Over the past few months, Gov. Christine Gregoire has become more open to considering a surface-and-transit future for the Seattle waterfront...

Over the past few months, Gov. Christine Gregoire has become more open to considering a surface-and-transit future for the Seattle waterfront, instead of replacing the old Alaskan Way Viaduct with another highway.

Gregoire said she has begun to think broadly about mobility and about Seattle’s future as an “international city” — marked by population growth, a leading seaport and increased tourism — that needs a hospitable waterfront.

“If this is to be an international city, we’ll have to look at the entire system. Once you do that, the surface option becomes an open question,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The state Department of Transportation (DOT), King County and Seattle announced a new phase Tuesday in what has been a tortured history of viaduct planning. Rather than focus on serving 111,000 cars and trucks that now make weekday trips on the highway, agencies will study mobility improvements within a broader area, from North 85th Street to South Spokane Street.

“There is no one option on the table at this point,” Gregoire said.

The viaduct, built in 1953, is undergoing emergency strengthening of four support columns; DOT is preparing to rebuild the south segment from Qwest Field to the West Seattle Bridge. But the layout between downtown and Elliott Bay remains in dispute. State funds are available for a $2.8 billion elevated highway, but many Seattle residents and leaders consider it a monstrosity and instead support expanded buses, rail, ridesharing, ferries and street changes.

Earlier this year, Gregoire was skeptical of surface travel as an alternative:

• Feb. 13, she denounced as unsafe a four-lane tunnel proposal by Mayor Greg Nickels: “Today we need to move forward with the one option that meets safety standards and is fiscally responsible: the elevated structure.”

• March 14, she said she doubted a surface option would work: “I can’t see just tearing it down and letting it go and creating a parking lot on I-5. I think the citizens would be appalled.”

Gregoire said she still thinks that simply dumping cars on waterfront streets is not a solution.

Future light rail would add north-south capacity, said Ron Paananen, a state DOT project manager. Another key issue is Interstate 5, where DOT will look at changing the express lanes, rerouting certain exit lanes, adding regional tolls or enacting variable speed limits. Elevated, tunnel and surface ideas for the waterfront — or a mixture — will be considered, he said.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com