The latest on Seattle's version of the CRC

Kyle Curtis Facebook

For those not paying close attention to regional transportation issues throughout the Pacific Northwest, it might be of a surprise that the much-maligned Columbia River Crossing is not the only controversial transportation infrastructure redesign that would affect I-5. Indeed, just a couple hundred miles to the north our neighbors in Seattle face certain dilemmas as a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct is considered, dilemmas that include similar charged rhetoric as the CRC debate has contained.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is an aging elevated section of State Road 99 that cuts across Seattle from north to south, the only other road besides I-5 to traverse the city in this direction. The Viaduct was badly damaged in the 2001 earthquake, and in the decade since there have been various proposals for a replacement. The current proposed bored tunnel- and the available funding sources that will cover the tunnel's costs- are a hot-button political issue with the only guaranteed result is the squirming and uncomfortableness of elected public officials.

Granted the replacement of the Alskan Way Viaduct pales in comparison to replacing at he Interstate Bridge, a major artery along an international freeway connecting goods and services from Canada and Mexico that also happens to be a vertical lift bridge. But driving on I-5 through Seattle via the non-express lanes can attest, the commute becomes a major slog

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    Also worth mentioning, Seattle voters have a chance to vote against the deep-bore tunnel:

    http://www.protectseattlenow.org/

    The election is August 16th.

    The Stranger is doing a great job of tearing the tunnel boosters' claims to pieces:

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/a-quick-and-dirty-guide-to-rejecting-the-tunnel/Content?oid=9323195

    And Sightline Daily's "Top Headlines" is a great place to keep up with both CRC and tunnel news (and environmental and social justice news in general):

    http://daily.sightline.org/

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    Some slight corrections:

    The Alaskan Way Viaduct is the same design and construction as the Nimitz Freeway Viaduct that infamously pancaked during the Loma Prieta(World Series) earthquake in 1989.

    Both viaducts are built on top of loose fill that had previously been placed in the respective bay areas of San Francisco and Seattle. Seattle more so due to the use of hydraulic mining techniques to literally wash hillsides down into the bay to remove tidal flats.

    Both are 1950's construction that create visual impediments from high priced highrises to the bays.

    Unlike the Nimitz in 1989, the Alaskan Way was not 'badly' damaged in Seattle's mild 2001 earthquake. The real damage was to the seawall that protects the freeway. However, emergency experts correctly point out that due to the fill and soil composition that there is no inexpensive way to make the current infratructure safe in a large earthquake. They further predict a 5% chance of the infrastructure failing due to earthquake in the next 20 years.

    That being said, the prospects of a tunnel, or really buried freeway along Eliot Bay brings up concerns of Boston's 'Big Dig' enormous and legendary cost over runs.

    The vote on August 16th is technical in nature and will have no impact on the tunnel process beginning on schedule (unfortunately).

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    Over on Crosscut.com, there is a defense of the proposed tunnel to replace the Alaskan Viaduct written by Dave Gering, Executive Director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle , "Why the waterfront is key to the region's economy." Some excerpts:

    Only two roads, limited-access or otherwise, traverse Seattle north-to-south, I-5 and SR 99. These two are also the primary highway arteries serving a triangle formed by the three major Boeing production facilities at Boeing Field, Paine Field, and Renton. The triangle also includes the home port for the north Pacific Fishing Fleet (still a big deal financially) and the marine cargo sector based on Elliott Bay. The triangle also includes hundreds of Boeing suppliers and thousands of companies engaged in metal fabricating, machine making, air, sea, and land freight transportation, wholesale-distributors, and specialty trade construction.

    Yet when Seattle focused its political conversation on the issue of replacing the viaduct, the discussions almost always started with the central waterfront, viaduct vs. parks, new vs. old, etc. But from the perspective of the regional economy, the more important starting point was how to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct while preserving through capacity on I-5. It was critical to keep our civic eye on the volume of wealth created throughout the triangle.

    The I-5 solution requires keeping SR 99 functional while a viaduct replacement is being built, so as to keep as much traffic as possible from diverting to I-5 from SR 99. Before the deep bore tunnel emerged, no solution could fix the I-5/SR 99 flow issue during construction. Once the tunnel emerged in December, 2008, it went from nowhere to $2.4 billion in state funding in the space of four months — in spite of opposition from House Speaker Frank Chopp, anti-Seattle biases in Olympia, and the horrible economy.

    In retrospect, when you start with the issue of maintaining flow on I-5, you come up with a regional solution to a truly regional problem. We who favor the tunnel soon picked up support from Eastern Washington Republicans for this reason, as well as from the governor. Start with the myopic Seattle absorption with the central waterfront, and you only get an intramural battle inside the city. That narrow battle, with all its media infatuation, blinded us to the need for the partnership with the state (and feds) and their financial support.

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    Clearly, an impassioned defense for the bridge replacement option told from the viewpoint of industrial and economic concerns, a viewpoint that is appealing to Eastern Washington residents who ask why Seattle folks are so insistent on promoting a plan that encourages the use of bicycles, transit, and alternative forms of transportation. Silly, silly Seattle residents.

    As commentator SophiaKatt points out in response that could easily apply to the proposed CRC:

    Mr Gering's piece shows us all exactly why the tunnel is the wrong solution--he assumes that oil-based single vehicle transportation, the medium of mid-20th century manufacturing, is a smart and viable medium for the 21st century. And his faith in the present legislature's ability to fund this project if "tolling truly threatens I-5" is genuinely amusing. Roads are not "a progressive solution"; clinging to this idea is the true myopia.

    Considering the recent news about the cost projections of the CRC, the comment left by alexjon about the budget for the Alaskan Viaduct tunnel sounds eerily applicable as well:

    We've been talking about a $4,000,000,000 tunnel for nearly a decade and the money has never materialized. Ever. Why will it suddenly show up now?

    Is there a lesson to be learned? Clearly, if we let transportation infrastructure problems fester and ignore them to the point that they become a major clusterf*ck requiring a multi-billion dollar budget before a shovel hits the dirt is hardly the blueprint for sustainable transportation. Maybe we should just wait the CRC out until Peak Oil makes interstate highways unnecessary.

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