As they redesign the final stage of the Alaskan Way corridor, public officials must balance competing interests and maintain the corridor’s utility.
NOW that the Bertha tunneling machine is working again, attention has turned to the redesign of surface streets that will remain after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished.
Public officials must get this right. If they fail and whittle away the corridor’s functionality at the behest of special interests, the outcome would be worse than the “Mercer Mess.”
This is of statewide importance.
The route along Elliott Bay links the city’s industrial centers, carries nearly 10 million ferry riders per year and welcomes tourists from around the world. It’s a remarkable blend that’s a testament to Seattle’s character and economic role.
With state and local taxpayers spending more than $4 billion to upgrade this critical infrastructure and the facilities it supports, Alaskan Way is also among the West Coast’s biggest construction zones.
The onus is now on the city of Seattle, which is redesigning the streets and redeveloping its central waterfront.
This is not reassuring given the city’s chronic failures to adequately plan for growth and traffic — and considering last year’s revelation that its seawall work along Alaskan Way is far over budget.
But as with President-elect Donald Trump, we’re trying to give the city a chance to do the right thing, despite its pattern of disrespect for the car-dependent masses.
Industry advocates fearing the worst were pleasantly surprised that Seattle’s plan for the corridor respects the importance of freight traffic unable to use the tunnel.
Less pleased are owners of businesses and commercial properties along Alaskan Way.
Some argue that the roadway is too wide, though they exaggerate by pointing to an unusually wide section where turn lanes are needed for the ferry terminal at Colman Dock.
Others are rightly alarmed that the city is eliminating much of the area’s heavily used street parking. The city says this is part of its effort to reduce car usage — an approach that is deluded and exclusionary.
Satisfying everyone is a tricky balancing act, and compromises are required.
With Alaskan Way, a devoutly anti-car City Hall is building a major new roadway. It will be needed for traffic bypassing the tunnel and the thicket of trolley, bike and bus lanes the city is planning for most of its north-south avenues downtown.
Alaskan Way will still get the Seattle treatment, with relatively narrow car lanes, wide landscaped medians and generous bike lanes. The city also plans to convert some east-west traffic lanes to pedestrian walkways and bus-only lanes.
Yet Alaskan Way is more than a local amenity. Most people paying for the corridor need cars to reach it. It would be a travesty for Washingtonians to pay $4 billion for a glorious waterfront that’s difficult for most of them to visit and enjoy.
Traffic will continue to grow in the corridor no matter what.
One section serves the busiest hub of the nation’s largest ferry fleet. More than 9 million riders last year crossed Colman Dock, which is about to be rebuilt for $320 million.
Farther north, nearly $300 million will be spent expanding Pike Place Market and rebuilding the Seattle Aquarium. Regional taxpayers also invested millions in the adjacent cruise-ship terminal.
That’s nickels and dimes, though, compared to the $3.4 billion and counting that’s being invested largely by state and federal taxpayers to replace the viaduct with a tunnel, enabling Seattle to redevelop its waterfront.
For the final stage, Seattle officials are in the unenviable position of mediating between special interests and multiple layers of government with varied goals for Alaskan Way.
To navigate these obstacles and preserve the corridor’s utility, the city should keep in mind that it’s providing critical infrastructure not just for the immediate area but also for the Puget Sound region and the rest of Washington.