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I Wasn’t Going to Vote… January 23, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in life.

On Feb 6 Seattle will have a special election. I’m not sure what first motivated it, but, well, there it is. Currently there are (I think) two school-board related propositions on it. Until the Seattle city council went a little nuts.

What a stinkin’ mess. The Seattle City Council’s Friday meeting, when it voted on the language of the advisory ballot for how the Alaskan Way Viaduct should be replaced, was emblematic of just how badly this city is flailing.

Indeed. Here is the deal. Once in a great while we have earthquakes up in this corner of the world. We are on the ring of fire, afterall. This means all our buildings have to be built to withstand earthquakes. That includes bridges and other things. After the last big earthquake Seattle discovered the downtown viaduct was not safe and had to be replaced.

The viaduct is ugly (I hope that link works). That is the water front along there. Lots of tourist stuff, lots of people. Cruise ships. And the viaduct makes everything dark and scary. It effectively draws a line there — on the water side everything is people oriented. Piers for sitting and hanging out, small museums, etc. On the other side warehouses, depots, and trash. Tearing down the viaduct would completely remains the area; Seattle would have a rare chance that a city hardly ever does to remake itself.

But where to put all that traffic? 99 is a major thru route. And as any of you who live here in Seattle know, traffic is a real problem. Removing it and having all the traffic over on Interstate 5 would make an already intolerable situation worse. Burry it in a tunnel!

That would be great, but there is one problem with that: it is expensive. $3.5 billion bucks is the estimation. To just replace the viaduct would cost $2.5 billion. And there is the problem that the $3.5 billion won’t be as large. I’m a firm believer that good roads are needed for a city to grow (which Seattle is!).

What an awful choice! Get back what you had, with its evils (perhaps they can design it a bit better), or constrict another roadway (with years before a light rail system is in place). On the other hand, I love walking down along the water and I really hate the noise of the highway above, and the way it seals off the city. So, even though it costs more and won’t help with Seattle’s traffic problems, I’m for the tunnel.

The Governor of the State of Washington, who is eminently sensible, is not. Given the trade offs I wouldn’t be either if I was in her office. The mayor of Seattle is in favor of the tunnel. To put pressure on the state the mayor decided to add to the ballot a question on which version of the replacement we would prefer. But… here is the crazy part, somehow it came out to be two questions: 1) Would you like to see the viaduct replaced with another viaduct? 2) Would you like to see the viaduct replaced by a tunnel? You can answer yes to both, or no to both, or whatever! And further, since the governor holds the biggest purse strings here, it isn’t likely to matter.

And walking around Seattle today I overheard a few conversations along the lines of “can you believe what the city council did!?”.

But I’m going to show my support anyway. I’ll vote yes on the tunnel and no on the bridge. I won’t matter: almost no one will show up for this ballot.



1. Dave Bacon - January 23, 2007

I wonder if the opening of the new Olympic sculpture park will make people more incliined to the arguments for replacing the beast with a tunnel?

BTW when we drive down the viaduct (what a nice way to get to the airport from Queen Anne) we always have a debate about what you should do if you are on the bottom level and an earthquake hits. Over the side so you don’t get crushed? Take your chances getting crushed? All while chanting “no earthquake, no earthquake…” 🙂

2. gordonwatts - January 23, 2007

Ah, this is classic! I also take 99 home from the airport (live in Belltown). I visited the park the other day (I’d have pictures up if it weren’t for computer problems) — 99 is no where near, so I doubt it will have much impact on the discussion.

3. Matt - January 27, 2007

While I cannot speak to the municipal and state governments of Washington, I say…”Remember Massachusetts,” when you contemplate burying a highway. And the “other green monster” can contend with any raised highway in pure ugliness. Just a word of caution from a New Englander that has watched that mess in bean town for a decade.

4. gordonwatts - January 29, 2007

Matt — good point. I think in the end that is the direction we are going to go.

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