According to a $60,000 poll commissioned by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), a strong plurality of residents like the deep-bore tunnel. However, almost no one in the greater Seattle area (Seattle, Shoreline, Tukwila, Burien, and other nearby cities) was aware that the state plans to replace the viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel.
Some highlights from the poll, which WSDOT officials released at a downtown press conference this afternoon:
• A strong plurality of respondents, 42 percent, initially said the deep-bore tunnel was a good idea in response to a question that said the tunnel would result in "acres of new open space and parks on the waterfront," that most of the funding would not come from Seattle, and that tolls would fund part of the cost. Thirty-one percent said it was a bad idea, and 27 percent didn't know. At the end of the lengthy survey---after the pollsters had provided a great deal of mostly pro-tunnel information---62 percent supported it, 7 percent didn't know, and 31 percent remained opposed, suggesting that tunnel opponents aren't going to budge.
• Although 84 percent of poll respondents claimed to be paying attention to the debate over what to do about the viaduct, only 27 percent were aware that the plan was to replace the viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. (That 27 percent came from asking poll respondents whether there was a plan for the viaduct, then asking the 62 percent who said "yes" what the plan was. Of those 62 percent, 43 percent correctly identified the tunnel.)
• Of those 84 percent, 36 percent said they were paying "a great deal" of attention to the debate---nine percent more than the number who knew the viaduct will be replaced with a tunnel. (In a separate but related question, 77 percent said they were "somewhat" (55 percent) or "very" (22 percent) familiar with the specific tunnel plans. And 57 percent were aware that the bored tunnel was different from an earlier proposal to build a cut-and-cover tunnel on the waterfront, compared to 43 percent who weren't.)
Pollster Andrew Thibeau attributed that discrepancy to the fact that "it's not at all unusual in surveys of public opinion to have people believe they know a lot about a debate. The more specific the detail, the less they know. Broadly speaking, it's a truism in research that people tend to think they're more informed than they are."
• Only half of respondents said they agreed that "the viaduct is unsafe and regardless of what is done to replace it, the existing structure needs to be torn down." (Twenty-four percent said the viaduct could be repaired, and 26 percent weren't sure.) However, once they were told that "state engineers and independent experts have determined that due to earthquake damage and age, the viaduct is unsafe and would likely collapse in another earthquake," 75 percent agreed that the viaduct needs to be torn down. (Twenty percent still disagreed and 5 percent didn't know.)
• Somewhat predictably (and incorrectly---viaduct project manager Ron Paananen said "congestion is staying about the same), most people, 58 percent, believed that congestion in and around Seattle is getting worse. Thirty-nine percent thought it was staying the same, and just three percent said it was getting better.
• A huge majority---78 percent---believed that congestion would get worse without the viaduct. Sixteen percent said it would make no difference, and 7 percent said it would get better.
In a related question, 62 percent of respondents said they would be personally impacted "a great deal" (31 percent) or "some" (31 percent) if the viaduct came down and wasn't replaced, compared to those who said they'd be impacted "not that much" (25 percent) or "not at all" (13 percent).
• Asked whether vehicle capacity along the viaduct corridor should be reduced, kept the same, or decreased, nearly half of respondents (47 percent) said it should be increased. Forty-two percent said it should stay the same, and just 11 percent said it should be decreased.
I asked Paananen why the survey asked about capacity, rather than the state's official definition of mobility, which refers to "moving people and goods." After a long pause, he responded. "I think the public associates corridors with ... 'Can I drive on that corridor I drive today---can I drive on it tomorrow, the viaduct being one of two major north-south corridors through Seattle? We wanted to know, do they think it's important that that corridor have the vehicle capacity that it does today?"
• Out of a long list of somewhat leading "awareness" questions (Were you aware that the new tunnel will be "extremely safe"; were you aware that the cost overruns provision is not enforceable; were you aware that the tunnel will improve the health of Puget Sound, etc.), one in particular stood out: "Were you aware that the bored tunnel is the only option that keeps traffic open" along the waterfront? (Forty-four percent were; 55 percent weren't.)
A similar question from another part of the poll asked, "How important is it to you personally that the bored tunnel is the only option that keeps traffic open?" Eighty-five percent said it was somewhat or very important.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, of course, promised back in 2008 that "I'm taking [the viaduct] down---the middle" by 2012. "That's the timeline. I'm not going to fudge on it," she said at the time, arguing that the viaduct was too dangerous to leave standing.
Asked why, given that promise, the state was now touting the fact that it plans to leave the viaduct open long past that date, Paananen responded, "The governor had established 2012 as a goal of when the viaduct should be closed and any replacement option should keep that as a primary objective," adding that tearing the viaduct down between King Street and Holgate will keep part of that promise. However, Gregoire was referring to the central waterfront, which begins north of the segment WSDOT is actually tearing down.
• Of all the "project details" the pollsters provided, respondents placed the most importance on keeping traffic open (85 percent "somewhat" or "very" important), legislation that places taxpayers on the hook for cost overruns (84 percent), safety in an earthquake (83 percent), the state and city's view that citizens aren't on the hook for overruns (83 percent), and the fact that the tunnel will improve the health of Puget Sound (83 percent).
Full results, including a PowerPoint presentation, questions, and crosstabs for your reading enjoyment here.
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