Remove the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct and replace it with the Waterfront Parkway — parkland on top, an enclosed elevated transit level and new retail space below, creating a bridge to the waterfront.
IT has been nearly seven years since the Nisqually earthquake struck the Puget Sound area. The 6.8 magnitude earthquake caused billions of dollars in damages to our region and severely damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.
While there is a strong consensus that we must not wait any longer to replace the deteriorating viaduct, our community has remained divided for too long on a solution that meets all of our needs. Fortunately, there is an exciting proposal being considered that can break the stalemate. This proposal is the culmination of 18 months of work and includes the unique perspectives of business and labor leaders, environmental and neighborhood activists, and elected officials from throughout the Seattle region.
As representatives of three of those communities, we believe that the Waterfront Parkway is the right solution to replacing the crumbling viaduct. It is an innovative project that promises to be as unique to Seattle as Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. It opens Seattle up to its waterfront. It creates a mile-long park that enhances the views we love of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. It is an economic-development and tourism project. It is an essential environmental project that reduces toxic runoff into Elliott Bay and envisions dedicated transit express-bus lanes.
Most of all, it creates a new and expanded transportation corridor that can be constructed on budget with funds already approved, and at the same time add a unique new jewel to Seattle’s crown.
What exactly is the Waterfront Parkway? How can it address all of our needs?
Rather than a tunnel, it is an elevated-but-enclosed parkway topped by a major park running its entire length. The park will link the Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium, and Safeco and Qwest Fields and provide exceptional views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Its unique attributes will allow the Waterfront Parkway to rival some of the great parks of the world, including New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate.
Elevated, but quite different from the ugly structure that blocks the waterfront today. Rather than a barrier, the Waterfront Parkway becomes a bridge to the waterfront, opening it up and linking key Seattle points in ways few thought possible.
The Waterfront Parkway will also use the space under the elevated roadway to create unique retail and mixed-use space for everything from art galleries to office space to new restaurants. All this to meet the increased demand for services that will be created by the parkway, making this the only solution that actually takes advantage of private investment to help pay for some of the amenities that will make it a world-class project.
The Waterfront Parkway is a transforming new park, it is mixed-use space, and it is environmentally the best option. By enclosing the traffic and covering it with a park, toxic runoff into Puget Sound will be significantly reduced, and the noise pollution that today marks Seattle’s waterfront with a constant dull roar will be significantly reduced. It will increase open space and expand transit, bike and pedestrian corridors.
As envisioned, the Waterfront Parkway will maintain and enhance the throughput of people and freight that the viaduct provides today without forcing more traffic onto Interstate 5, and it can be built in stages to minimize downtime during construction.
While some are advocating for replacing the viaduct with either a surface road or a cut-and-cover tunnel, we believe that the Waterfront Parkway accomplishes what other solutions promise — opening up the waterfront while rebuilding this critical transportation corridor in a timely fashion with no additional tax dollars.
It is the only viable plan that meets or exceeds all of the criteria set forth by stakeholders, including affordability and increased public safety. In addition, this project is the only option that includes a substantial economic-development opportunity for the heart of our downtown.
Additional work needs to be done to finalize this proposal. We expect and need input, tough questions and an open mind. With a shared vision of what is possible, we can turn the parkway into a uniquely Seattle landmark blending efficiency, economic opportunity and environmental values.
As representatives of Seattle communities, we share the belief that the Waterfront Parkway is a unique opportunity to protect our environment, rebuild and expand this critical transportation corridor, and open up the waterfront for generations to come.
Nick Hanauer is a Seattle-area venture capitalist and board member of the Cascade Land Conservancy; Dave Johnson is executive secretary of the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council; Eugene Wasserman is president of the North Seattle Industrial Association.