Thirty members of the House Democratic caucus have sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire arguing the state should replace the Alaskan...

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OLYMPIA — Thirty members of the House Democratic caucus have sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire arguing the state should replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with an elevated highway rather than a tunnel.

Gregoire has said she’ll decide between a new viaduct and a tunnel by the end of the year.

The Nov. 16 letter sent by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and members of his caucus basically reaffirms what House Democratic leaders have been saying for a while, said Marty Brown, Gregoire’s legislative liaison.

“It’s one more piece of information,” Brown said, noting that Gregoire got a letter in September from nine lawmakers in the House and Senate who supported the tunnel.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council also support replacing the viaduct with a tunnel.

The letter sent by Chopp and other members of his caucus stated that “an above-ground solution is the only viable option to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct” and that the “tunnel is a luxury the taxpayers of Washington cannot afford.”

The letter was signed by Chopp, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and House Appropriations Chairwoman Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, among others.

The latest state estimates put the likely cost of a tunnel at $4.6 billion and a new viaduct at $2.8 billion. The state says the existing viaduct has weakened over the years and could collapse in an earthquake.

Brown downplayed Gregoire’s role in deciding the viaduct’s fate, saying that after she makes a decision, the matter is subject to approval by the Legislature.

“A lot of people are making it out to be her decision, but the legislators are the ones with the purse strings. They’re the ones who eventually decide,” he said.

He also said the governor’s choices aren’t limited to a new viaduct or a tunnel. “It’s feasible she could say ‘I don’t think any of these things are financially viable, look again,’ ” Brown said, adding, “I don’t know she’s going to do that.”

Senate Transportation Committee Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said the letter sent by House Democrats was “unfortunate.”

“We gave the governor the responsibility to make a decision, and I think it’s inappropriate to put that kind of pressure on her,” Haugen said. “She has a tough decision to make.”

The House hasn’t selected a lawmaker to head its Transportation Committee. However, several legislators who signed the letter opposing the tunnel are in the running for the job.

Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or agarber@seattletimes.com