Three groups are challenging the city’s Alaskan Way surface-street plan — including a Pioneer Square organization that says an “eight-lane highway” is too wide to walk across.
Alliance for Pioneer Square is challenging what it calls an “eight-lane highway” proposed to handle increased traffic along Seattle’s central waterfront, after the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down.
The group, which represents businesses and residents, says the widened roadway would intimidate pedestrians and defeat the city’s goal of a more accessible waterfront.
The widest few blocks near the ferry terminal would resemble the new Mercer Street.
An environmental-impact statement, released Oct. 31 by the city’s Waterfront Seattle program, shows a road 111 feet wide from South Main Street to Yesler Way, and almost that wide from South King Street to Main. Attorneys for the alliancehave filed an appeal to stop the plan. A city hearing examiner will rule on the case.
“The goals of Waterfront Seattle were to reconnect Seattle to its waterfront and give its neighborhoods access,” said Leslie Smith, the alliance’s executive director. “I don’t believe Pioneer Square gets that, with this plan,” and other options weren’t adequately considered, she said.
“We are creating a really daunting environment for pedestrians,” Smith said.
Many people will wonder, wasn’t easy walking a big reason the Legislature chose to replace the viaduct with the Highway 99 tunnel now being built?
And the City Council opposed a surface Highway 99 after consultants advised that 40,000 to 75,000 vehicles a day would ruin the public’s enjoyment of the waterfront.
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Still, a highway has long been in the plan over the southernmost four blocks of Alaskan Way, which will take traffic that doesn’t enter the tunnel in Sodo.
Environmental documents for the tunnel in 2009 show the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) intended to build this part of the surface road with at least seven lanes — a strategy condemned by then-mayoral candidate Mike McGinn.
All of the new surface Alaskan Way would be built by perhaps 2020, after the four-lane Highway 99 tunnel is done and the viaduct is demolished.
Because the tunnel bypasses downtown, and it won’t replace the viaduct’s exit to Interbay and Ballard, the surface route is expected to serve car and bus commuters along with freight trucks.
Two general-traffic lanes each way are required by the Port of Seattle’s agreement to contribute $300 million to the $3.1 billion viaduct replacement, co-signed in 2010 by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire. King County Metro Transit insisted on a bus lane each way, to prevent delays for 30,000 passengers who use viaduct routes now. The state ferry system sought two left-turn lanes. And the grand total becomes nine, if you count the northbound parking-loading zone.
“The design committee never liked the idea of as many lanes as are shown there,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s, who worked on advisory panels. The count kept popping back up because of Metro, he said.
Even with protruding sidewalk bulbs at street corners, the proposed crossing is 101 feet. Seniors and slow-walkers would take refuge halfway in the tree-lined median at South Washington or Main streets. They would wait for a second walk signal to reach the sidewalks.
WSDOT plans call for a narrower roadway farther north. Buses would turn uphill at Columbia Street, so beyond that, Alaskan Way would have two lanes each direction plus curbside loading or parking zones.
A large overpass walkway and park are planned from Pike Place Market down to the Seattle Aquarium, as well as bike lanes and promenades at ground level.
Appeals are unlikely to delay the street project, which is expected to cost $200 million to $220 million, said Marshall Foster, city waterfront program director. Final engineering isn’t completed and bids aren’t due until mid-2018, he said.
“It is final,” Foster said of plans shown in the city environmental document, which followed three rounds of public comment. “There’s no other way to say it. It is the final decision when it’s published.”
Nonetheless, there will be discussions with stakeholders and city attorneys, plus the appeal process, he said.
Part of Alaskan Way — from the ferry terminal to Edgar Martinez Drive South — is technically Highway 519. The state Department of Transportation insists on four general lanes.
Meanwhile, businesses in the Historic Seattle Waterfront Association, which includes Miner’s Landing and Great Wheel, said they’re appealing. The group says most visitors drive, so the loss of 642 parking spaces would hinder access.
The city is designing a First Avenue streetcar that will help move tourists, but the route is two blocks uphill from the waterfront.
And the Waterfront Landings Homeowners Association, representing 386 condo residents, also appealed, saying a planned connector bridge from Alaskan Way up to Belltown would bring fumes, noise, light pollution and a 19-foot-high retaining wall next to residents’ windows.
Smith, of the Pioneer Square group, called for a deeper look into alternatives:
• Electronic toll technology to reduce the need for payment booths at the ferry terminal entrance. Quicker entry would reduce overflow traffic in Alaskan Way turn lanes.
• Shared-purpose lanes, because ferry, bus and freight traffic would likely peak at different times of the week. “If everybody compromises a little bit, we could end up with an alignment of five or six lanes,” Smith hopes.
• Shifting of Highway 99 bus routes into Sodo using First Avenue South, the future Lander Street Overpass and Fourth Avenue South, to reduce the planned 600 buses using the waterfront.
On the other hand, Highway 99 tunnel contractors are already building a stadium-area exit ramp that provides a bus lane to the waterfront. Metro has struggled to secure bus lanes continuing north to Columbia Street, to avoid wasting several minutes per trip.
Foster said the city will engineer Alaskan Way so that in 2030 — when Sound Transit 3 light rail replaces the waterfront bus corridor to West Seattle — city crews could fill one lane in each direction with trees and grassy, rain-absorbing bioswales.