In an 8-1 vote Monday, the Seattle City Council kept its promise to move ahead on the proposed Highway 99 tunnel project and tried to thwart...
In an 8-1 vote Monday, the Seattle City Council kept its promise to move ahead on the proposed Highway 99 tunnel project and tried to thwart the chance that a referendum could be filed to stop it.
The council’s resolution basically reiterates the city’s intent to sign necessary agreements with the state — but not until early next year. By postponing a final vote, the council buys the city time to assess the final bids on the project before signing a final agreement with the state Department of Transportation.
As envisioned, the $2 billion project calls for the world’s widest single-bore tunnel — 56 feet — to be built under downtown. It is the largest piece of an overall $3.1 billion replacement for the old Alaskan Way Viaduct. Millions more would be spent on a waterfront park, sea wall and streets.
The council rejected an amendment by Councilmember Mike O’Brien that sought to prevent the agreements until state lawmakers repeal a 2009 clause that says “Seattle-area property owners who benefit” would pay any costs in excess of $2.8 billion.
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O’Brien also wanted to wait until the Port of Seattle specifies how it will contribute $300 million it promised. The majority of the council rejected that, saying the clause was an affront to pro-tunnel intergovernmental cooperation.
The council did pass another O’Brien amendment to make the state explain any changes negotiated in the final contract, to highlight any new cost risks.
The agreements between the city and state deal with street access, utilities and other issues that could affect the ability of contractors to finish work by 2016.
Two teams are working toward an October bid deadline. The risk of cost overruns in such construction tends to be extreme, though the state plans to have a cash reserve that Program Administrator Ron Paananen estimates at $340 million, he said Monday.
Monday’s council resolution requires the state “to demonstrate that it can complete all elements” of the tunnel within DOT’s budget.
The council also passed nonbinding language for new transit taxes for the Alaskan Way Viaduct corridor. Last year, state leaders pledged to let King County Metro Transit seek a $100 car-tab tax to expand bus service, but legislators haven’t followed through yet.
O’Brien, a longtime environmentalist, wanted tougher language. Otherwise, “we may end up with a highway, but no transit funding in the future,” he said.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen accused him of stalling. “People have forgotten the urgency, over a period of time how vulnerable this viaduct structure is,” he said.
The 1953 highway, built atop weak fill soil, was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.
Monday’s 8-1 vote, with O’Brien against, isn’t likely to put the controversy on ice.
Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel filed an initiative last week to prevent city right of way from tunnel uses. And Brady Montz of the local Sierra Club chapter said earlier Monday that he, along with social-service advocates, will consider the council’s moves before deciding whether to resist the tunnel through a citizens’ ballot measure.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631; firstname.lastname@example.org.