Gov. Christine Gregoire this morning called for a public vote on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to break the political stalemate between an affordable elevated structure and a tunnel that is still financially shaky.

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Gov. Christine Gregoire this morning called for a public vote on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to break the political stalemate between an affordable elevated structure and a tunnel that is still financially shaky.


The vote should occur by April within Seattle only. Seattle residents and the city government would be legally responsible to come up with the additional $1.8 billion of expected tunnel cost over what’s available from current gas taxes and federal grants — if city voters approve the tunnel.


If they chose an elevated structure, Gregoire said she expects the state to ensure it’s fully funded. Current costs for that are $2.8 billion, which means lawmakers would need to boost funding about $400 million beyond what the state is contributing now.


Gregoire did not explain in detail how that would happen, but reiterated that the state is responsible for the cost of an elevated highway.


In calling for a public vote, Gregoire said opponents would challenge either the tunnel or the elevated highway through the legislative or permitting processes.


“We are at a political stalemate and must find a path forward to replace the viaduct,” Gregoire said in a statement. “I don’t believe that, without a vote, either option will move forward. We need to hear directly from the people for whom this decision has the most impact.”


She said if costs were no object, the tunnel would be an easy choice. But she said the finance plan for the tunnel alternative is not “feasible and sufficient” to complete the project.


The state Legislature last year asked the city to either vote on a viaduct replacement option or have the City Council choose a replacement by ordinance. While it initially intended to put it to a vote, the council changed its mind and chose the tunnel.


A Seattle Times poll in October found that just 25 percent of Seattle voters want to replace the viaduct with a tunnel while 51 percent want a new viaduct built.


The viaduct, built in 1953, carries 110,000 cars a day and is downtown Seattle’s only north-south alternative to already overloaded Interstate 5.


For years there’s been the debate about how the viaduct should be replaced, since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake caused major cracks in the aging structure.


The earthquake damaged several columns that support the viaduct and cracked the joints and floor beams.


The mayor and the Seattle City Council, as well as the city’s business and arts groups, want a 1.1-mile tunnel along the downtown Seattle waterfront. They say it would open up the waterfront and remove a blight.


But others, including influential state legislators, want the viaduct to be rebuilt. Not only is that a cheaper option, it would require less traffic disruption during construction.


Still others want to retrofit the existing viaduct or simply take it down and use surface streets through the corridor.


The state estimates it will cost $2.8 billion to replace the viaduct with another elevated structure, or $4.6 billion to build a tunnel. Neither option has enough money to cover all the costs, although $2.2 billion from the latest gas-tax increase is dedicated to viaduct replacement.


The city has threatened to increase the costs of an elevated structure, by stalling it and withholding permits, to try to force the tunnel.


Many people thought the governor would choose between the tunnel and the rebuild, but instead she dropped it in the laps of city voters.