A ballot measure for regional highways was overhauled Friday, shifting $800 million once meant for an Alaskan Way Tunnel toward Seattle-area...
A ballot measure for regional highways was overhauled Friday, shifting $800 million once meant for an Alaskan Way Tunnel toward Seattle-area streets and a new Highway 520 bridge.
The cash became available — at least in theory, assuming voters approve higher taxes in November — because Seattle recently abandoned plans for a six-lane tunnel that required regional help, its most expensive option for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Instead, the state is considering a six-lane elevated highway to replace the aging viaduct; the city now desires a four-lane tunnel, in which shoulders would become exit lanes at rush hour. Those two choices are on a March 13 citywide advisory ballot.
With the six-lane tunnel dead, the regional plan can earmark $800 million to: rebuild Seattle’s Mercer Street, South Lander Street and Spokane Street Viaduct; add ramps from Interstate 5 to the Sodo busway; replace the South Park Bridge; build bus lanes on Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline; and help fund the new floating bridge across Lake Washington.
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Council members from Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, acting as the Regional Transportation Investment District, reshuffled the money Friday, as they worked toward a final plan by spring.
In other changes Friday, the panel added a $380 million high-occupancy-vehicle ramp project in Renton, linking Highway 167 to Interstate 405.
And in south Pierce County, the panel increased funds to $477 million for a new Cross-Base Highway, from I-5 to the booming Spanaway area, despite complaints it would damage marshes and oak prairies.
Now that a $4.6 billion, six-lane waterfront tunnel in Seattle has been dropped in favor of cheaper options, politicians are changing a November regional highway ballot measure to move the tunnel’s $800 million share to these projects:
Highway 520: Boost of $200 million toward a new floating bridge.
Mercer Street: Rebuild for two-way travel, pedestrian use, and better links to Aurora Avenue North, $150 million.
South Lander Street: Overpasses to move container trucks and other traffic over railroad tracks, $70 million.
Spokane Street Viaduct: Transit ramps to Sodo busway, wider lanes, safety improvements, $130 million.
Interstate 5 bus ramps: Ramps from HOV lanes to Sodo, for faster express-bus travel, $100 million.
South Park Bridge: Replace failing span that serves industrial area and low-income neighborhood, $110 million.
Aurora Avenue North: New lanes in Shoreline for bus rapid transit and business access, $40 million.
Source: Regional Transportation Investment District. More details at www.rtid.org.
Some projects will require additional funding sources.
The share for the 520 bridge increased Friday from $800 million to $1.1 billion, as the group added $200 million in former tunnel funds and $100 million by canceling a Coal Creek Parkway interchange along I-405. Tolls could supply another $700 million. The total $1.8 billion would cover less than half the cost of a six-lane span, but local officials hope Friday’s boost will inspire the Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire to supply the rest.
Rising concrete, steel and labor prices have wreaked havoc on highway budgets. In December, new state estimates for the regional plan’s largest projects were 31 percent above previous forecasts.
To cope with higher costs, officials are reducing the scope of some of the projects and planning to sell bonds. The new regional plan assumes $4.7 billion in debt payments, on top of the $8.7 billion list of projects plus $934 million for inflation and cash reserves, for a total $14.3 billion.
The regional highway plan will be paired on the ballot with a Sound Transit measure to extend light-rail tracks to Lynnwood, Bellevue and the Port of Tacoma. The measures are linked — both must pass or both fail.
The roads portion would cost a typical household $107 a year in new car-tab and sales taxes, while the Sound Transit measure would increase sales taxes $125.
Next, the group hopes to convince lawmakers that the state should back the bonds for the regional projects, to help the new RTID agency reduce its interest rates and save money. That way, Chairman Shawn Bunney said, another $300 million could be put toward the floating bridge.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org