The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Government self-interest permeates Alaskan Way Viaduct

Viaduct traffic could increase with I-5 construction

The Alaskan Way Viaduct could see more traffic this month as transportation crews perform a major overhaul on I-5 just south of downtown. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will replace expansion joints and repave 1.13 miles of I-5 North between Spokane Street to the I-90 interchange.

While the distance may not be that long, traffic tie-ups are considered immense. WSDOT officials will shut down several lanes of northbound traffic starting August 10 through August 29. Drivers are encouraged to take alternative routes, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct or utilize public transportation.

The road work will prevent monthly maintenance on the 40-year old stretch of pavement. It'll also provide a smoother, safer ride for drivers on the I-5 corridor. During the upcoming Alaskan Way Viaduct construction, I-5 is expected to absorb much of the traffic from the south. Traffic officials are hoping repairs to I-5 will make the Viaduct construction reroutes easier for commuters.

Learn more about the WSDOT I-5 construction project.

Viaduct sinks another quarter-of-an-inch

The latest quarterly inspection of the Alaskan Way Viaduct revealed the aging roadway has sunk another quarter-of-an-inch between Columbia Street and Yesler Way. That section has sunk a total of five inches since the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.

While state transportation officials are concerned about the continual sinking, they say the Viaduct is still safe for drivers. They plan on beginning work this fall to reinforce the foundations of several columns that are settling. Repairs include drilling steel rods into the ground surrounding the columns. The rods can carry a 95-ton load and will prevent further settlement into the ground.

Work isn't expected to disrupt traffic and no lane closures are planned. The project is estimated to cost $5 million and should take five to six months to complete. It's just one of six improvement projects planned to replace or repair parts of the Viaduct. The next inspection is scheduled for October.

Replacement plan given the green light

The best way to move people - not cars - efficiently should determine how to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, according to Council Member Peter Steinbrueck. That was one of his arguments as the council voted on the latest way to deal with the controversial topic.

During a Committee of the Whole meeting, members voted to approve a surface option known as the Urban Mobility Plan. The $8.1 million plan gives the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) the go ahead to begin planning for Viaduct traffic on Seattle streets.

"This ordinance calls for not another study, but a new plan," Steinbrueck said. Steinbrueck also serves as the Transportation Vice-Chair.

A surface option would include improving mass transit to help absorb the number of commuters who regularly use the Viaduct. Leaders also hope it'll improve the downtown street grid, HOV lanes, bicycle and pedestrian access and include other traffic management techniques including trip-reduction strategies.

SDOT now has 45 days to work with the Washington State Department of Transportation and King County to produce the Urban Mobility Plan for the Council. If approved, City leaders hope to have the first part of the plan finished by summer 2008.

Watch the Full Council/Committee of the Whole meeting on the Urban Mobility Plan.

Governor announces $900 million viaduct update

A new Alaskan Way Viaduct project was announced Wednesday, March 14 by State and Seattle leaders - one they both agreed on. Governor Chris Gregoire announced the $900 million plan which will strengthen several parts of the aging waterfront structure. Citing safety, capacity, mobility and fiscal responsibility, the governor said that work on the solution to the viaduct must happen now. The new plan comes in the wake of the March 13 Seattle advisory vote in which Seattle residents rejected both the viaduct rebuild and tunnel options.

Appearing at a press conference alongside Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims, the governor said the project will involve the collaboration of state legislative and transportation leaders, city leaders and the Port of Seattle. The $900 million project will begin immediately with work first concentrating on engineering and design. The physical work will start this summer.

Proposed changes include a new interchange on the Viaduct's south end to improve freight transit mobility. Additionally, a road section will be replaced between Holgate Street and Royal Brougham Way and steel structures will be reinforced from Lenora Street to the Battery Street Tunnel. Also, seismic and fire suppression upgrades will occur in the Battery Street Tunnel.

Cost estimates included in March Viaduct ballot

In response to a request by Governor Gregoire, the city-wide viaduct advisory ballot choices will now include cost estimates. Ballot wording previously passed by the City Council on January 19 did not include cost numbers. City Attorney Tom Carr later rewrote the ballot to include the price proposals.

The ballot measure will consist of yes or no answers to the two viaduct replacement options: the $3.41 billion Surface-Tunnel Hybrid Alternative and the $2.8 billion Elevated Replacement Alternative option.

The Mayor and city transportation officials scaled down the original six-lane tunnel proposal after lawmakers in Olympia voiced concerns over the billion-dollar price tag. The new tunnel proposal is now four lanes with two lanes each direction, side-by-side instead of the double-decker six-lane version. Transportation officials say the new tunnel design will still be able to carry the same amount of traffic with the two shoulders converting into extra lanes during peak travel times.

