehicles will leave their cars at home and take the bus instead.

$3.1 billion ought to buy a lot more benefit than that!

That price tag doesn’t even consider unbudgeted mitigation and the inevitable cost overruns that plague tunnel projects around the world. The state flatly refuses to contribute a penny more than $2.4 billion. Seattle citizens, are you ready to write a blank check? That didn’t work out so well for Boston!

There is an understandable urge to do something — anything — but this is the wrong reason to plunge ahead with the riskiest, most expensive project that fails on nearly every measure.

Seattle taxpayers are being bullied into accepting this project as if it were the only option. But in Seattle, we are smarter than that and know we can do better.

In the past, when politicians have tried to push through projects that don’t match our priorities, like razing Pike Place Market or building the R.H. Thomson Expressway through the Arboretum, we’ve come together as a city, rejected their plan, and told them we must do better.

We live in a time when governments must use discipline to manage the taxpayer dollars we’ve entrusted them with. That is why we urge Seattle voters to reject the deep-bore tunnel. We are tired of being bullied by an establishment that refuses to hear truths it doesn’t want to hear and this vote is our opportunity to stand up and demand better. Seattle needs — Seattle deserves — a solution that meets its budget, matches its values and creates a better future.

Reject the tunnel, reject Referendum 1.

Denis Hayes of Seattle is a former professor of engineering at Stanford University; David Bricklin of Bainbridge Island is an environmental and land-use lawyer; Cary Moon of Seattle is director of the People’s Waterfront Coalition.