There was some startling news this week: State Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41, Mercer Island), the state house transportation committee chair, told us that she would lift the $2.4 billion state spending cap on the tunnel.
You will remember that Mayor Mike McGinn, in his campaign against the tunnel, made a big deal about cost overruns on the $4.6 billion waterfront tunnel project (and about—as now seems certain—the fact that there'd probably be a tolling revenue shortfall compared to projections.)
Clibborn's inclination to lift the cap is a straight up acknowledgment that McGinn was right about tunnel costs.
However, at a cursory glance, it also would seem to allay McGinn's fears. The cap, he had argued, put Seattle at risk to pick up the extra costs. With the cap gone, the state would now be on the hook—not Seattle. No?
Not so fast.
Where would the extra money come from? Other state projects? That's certainly the implication of lifting the cap.
But good luck getting legislators from around the state, particularly Republicans, to sign off on taking money away from their own projects for a fancy Seattle tunnel.
Ranking Republican on the house transportation committee, Rep. Mike Armstrong
Today's Cola "One Question" is for the ranking Republican on Clibborn's house transportation committee, state Rep. Mike Armstrong (R-12, Wenatchee). Here's what Rep. Armstrong said when we asked him if he would go along with raising the $2.4 billion cap on the tunnel.
I would hope it's not her intent to do that. I don't think that's her intent. We do not want that project to become a Christmas tree for everything and anything for the city of Seattle. We put that [cap] in place because we wanted to be specific about the tunnel project. We were told adamantly by the department of transportation that there would not be a cost overrun on this project. ... If you lift it, everybody and anybody going to want everything under the sun.
To lift the cap so the city of Seattle can come to us and want money for the seawall or for transit or to pay for utility movement, those are non-starters for me.
The tolling money ... initially we were led to believe the tolling the tunnel—just the tunnel—would bring in something like $400 million over the life of the project, and it's clear that is not the case It looks more like it's half of that. But again that tolling project was just to help the city's portion of what they wanted to do—not the state's portion. I'm not willing to lift the cap based on just that.
The fact of the matter is: I hope you got it loud and clear. I'm not willing to lift that cap. I'm a no.
And so: If you can't lift the cap, and the state is, in fact, in a crunch to cover the tunnel bill (as Clibborn acknowledges), that brings us right back to McGinn's worst fear.