The vote will take place on March 13 and be conducted exclusively by mail-in ballots.

Licata proposes Alaskan Way Viaduct vote date

March 13 may be the day Seattle residents get their opportunity to speak up about which option they prefer to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

City Council President Nick Licata and Council member David Della announced Friday, January 5, they are drafting a ballot proposal that would give voters two options: replace the viaduct with an elevated structure or tunnel. The costs of both projects would also be listed on the ballot.

Licata also wants the ballot to include information that would help voters understand that residents will be responsible for picking up cost overrides on both options. The elevated rebuild is estimated to cost $2.8 billion and the tunnel option is estimated to cost $4.6 billion. So far, state and federal funds secured for the project amounts to $2.4 billion. "We have to be honest with Seattle voters about the additional $2 billion needed to build a tunnel," Licata said.

In mid-December Governor Christine Gregoire announce she'd like to see a city advisory vote on the controversial multi-billion dollar project. She believes the project is at a stalemate and wants to hear what Seattle residents have to say about the project. She called for the vote to happen sometime this spring, before the legislative session ends in mid-April.

Council member Jan Drago is also working on an alternative proposal that might negate the need for a special vote. She's hoping to find an alternative that is acceptable to supporters of both the elevated structure and the tunnel. Drago believes that an indecisive advisory vote by residents won't do the city any good.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct ballot issue will be the topic of special meetings of the Full Council on Thursday, January 18 and Friday, January 19.

Viaduct decision falls to Seattle voters
Governor Gregoire calls for special spring election

After months of speculation over tunnel, rebuild or possible surface option to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, the decision still isn't clear. One thing is for sure, the Governor wants Seattle voters to decide.

Governor Christine Gregoire announced Friday, December 15 that Seattle residents should vote for either the rebuild or tunnel option. Gregoire stated the surface option and retrofit were both unacceptable alternatives. Now City and Legislative officials must both agree with the public vote.

Mayor Greg Nickels said he welcomes a public vote. Nickels stongly supports the cut and cover tunnel option.

Gregoire said the financing plan for the rebuild option was sufficient, but financing for the tunnel option wasn't complete. If voters opt for the cut and tunnel option, Gregoire stated city leaders and tax payers would be responsible for finding any additional funds needed for the tunnel replacement.

She also felt that the state was at a "political stalemate" over the debate for a tunnel or a rebuild and that hearing from Seattle voters was a must before going forward with the massive construction project. While the exact date for the vote hasn't yet been set, it will take place before the Legislative session ends in April.

Current estimates have the tunnel rebuild option costing more than $4 billion dollars. Estimates for the rebuild put the project at $2.8 billion. The Governor hopes to have a viaduct decision by mid-2007 and construction underway by 2008.

Tunnel supporters believe this is a chance to reclaim the waterfront for residents by putting the major roadway underground. Opponents say the project is too costly and will cause too much of a disruption for businesses, residents and commuters.

The 2.2 mile double-decker Alaskan Way Viaduct carries about 110,000 vehicles per day. It was damaged in 2001 by the 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake.

Democrats denounce tunnel option

On November 16, 30 members of the House Democratic caucus sent a letter to Governor Christine Gregoire supporting the construction of an elevated highway to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The letter stated that the tunnel option will results in costs "the taxpayers of Washington cannot afford."

The letter was signed by House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), and House Appropriations chair Helen Sommers (D-Seattle) and others. In September Chopp sent a similar letter to the expert review panel as they were looking at funding options for replacing the aging Viaduct. Gregoire will consider the letter, according to her spokesperson.

She is expected to make her decision on the Viaduct by the end of the year. This decision is then subject to approval by the state legislature.

Gregoire has stated that she will only consider the tunnel or a rebuild of the existing viaduct.

Viaduct decision heads to Olympia

In a 7-1 vote, City Council members told state leaders, they preferred the cut and cover tunnel option to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct. Council President Nick Licata voted against the tunnel option, while Council Member David Della was absent from the September 22 special meeting.

But the cut and cover tunnel still isn't a done deal. Now the fate of one of Seattle's main arteries lies with Governor Christine Gregoire. She had asked city leaders to either put the decision to voters, or make an advisory decision. She'll now have until the end of the year to make the call.

