Residents of King County will shoulder $231 million in new debt to help pay for the Highway 99 tunnel, through their Port of Seattle property taxes.
Port commissioners voted Tuesday to make good on the agency’s pledge four years ago to contribute toward replacing the old Alaskan Way Viaduct, a total $3.1 billion task, including streets and interchanges.
The Port says a tax increase won’t be required because some past bond obligations are expiring.
The Port will sell two sets of 25-year bonds, making two large payments toward the tunnel, in May of 2015 and 2016. The highway will be mostly financed by state gas taxes and tolls.
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Tunnel-boring machine “Bertha” began its grind last week in Sodo, heading toward South Lake Union, where the four-lane tube is scheduled to serve traffic by the end of 2015.
The port district’s homeowners and landowners will be paying off the bonds through 2041. That spending hinders the Port’s ability to improve its container terminals or clean up Duwamish River pollutants — or at least to do so under existing tax rates, of about $92 a year on a $400,000 home.
“Please recognize the substitution that is going on here,” said Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman.
The Port is getting some benefits. An overhead ramp should be finished along Highway 99 by the end of this year, giving trucks a path over train tracks and rail congestion to reach Terminals 30 and 46.
And the deal addresses the Port’s insistence on giving trucks a surface route along the waterfront to Interbay and Ballard, to replace the existing viaduct exit.
The state Department of Transportation must build two general-purpose lanes in each direction from the Sodo interchange to the ferry terminal, plus a northbound ferry holding lane that widens to two holding lanes near Yesler Way.
Losing the viaduct will force King County Metro buses to the surface, slowing more than 24,000 weekday passengers for traffic lights. But Linea Laird, the state’s Highway 99 program manager, said Tuesday all sides agreed to add bus lanes.
Recent images from Seattle DOT show a bus lane in each direction, so that at Alaskan Way just north of Washington Street there would be nine lanes, including landscaped medians, sidewalks and a bikeway. The roadbed would still be narrower than the new Mercer Street in Seattle or the Embarcadero in San Francisco, said Rick Sheridan, Seattle DOT spokesman.
Port commissioners lamented having to pay for road projects. They urged state lawmakers to expand Highway 509 near SeaTac and Highway 167 near Auburn, routes often used by shippers, so Washington can compete with British Columbia, which is making a play for global commerce by enlarging its ports.
Commissioner John Creighton said the $300 million shouldn’t be a precedent for the Port to fund streets.
Yet the board voted 5-0 to assist the deep tunnel.
“We are demonstrating our commitment to having a globally competitive transportation system here on Puget Sound,” Commissioner Bill Bryant said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @mikelindblom