Tunnel polls promising

Recent surveys such as a Elway tunnel poll suggests that a 99 Tunnel vote could go either way. But there are some interesting takeaways.

In the poll, among all respondents, the elevated options combined (retrofit or rebuild) beat the tunnel 38% to

Photo courtesy of the city of Seattle
35%.  But the position switches if you include “almost certain” and “very likely” voters, to 38-35% and 35-32% for the tunnel.  It was the “marginal” and “unlikely” respondents who tilted the poll to the elevated option, by a 2-1 margin in the latter case. No word on how many want a retrofit vs. a replacement. The surface idea did terribly across the board, with 21%. The “let’s vote” contingent beat the “don’t vote” by 55-40%. There was fair amount of crossover including “vote” people who support the tunnel and “don’t vote” people who would prefer another option but prefer to move forward anyway.

Of course, the poll didn’t explain the options or their benefits and drawbacks. It’s anyone’s guess how doing so might have affected the numbers. For example it didn’t suggest that most surface concepts involve more transit, and it didn’t include WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond’s recent analysis that voting-related delays would cost $54,000,000 even if the tunnel wins, and $20,000,000 per month for any additional delay after the vote.

Here’s a theory. If greater tunnel support correlates to greater likelihood of voting, perhaps tunnel support also correlates to civic involvement and general knowledge as well. Maybe the majority of both groups are equally informed, but the tunnel opponents include a fair number of standard-issue angry uninformed people as well. These are the people who, anecdotally, still think the tunnel would be along the waterfront, or would require a viaduct closure to build, or would reduce capacity through Downtown. Or they think elevated is better than tunnels in earthquakes, etc. Simply correcting the basics would do a lot of good for the pro-tunnel side.

Surface supporters must be taking the poll like a ton of bricks. The numbers don’t suggest a majority for the tunnel, but they do say that a 73-21% majority prefer a grade-separated 99 (or 73-22% among “almost certain” voters). The idea that “Seattle will fight the state and say no” appears to be a pipe dream. Surface supporters are attempting to throw a wrench to kill the tunnel, but if they somehow succeed they’ll likely give us a taller, wider viaduct for the next 70 years. Or maybe a billion-dollar temporary retrofit followed by another replacement debate in 2030.

Around the same time came another poll suggesting a 28% approval rating for McGinn, with 24% of that being just “good” rather than “excellent.” The negatives were more extreme, with 27% “poor” and 39% “only fair.” Since McGinn is letting his tunnel opposition dominate his agenda, this suggests that voters are either disagree about the tunnel or want him to broaden his focus, or both.

Tunnel supporters have released their own EMC poll results. With wording that was substantially more positive for both sides than Elway’s version, they asked about a two-way vote between the tunnel and surface/transit, and 55-40% preferred the tunnel. Of course this sort of poll is always biased. Perhaps more influential was the voter preference for council members in the next elections — 39% would prefer a pro-tunnel candidate and 20% an anti-tunnel candidate, with 41% unaffected by the tunnel. That’s surprising, but conforms with the idea that tunnel opponents are generally not letting it dominate their opinions, or see the issue as largely settled.

As a tunnel supporter I’m hopeful and optimistic! Ideally the courts will throw out the referendum, and save us most of the $54,000,000 or whatever the number is. And I hope the Magnolia freeway supporter measure goes away. Either way, I hope the Council and State will continue to be leaders as they have been!

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