News of the vote comes the same day as the revised cost estimates for the replacement project were announced. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) issued revised estimates for the tunnel replacement ranging from $3.6-$5.5 billion. An aerial replacement option was estimated between $2.2-$3.3 billion. Initial reports tagged the tunnel as costing anywhere from $3.0-$3.6 billion and the replacement option from $2.0-$2.4 billion dollars.

State leaders say the funding is available for a rebuild, however, if Seattle leaders wanted a cut and cover tunnel, they needed to find the financing for the rest of the money. Now, Gregoire is considering using a toll to provide for extra funding on the cut and cover option. So far, no toll prices have been announced, but joint legislative hearings will be held over the next few months to further discuss and explore the tolling option.


Expert Review Panel releases Viaduct report

The group charged with taking a closer look at the proposed cut and cover Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel said funding looks to be "generally sound" with no "fatal flaws."

The Expert Review Panel released their report of Washington State's Department of Transportation stating, "We accept the project's funding assumptions as reasonable." The report was released on August 31.

Mayor Greg Nickels cheered the report. As a staunch supporter of the cut and cover tunnel replacement option, Nickels believes tearing down the aging viaduct and giving Seattle residents direct access to a new and improved waterfront is a once and a lifetime opportunity.

But opponents of the tunnel still claim there is some vagueness to the finances of project. Estimated to cost upwards of $3.6 billion, the cut and cover option could face cost over runs, according to Council President Nick Licata. He wants to see a resolution where Nickels would ask the state who will be responsible for those cost over runs.

Currently, state officials have said they will contribute $2.4 billion for a rebuild of the current viaduct structure. After that, any financing would need to be secured by city officials.

Despite their disagreements, all players say a decision needs to be made to replace the viaduct soon. The City Council has until September 22 to decide whether or not to place the viaduct issue on the November ballot.

Governor Christine Gregoire has stated she wants Seattle voters to have an accurate estimate of what the cut and cover option could ending up costing. She has asked the Department of Transportation to re-evaluate the tunnel costs estimates again.

Waterfront Plan On Wednesday, July 26, Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled his plans to reclaim Seattle's waterfront as a gathering place for people while preserving the environment for generations.

The plan calls for a 70-foot wide promenade along parts of the waterfront. The walkway would provide a connection for pedestrians looking for a relaxing stroll from the Pike Place Market to Pioneer Square. Shoreline restorations and beach access for environmental education would help reconnect the city directly with Elliott Bay. The plan also calls for several viewing areas and public gathering areas.

While Nickels' plan is a concept, he feels reclaiming the waterfront is a once-in-lifetime opportunity for Seattle residents. The waterfront plan is based on the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct coming down and being replaced by a cut and cover tunnel. His waterfront plan will be sent to the City Council for full consideration in September.

On June 22, Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled his funding plan for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel construction project estimated to cost between $3 billion and $3.6 billion. The Mayor's plan identifies $5 billion in potential funding.

The plan relies on the passage of the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) ballot measure which will come before voters in 2007. If approved, RTID would give Nickels' plan $800 million. Charging a toll for drivers of the busy roadway is another funding source currently being explored. While no set fee has been established, a possible $2 one way fare could raise $150 million dollars over 20 years. Other sources of funding include; increased taxes for waterfront property owners, utility relocations and the Port of Seattle.

More than $2.4 billion dollars has already been secured for the project. The state has enough funding to rebuild an elevated structure, larger and more seismically sound than the current viaduct. But several Seattle city leaders are pushing for the tunnel option, which would open up more potential park space along the downtown waterfront.

In early June, an independent panel was created to review the construction and finance options of the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Seawall and SR 520 floating bridge projects. The panel consists of eight experts in the fields of planning, engineering, finance, law, emerging transportation technologies, geotechnical and economic fields. Governor Chris Gregoire convened the panel since millions of state, local and federal dollars will be used to complete the projects.

The panel is expected to begin meeting in late June or early July. Some of their meetings will be open to the public, but others will be a closed work session. They are expected to submit their report in September that will help inform state and city officials whether the plans to replace the two main arteries through the Seattle area are achievable.

For more information on the Expert Review Panel, visit their Web site.

On Wednesday, March 26, City Council members authorized a $15 thousand study to evaluate a surface option proposal to replace the aging and damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct. The surface option, presented by the People's Waterfront Coalition, would put two lanes, in both directions, along the waterfront, while leaving open space for people to enjoy the views, shoreline and nature along Elliott Bay. While most council members and Mayor Greg Nickels say they prefer the tunnel option, council members wanted to learn more about the option and what other cities have built under similar circumstances. The study is expected to take about five to six weeks, at which point council members will evaluate whether the option deserves a more in-depth analysis

Source Seattle Channel

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