Seattle voters will weigh March 13 whether to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with an elevated highway or a four-lane tunnel.

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Seattle voters will weigh in March 13 on whether to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with an elevated highway or a four-lane tunnel.

The Seattle City Council voted 6-3 this afternoon to put two alternatives on the advisory ballot. Council members seemed unsure what would happen if both measures pass or fail. One will be an up-or-down vote on the elevated viaduct and the other, also an up-or-down measure, will ask if voters favor a four-lane tunnel.

The council has not yet finalized the ballot wording, but members did agree to list $3.41 billion as the cost for the four-lane tunnel, a trimmed-down tunnel alternative that Mayor Greg Nickels began promoting this week. The measure asking voters if they support a new elevated structure will indicate that most of the funding for its $2.8 billion cost has been secured.

The city is asking King County to have an all-mail election. The cost has been estimated at $1 million. Replacement of the viaduct would be the only issue on the special-election ballot.

The March 13 vote represents a last-ditch effort by the city to gather support for a tunnel, which, big or small, would be pricier than a new elevated structure.

The council action also caps a tumultuous week over how replace the 1953 viaduct.

Nickels on Tuesday began championing the four-lane tunnel as a good alternative to the $4.6 billion, six-lane tunnel he had wanted for so long. The four-lane tunnel would carry just as many cars as a six-lane tunnel, he said, and cut $1.2 billion from the price.

The next day, Gov. Christine Gregoire and legislative leaders said the four-lane tunnel was not an option, and the state will either replace the viaduct with an elevated highway or shift more than $2 billion from the viaduct to the Highway 520 floating bridge.

In December, Gregoire had been expected to announce whether a six-lane tunnel or an elevated highway would be built along the Seattle waterfront. Instead, she called on Seattle voters to decide the issue, saying it was the only way to break a political stalemate over the two options. She was criticized for punting, but this week took a harder stand after hearing that Seattle might not hold a vote until after the Legislature adjourned — if it held a vote at all.

Her announcement prompted Nickels and council members to work toward the March advisory vote.

“We’ve been coerced” by the state to hold the election, said council member Peter Steinbrueck, who voted no with David Della and council President Nick Licata. “I see this as political tyranny, the choices have been rigged for us.”

The four-lane tunnel idea, called the “hybrid tunnel” by the city, has been intensively studied only since Jan. 5 — at the city’s request — by the state Department of Transportation, project consultants, and an expert review panel appointed last year to look at the viaduct and Highway 520 bridge. The panel said the smaller tunnel “showed promise” and could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

But DOT officials ceased work on the issue Jan. 11 and said the state would not fund further viaduct study by the panel.

State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald said today he couldn’t comment on whether the city’s $3.41 billion figure is credible.

“We are not going to say anything about a number that we haven’t had a chance to examine,” he said.

Councilwoman Jan Drago, head of the council’s transportation committee, said after today’s vote that if the DOT didn’t study the new tunnel costs, the city would hire an independent firm the council hopes will validate the numbers.

Drago, who supports the four-lane tunnel, said a vote was the only way to avoid having an elevated highway forced on the city.

“We don’t need Olympia dictating to Seattle,” she said. “We can speak for ourselves.

Susan Gilmore: or 206-464-2054. Mike Lindblom: or 206-515-5631.