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UPDATED: Council Passes Tunnel Resolution; Four of Five O'Brien Amendments Fail

By Erica C. Barnett August 2, 2010

The city council's viaduct oversight committee voted this afternoon to support the least controversial of council member Mike O'Brien's five amendments to a resolution on the proposed deep-bore tunnel. That amendment says that the state would have to identify all of the differences between the initial design-build contract and the contract that’s ultimately awarded. O'Brien's proposals would have amended a resolution stating the council's intention to move forward with the deep-bore tunnel, but delaying the signing of an agreement with the state until after two potential tunnel contractors have released their bids. That resolution passed 8-1, with O'Brien voting no.

(Also, as I reported this morning, the council moved forward to committee proposal by Tom Rasmussen to increase the commercial parking tax by 2.5 percent, to 12.5 percent, to help pay to replace the downtown seawall.)

The rest of O'Brien's amendments, as we predicted last weekend, fared less well.

The first amendment, which would have delayed tunnel construction unless the state legislature removes a provision in state law stipulating that "Seattle-area property owners who benefit" from the tunnel are responsible for any cost overruns, was torpedoed by a substitute amendment from council member Nick Licata, which watered down O'Brien's language. Licata's amendment says that the agreements between the city and state "will proceed" if the state awards a contract for tunnel construction consistent with the initial bid, and if the state "has demonstrated it can complete all elements" of the tunnel within the budget for tunnel construction.

The second amendment, which would delay tunnel construction until the state commits to create a funding mechanism for new transit, failed 8-1. "The reason I don't support your amendment is because what it does is delay our agreements" with the state, Rasmussen said. "It seems to me as though the effect of your amendment would be to suspend suspend all cooperation between the city and the state until the legislature takes action."

The third amendment, which would have delayed tunnel construction until the Port of Seattle identified funding sources for the $300 million it has committed to put toward the tunnel, was replaced by another Licata amendment, which says the Port and city will work together to identify funding sources for the Port's $300 million.

"We don't know ourselves where we're going to fund certain portions of this program [so] it doesn't seem quite fair to require another party to do so," Licata said. "I'm thinking that it's better to work in cooperation with [the Port] than to set up a situation where they're likely to put up more resistance."

"Once again, your effort is to delay this until everyone else acts, and we can't afford delay," Rasmussen added. "I think that we need to accept the Port of Seattle at its word. We've been told time and time again that the city is viewed as heavy-handed ... I think [this] plays into that reputation."

"I take issue with that," O'Brien responded. "My motive here is to simply understand how the Port will fund it, not to cause delay."

Finally, a fifth amendment that would have required the state to to fully analyze all the potential traffic impacts of the tunnel, including the impact of tolling, and committed to mitigate those impacts, before moving forward with construction failed. Instead, the council substituted an amendment by council member Sally Clark stating that the state "should" do detailed analysis of the traffic impacts of the tunnel and come up with a process to evaluate and deal with the impacts of the tunnel on city streets.
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