Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Alaska Way Viaduct

I've received my ballot for a mail-in vote on the issue of Seattle's Alaska Way viaduct and I have to admit that I'm befuddled.

Here's the situation as I understand it so far: The Alaska Way viaduct is a major north-south thoroughfare for Seattle, an elevated section of Washington State Route 99 that carries over 100,000 vehicles per day. It was damaged in the 2001 earthquake, forcing the issue of its removal or replacement. The argument about how to "fix" the viaduct situation has been going on for six years and in two week voters are being asked to vote on two options, but only as "Advisory Ballot Measures" which we're reminded repeatedly are "advisory only" (bringing to mind the FOUR pro-monorail votes that never resulted in any actual transit improvements, or the vote against funding a new sports stadium that resulted in the state legislature finding a way to go ahead with the plan without voter approval). The two plans on the ballot are the "surface-tunnel hybrid alternative" and the "elevated structure alternative".

Now, under either of these plans, the current viaduct comes down and traffic goes...somewhere...while tunnels or new elevated structures are built. They're predicting three years for the construction but having seen the construction surrounding the light rail project near my house, I know better than to believe that. They always undersell these things. More like five or six years of those 100,000 cars a day moving...somewhere...during construction.

I'm not a commute driver. Chris and I already use transit and Flexcar. I don't live near the waterfront and, frankly, I don't much care about waterfront condo views or how "noisy" the highway is. Having just been to New York, and seen the gridlocked surface streets and the constant angry horn honking, anyone who thinks that removing the viaduct and pushing those vehicles onto Seattle's surface streets is going to make the "noise" go away is living in a fantasy world.

When I look at the options, I can't get behind any of them. Seattle's roads are a mess but even people like me who really want to go transit have a hell of a time doing it because the bus system is unreliable. I can't count the number of times I've waited for a bus that is only scheduled to come every 30 minutes only to have it just flat out not show up at all. Late at night the buses stop running altogether or run once an hour while you wait out in the cold, dark, and rain. No, this is no New York. To the people arguing for tunnels along the waterfront I say "Big Dig". Surely I'm not the only person out here skeptical about digging a transit tunnel for car traffic in an area where flooding and earthquakes are a concern? Hell, we can't even get these guys to build a new bridge across the lake to the east side, and they want to talk tunnels? On the other hand, the proponents for the new elevated structure would build something that they're projecting would take between 10 and 12 years to complete and would be 75% larger than the current structure. Even if their claims that such a structure could be built so we're not at risk of having a collapse ala the Cypress Street Viaduct during the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989, we're talking about a decade of moving that traffic...somewhere...during construction. At that point, after the viaduct has been closed for a decade and we've (hopefully) begun to address all the environmental issues involving cars, oil dependence, and climate change that we've been strictly ignoring thus far, why bother re-issuing the invitation to increase automobile traffic? When the solution to a problem that's been dragging on for six years already is "Fifteen years from now we'll have a nice new elevated structure," it makes me want to throw my hands up.

I would like to see Seattle improve its mass transit infrastructure. I think the light rail, if it's actually completed and running in 2009 as they're saying, is a good start but it needs to be expanded greatly no matter what happens with the viaduct. I don't think making the viaduct disappear is going to magically "bring the people closer to their waterfront" or improve low-income housing opportunities (yes, I've actually heard that one!). I think "redevelopment" of the viaduct area has condo builders slavering at the chance to build more condos (with views!) that they can sell to people who don't flinch at dropping half a mil on a shoe box overlooking the sound. Removing the viaduct isn't going to help the average working citizen of Seattle in his daily life. Something has to be done but I don't have any faith in these proposals or the people pushing them.

Labels: , ,


for this post

Blogger Becky C. Says:

A underground tunnel would be wonderful in Seattle--but if you have lived through the nightmare of the Big Dig (a/k/a Big Pig) you would seriously reconsider this.



Leave a Reply