State and city officials tell us repeatedly that it's down to two options for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct — either a tunnel...
State and city officials tell us repeatedly that it’s down to two options for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct — either a tunnel along the waterfront or an enormous elevated structure. Voters ought to be able to consider a wider range of alternatives.
Having just two undesirable choices is frustrating. It is particularly disturbing that both these options were selected before their construction costs and economic consequences were known.
When they were chosen, their projected construction costs were $1 billion to $3 billion less than the Expert Review Panel’s most recent estimates. Further cost escalations reportedly can be expected.
Both of the current options call for Highway 99 to be closed or partially closed through downtown Seattle for between three-and-a-half and seven years. Planners estimate that the two alternatives will result in a doubling or tripling of the peak hours of traffic congestion on Interstate 5 and in the city of Seattle during all those years of construction. As for the economic costs of full or partial closure of the viaduct, they had not studied those impacts.
Most Read Opinion Stories
Today, we have that economic data. A recent independent study by Hebert Research reveals a cost to Seattle businesses in the core impact area of $2 billion to $3.4 billion annually and the elimination of 19,000 to 33,000 jobs. These figures don’t include the costs to West Seattle residents and businesses, or the impact on event-specific venues such as the sports stadiums, Benaroya Hall and Seattle Center.
Some Seattle city administrators have disputed the Hebert study’s findings, claiming that the economic impacts of closure will be offset by re-arranging roads and adding transit, but we are not aware of any existing mitigation proposals. Mitigation plans for both traffic and economic impacts must be considered publicly before a choice is made. The continued economic vitality of the region depends on their efficacy.
There can be little argument that closure of the main north-south thoroughfare for truck traffic going to Port of Seattle facilities and other businesses will cause delay, raise costs and reduce competitiveness. Some counsel that we just have to grit our teeth and fight through to a better future. But it would be tragic to plunge into one of two bad choices, only to discover too late that we should have looked harder at other alternatives that planners have so far rejected.
As manufacturers and businesses located along Seattle’s prime commercial corridor, we doubt whether the economy of the manufacturing, retail and marine industrial sectors can recover from the economic losses that poorly mitigated closure of the viaduct would bring. The planners need to finish the job. Their review has shown that the two original alternatives will exact a price higher than the community can afford.
Given the drastic increase in construction-cost estimates for the two current viaduct options, the immensity of the newly recognized economic losses resulting from closure during construction, and the lack of any public mitigation plan to address these losses, we believe that whatever steps are taken toward a viaduct solution should be careful ones.
While flawed, the review process has worked in some ways, just as it should. It revealed enormous deficiencies in the two initial alternatives, and it brought to light alternatives that are less disruptive.
Let’s complete the public review record of all the costs, including those that will be borne by those who use Interstate 5 and those who work, live and do business in Seattle.
In taking those steps, we encourage Gov. Christine Gregoire to insist on written and documented mitigation plans, vetted by those affected, for traffic and business impacts. And we encourage her and the voters to look at other alternatives — even those set aside by the Washington State Department of Transportation — to see if they might be less costly and less disruptive. Whatever choice is made here will affect our economy for generations to come. Let’s make it the right choice.
Peter Philips is president of the Seattle Marine Business Coalition. Mike Peringer is president of the Sodo Business Association.