Gov. Christine Gregoire this morning left the door open to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. Without committing herself to a course of action...

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OLYMPIA — Gov. Christine Gregoire this morning left the door open to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

Without committing herself to a course of action, the governor said she wants to hear what voters say in a March 13 election in Seattle on the viaduct.

“There is no question that the next big issue is what do the voters say,” Gregoire said at a news conference today.

The Seattle City Council voted 6-3 Friday to put two questions on an advisory ballot. One asks voters if they prefer to replace the viaduct with a $2.8 billion elevated highway; the other asks if they want to replace the viaduct with a $3.4 billion tunnel.

“We’re pleased that the governor appears to be willing to listen to what the voters of Seattle say about this.” said Marianne Bichsel, spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Nickels. She said the mayor today sent a letter to the governor asking her to reconvene the viaduct Expert Review Panel “to do an independent politics-free analysis of this proposal.”

Gregoire’s position also was cheered by City Councilwoman Jan Drago, chair of the Transportation Committee. “This issue is highly emotional. This is absolutely positive news. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Today King County Elections agreed the viaduct vote will be conducted with an all-mail ballot, a first for the city. The vote is estimated to cost $1 million.

The proposed four-lane tunnel is an alternative to a $4.6 billion six-lane model that had been on the table. However, the new tunnel proposal has not been fully vetted. Gregoire said there are many unanswered questions. She wants to get as many of them answered as possible before it goes to a vote.

After that, it’s not clear what will happen.

“The end of the legislative session is the final say because we’re moving forward with one of the two options we had in December (the elevated highway or the $4.6 billion tunnel) or whatever the Legislature may choose alternatively,” Gregoire said.


Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore contributed to this report