Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels had hoped that Congress would chip in $1 billion to help fix the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

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U.S. Sen. Patty Murray yesterday threw cold water on Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ hope that Congress would chip in $1 billion to help fix the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Speaking to reporters in her Capitol Hill office, Murray said no one from the city or state had approached her about viaduct funding. But she said she had read press accounts that city officials wanted $1 billion, a sum she called out of the question.

“A billion-dollar request in this budget will be impossible,” she said. “We’ve all got to sit back and be realistic.”

A Nickels spokeswoman stood by the $1 billion request.

“We think the $1 billion from the federal government over 10 years is not unreasonable,” Marianne Bichsel said. “We will work with Sen. Murray to show why it’s necessary.”

The Washington Democrat said she doesn’t need any convincing about the need for a new waterfront highway. But she said Seattle should keep its desires reasonable if it wants to be taken seriously.

“I am deeply concerned about the viaduct,” Murray said. “Unless we have realistic discussions about money, it will always be a discussion. It won’t ever happen. If it’s going to be pie in the sky, it isn’t going to happen.”

State engineers have said there is a 1-in-20 chance that an earthquake will disable the viaduct in the next several years. The viaduct was damaged in the Nisqually quake on Feb. 28, 2001.

Bichsel said the mayor’s and the senator’s staffs had talked about viaduct funding. She also said that Murray and Nickels had met, but she did not know if the $1 billion figure had come up in their discussions.

State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the doubts raised about getting $1 billion from the federal government “puts more pressure” on the Legislature to come up with money for the viaduct. “It’s a state road,” he said.

On Dec. 6, Nickels and state Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald signed an agreement designating the tunnel option as the “preferred alternative” to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Building a tunnel is expected to cost about $4.1 billion.

Last February, Nickels sent letters to U.S. House leaders urging them to approve $1 billion for the viaduct.

Sen. Murray is the highest ranking Democrat on the powerful U.S. Senate Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, which gives out billions of dollars annually.

Congress has yet to pass a six-year transportation package this year, but last year lawmakers were trying to reach consensus on a $299 billion measure. The White House may seek a lower number in an attempt to reduce the federal deficit.

Yesterday wasn’t the first time Sen. Murray butted heads with Nickels over a multibillion-dollar transportation project.

Shortly after Nickels was elected mayor in 2001, Murray strongly suggested he abandon his oft-repeated campaign pledge to break ground on light rail within six months of taking office.

Congress, not the Seattle mayor, would determine when Sound Transit’s light rail was ready to move forward, she told Nickels during a meeting in the Capitol last year.

Nickels quietly dumped his promise, and Congress approved the money in 2003.

Andrew Garber, Times staff reporter, contributed to this report.

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124

or afryer@seattletimes.com