In a small win for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, the state Wednesday asked outside experts to study the mayor's proposal for a four-lane Alaskan...

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In a small win for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, the state Wednesday asked outside experts to study the mayor’s proposal for a four-lane Alaskan Way tunnel.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and state legislative leaders gave the project’s expert review panel a Feb. 13 deadline — about a week before ballots are sent to Seattle residents for an all-mail advisory vote. Ballots must be postmarked by March 13 to be counted.

Voters face two questions: yes or no on a four-lane tunnel — smaller than the six-lane version Nickels and the state originally proposed — and yes or no on a six-lane elevated replacement for the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

City officials, the expert panel and a state project team examined the four-lane-tunnel idea for a week in January. The panel said the idea “shows promise,” but the state stopped the inquiry. Nickels asked for studies to resume.

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Now, state leaders are seeking the panel’s views about whether a four-lane version would really slash the bigger tunnel’s $4.6 billion price down to $3.4 billion, as the city contends, and whether it’s safe to use the shoulders of a four-lane highway as exit lanes to boost capacity at rush hour, as the city suggests.

Gregoire’s staffers would not discuss whether she will seriously consider a four-lane tunnel.

“This is about responsibility to the voters, so they can make a decision,” spokeswoman Holly Armstrong said.

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

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