Posts Tagged ‘tunnel’

SOME things are clear on election night

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

As of 11:50 p.m. election night, most Seattle and King County votes haven’t been counted yet.

But some people don’t know that, and are already proclaiming McGinn over Mallahan. Way too early, guys. Those were the ballots that arrived early. Historically, later ballots trend differently, often in ways hard to predict. Sometimes the later votes are younger or more liberal. In this case, McGinn’s switcharoo on the tunnel might have hurt him, at least according to polling. But the damage would only show for people who voted after the 20th, when his announcement made the papers (ballots have to be mailed out 18 days in advance).

Conversely, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who voted for McGinn specifically because he mellowed out on the tunnel, allowing them to make their vote about other issues, where he had some good ideas in areas like density, sustainability and transit. This might have helped him after the shock wore off. If he wins, I hope he’ll do exactly as he said on his central issue: be a good watchdog, but not get in the way of the tunnel.

Personally I think Mallahan has at least a 50 percent chance right now…purely based on public and newspaper Web site info. My guess is McGinn lost some true believers due to the tunnel switch, without gaining the same number to replace them. More results come out at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the King County voter site.

Constantine vs. Hutchison is a wee bit more clear…she got trounced, currently by 14 points, worse than any poll. It’s an odd trend in this state, with votes frequently going significantly further left than polls suggested, with Rossi and McGavick being other examples. Theories will abound, like R-71 (drawing young voters more than conservatives perhaps?), cell phones (hard to poll and not properly accounted for by pollsters), late ads, etc. Also, the left has a volunteer advantage that helps get voters to vote. Hutchison’s idea of not talking about major aspects of her political beliefs didn’t appear to work, as we voters tend to care about our politicians’ political beliefs. Looking forward, this race has implications for many urban issues, such as Constantine’s greater support for saving bus service and building light rail.

Miraculously, voters seem to be figuring out Tim Eyman. Initiative 1033, designed to employ Tim Eyman, while also gutting state and local government services long-term and hopefully engendering political maneuvering that would continue to employ Tim Eyman, is down almost 11 points right now. At minimum, voters seem to be looking past the apple-pie ballot titles and thinking twice, perhaps remembering past initiatives. Eyman’s initiatives tend to poll well early but tail off as people learn more, and lately they’ve been tailing off into “landslide loss” territory.

And how about the housing levy currently winning by 17 points? Seattle’s housing programs are one of the great prides of this city. Aided by these levies, the Seattle Housing Authority and Seattle’s array of outstanding non-profits build and maintain significant amounts of housing, and manage to improve neighborhoods in the process through attractive, long-life design and construction.

Out with the viaduct … in with I-605?

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Replacing the viaduct with a surface streets could stall traffic downtown.
Replacing the viaduct with the surface-and-transit option could stall traffic downtown and encourage highway construction elsewhere.

The current mayoral race has placed the viaduct-replacement issue squarely back into the public limelight after most of us thought the issue had been put to bed, what with the governor’s and Legislature’s approval of the deep-bore tunnel option, as well as the accompanying funding commitments.

Both mayoral candidates have raised the issue of the viaduct replacement, with one issuing renewed and strident calls to reconsider the surface-and-transit option.

While the surface-and-transit option seems to be readily embraced by the nominally environmentally conscious activists, I’ve been wondering recently if their concerns may not be both overly simplistic and somewhat shortsighted, as well as possibly self-defeating.

We have heard and read much discussion in the media about the relative validity of arguments on both sides of the issue of whether the throughput of the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct can reasonably be reduced and/or otherwise accommodated by surface streets.  Activists promote the notion that greater and more attractive transit options will remove a certain amount of the vehicle traffic, leaving the remainder to be accommodated by an enhanced network of the existing surface streets.  Detractors protest that most of the throughput traffic is not transit-compatible and that diverting a huge volume of additional traffic onto the surface streets will create gridlock all day long on virtually all downtown Seattle streets.  These issues have been volleyed back and forth in the public debate ad nauseam, but there’s one additional concern that I have been discussing lately that I have not yet seen much coverage on.

Sharing the concern that simply cutting off one of our region’s major north-south highways will reduce downtown Seattle’s streets to a virtual standstill during most daylight hours, I wonder what impact the sharply exacerbated choke point of downtown Seattle within the Puget Sound area’s north-south regional transportation corridor would have on the pressure to consider future road-building in suburbia and exurbia?

