City Hall

O'Brien "Disappointed" that State is Backing Away from Environmental Goals on Tunnel

By Erica C. Barnett July 26, 2010

This afternoon, the city council's viaduct replacement committee dug further into the details and ramifications of a proposed resolution putting off three agreements between the city and the state until after two teams seeking a contract to build the tunnel have submitted their bids.

Mostly, the council affirmed what they've said many times before: State law saying city "property owners" will be on the hook for cost overruns isn't legally enforceable; delaying tunnel construction will cost the state money; if the city doesn't move forward on the tunnel, we could lose that money to projects in other parts of the state.

However, council member Mike O'Brien---a tunnel opponent---did ask state transportation secretary Paula Hammond some pointed questions about whether the state was backing away from its previous goals of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Specifically, O'Brien asked: Why, if the purpose of the viaduct replacement project is to effectively move people and goods, not cars, does the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the tunnel refer repeatedly to moving vehicles, not people and goods? And given that the DEIS assumes more cars in the region, not fewer, is the state backing away from its goal of reducing VMT and greenhouse-gas emissions 50 percent under 1990 levels by 2050?

"It's a subtle change in the words, but it's actually really meaningful to focus exclusively on capacity," O'Brien said.

"What we really needed to do was provide access for freight [and] the ability for the 110,000 cars that use to the viaduct to continue to use the viaduct, the I-5 corridor, the surface streets," Hammond said. "I don't know that the subtlety that you're finding is as significant as you [implied]." As for the greenhouse-gas and VMT-reduction goals, Hammond said, "some believe it is aspirational. There are a lot of legislators debating that right now."

This evening, O'Brien said he was "disappointed" at Hammond's apparently dismissive attitude toward the greenhouse-gas and car capacity issue. In past meetings of the viaduct replacement committee, he said, "we specifically had this debate. [Deputy transportation secretary] David Dye said the VMT reduction goals are merely aspirational. The next meeting, he said 'We will abide by state law and meet the VMT reduction targets. But apparently, Paula has gone back to the [position that] VMT reduction goals are merely aspirational."

Additionally, O'Brien said Hammond's statements about retaining car capacity were "frustrating." It's one thing, he said, for the state to say we have to move 110,000 vehicles a day through the viaduct corridor. It's quite a different thing to say the state needs to move all the people and goods in those vehicles. When you look at the problem that way, O'Brien said, "you start to move to different solutions," like transit, trip diversion, and carpooling, O'Brien said.
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