With eight options to choose from and a decision near to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, some of the 29 members of the "stakeholders" advisory group say they've been left out of the process.

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With eight options to choose from and a decision near to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, some of the citizens involved say they’ve been left out of the process.

They’re part of a 29-member group known as the “stakeholders” — residents and businesspeople brought on board to advise the city, county and state as those governments move toward the replacement decision.

“It’s very frustrating to me,” said Peter Phillips, a stakeholder representing the Seattle Marine Business Coalition. “We don’t get materials in time to review them. We are not involved in an engineering discussion; this is a political engineering discussion.”

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These 29 stakeholders, volunteers who represent neighborhoods, environmentalists, labor unions and others, were appointed to review the viaduct-replacement work produced by the state, King County and the city of Seattle.

Some say the discussion is mired in politics.

Industrial impact

Given a chance to have his say, Phillips believes a surface option, which the city supports, would destroy the industrial neighborhoods that rely on the viaduct.

“Surface is the cheapest to build, but what about the economic mitigation costs,” he says. “It now takes 20 minutes [on the viaduct] to get from Ballard to the Duwamish [River]. With surface, it will take more than an hour.

“My fear is that the state will position the surface option as being equal to all other options in capacity and environmental impact with the caveat that if things turn out differently, they’ll build something to address those issues later.”

The stakeholders have been meeting for a year to consider eight options for replacing the 55-year-old viaduct, weighing two elevated structures, three tunnels and three surface options. The state has said the final choice will likely be a hybrid of them all.

And it won’t make everyone happy.

At a recent stakeholder meeting, the frustrations bubbled over.

“I’m really, really unhappy the way this is coming to an end,” said stakeholder Vlad Oustimovitch, an architect from West Seattle. “Stage managing is going on to make [the stakeholder group] irrelevant. I’m uncomfortable sitting at this table.”

Last week, the stakeholders were briefed on the economic implications of the eight viaduct plans. The problem is there was no plan for them to review: The economist hadn’t released it.

Gov. Christine Gregoire has promised to choose one of the eight options by the end of the year, or by Jan. 15 at the latest. The city, county and state will trim the list to two or three by this week.

Speaker involved

The presence of House Speaker Frank Chopp, with his own viaduct plan — is complicating matters because of the political power he wields. His proposal, which the city doesn’t like, is for a milelong building as tall as the existing viaduct and twice as wide, with an elevated roadway and two floors of retail and office space below. A park would be on top of the roadway.

Others have offered similar plans, elevated highways with businesses below, but they’ve been routinely dismissed. That’s not so easy with Chopp, who’s been shopping his plan to business groups and the stakeholders.

The grumbling among some stakeholders has been brought to the attention of David Dye, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation, who points out government agencies, not stakeholders, are making the decision. The stakeholders will not vote on their favorite option, leaving some to wonder what kind of power they will wield.

“You’re not winnowing [the proposals]. The three agencies are winnowing,” Dye told the stakeholders last week.

Oustimovitch said it’s clear his group won’t have a vote on the final outcome.

“There’s definitely been some backroom discussion among the three DOTs [the Washington, Seattle and King County departments of transportation]. There’s the sense right now that some kind of surface alternative will get selected.

Conspiracy theory

“The conspiracy theory is the decision has already been made,” he said. “I felt good about the process, but then they started canceling meetings and that started to indicate something was going on behind the scenes.”

Oustimovitch supports the deep-bore tunnel alternative, the most expensive at $3.5 billion, and one he believes would be everyone’s first or second choice. He asserts the extra cost can be made up in two ways: directly through tolls and indirectly by economic savings, by being able to keep the viaduct open during construction.

Cary Moon, with the People’s Waterfront Coalition, which wants a surface plan, says the process has been transparent.

She believes the three finalists will be a surface plan, another elevated viaduct and Chopp’s proposal.

“It has plenty of fatal flaws,” she said about Chopp’s plan. “There’s political reasons to move it forward, plenty of reasons not to move it forward. What city wants to put a wall before its most beloved asset and the rest of the city? It’s preposterous.”

Dave Freiboth, another stakeholder who represents the King County Labor Council, said he’s been struggling with the question about what his role will be in the ultimate decision.

“We owe it to the system to try to make it work,” he said, “but it may be futile. We may be window dressing. We need a political consensus to get a project [done].”

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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