You may remember that every few years pro-development forces on the Eastside raise the issue of the “Foothills Freeway,” or I-605, that would consist of a more distant loop around the easternmost edge of our metropolitan area.  If north-south circulation through the metro area is even further complicated by the removal of one of the region’s vital north-south highways, the I-605 promoters would essentially be offered more fuel for their fire.  Constant gridlock on I-5 and the downtown Seattle streets, coupled with the congestion already on I-405, could lead to a ready-made argument in favor of efforts to pursue an I-605.

And we need to ask: Even if some magical combination of street improvements and synchronized traffic signals could accommodate the existing Highway 99 flow through downtown (which I do not believe is possible), what about future growth?  Do the streets-and-transit promoters think the region will stop growing?

Now, in addition to the already oft-mentioned litany of environmental impacts from potentially gridlocked downtown Seattle streets (i.e., substantially increased vehicle idling and resulting air pollution, increased noise, and a markedly diminished pedestrian environment), we could add the potential consequence that the loss of the Highway 99 corridor through downtown Seattle could lead to the development of I-605.  Any environmentally conscious individual knows that the construction of a major new freeway in any metropolitan area literally paves the way to urbanization in its path.  Is that what we want virtually on the slopes of the Cascades?

Mayor Nickels, Gov. Gregoire and the state Legislature all recognized, and thankfully so, that the viaduct should not be replaced with a new modern-age monstrosity along our waterfront.  They also recognized that the vital transportation corridor that Highway 99 plays not only in Seattle, but in our entire region,  must be preserved.  The tunnel was and is the only option that accomplishes both noble objectives.  Environmental activists need to look beyond their Seattle-centric view of the world and see that Highway 99 is not just a Seattle problem, but a regionwide problem.  And the potential, long-term environmental impacts of the streets-and-transit option are far greater than the theoretical, short-term reduction of vehicle trips that that option is purported to create.

The case for the deep bore tunnel

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Right now, a drill rig is outside on First Avenue, testing soil conditions for the deep bore tunnel.  The plan is far from certain obviously, but progress of any kind is exciting! Meanwhile it’s working its way through the legislature. This is a good time to hit some key points and dispel some misconceptions.

The tunnel would have more capacity than the current tunnel, not less. The same two lanes each way, plus breakdown lanes that avoid backups. The missing third lane is replaced by people exiting before Downtown rather than in Downtown.

It might save money vs. the alternatives despite costing more. What’s the price of several years of massive disruption with the aerial or shallow-cut alternatives? How many stores would fail, offices would move away, residents wouldn’t move in, and tourists wouldn’t come? (not to mention the effect of being next to another eyesore for another lifetime)

It’s realistic about traffic. The surface-option supporters have great motives. But they’re mistaken. Better transit would reduce trips somewhat, and many drivers might simply move. But tens of thousands of cars per day would be added to surface streets. Political concessions to the driving public would turn Downtown streets into highways focused on throughput rather than those who work, live, or shop here. For example, the PI instantly suggested fewer pedestrian crossings when the original surface option was shortlisted.

A tunnel helps Downtown function. Downtown Seattle is the dominant economic engine of our region, and plays an important role for most locals, whether working here, attending events, or just getting through. It’s tough to concentrate so much activity in a narrow area, but we do pretty well because of tunnels, including the BN tunnel, the transit tunnel, the existing 99 tunnel, and even the covered part of I-5. Downtown is growing. Putting 99 underground gets the through traffic through (without encouraging more driving) while allowing Downtown to be what it can be.

It avoids another 50-year mistake. Cities that succeed in the coming decades will have quality of life (as well as functionality; see above). The central waterfront and our surface streets are essential parts of that.

I think it’ll pass. The plan mixes best-case attributes and lacks strong anti constituencies. The “view while driving” crowd seems numerous but they ought to watch the road and will look foolish if the initiative goes anywhere. Through-drivers get their freeway (without more lanes to encourage more driving), Interbay gets a wider Alaskan Way and non-jammed streets, transit users end up with more transit (even if indirectly), Downtown people get our great waterfront and hold on to our walkability, and locals shoulder the difference in cost, which is a manageable figure.

PS, did everyone notice that Sound Transit just bid two two tunnel sections for massively less than projected?  They came in 23 percent and 34 percent under Sound Transit’s estimates, at a combined $329 million rather than $425 million. This is encouraging for the deep bore 99!