City Hall

Breaking: In End Run Around McGinn, Conlin Moves Tunnel Forward

By Erica C. Barnett September 23, 2010

This post has been updated with comments from Seattle Department of Transportation director Peter Hahn.

Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin signed off today on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the deep-bore tunnel, doing an end run around Mayor Mike McGinn and his transportation department director, Peter Hahn, whom the mayor told not to sign the document. (Ordinarily, the transportation director would be responsible for signing off on the SDEIS). Today was the deadline for the city to sign off on the document; McGinn had asked for another week to review it before allowing Hahn to sign.

Conlin's move, which appears to be unprecedented, allows the city to move forward with the viaduct replacement project. Without the city's signature, the state could have dropped the city as co-lead on the project, giving the city no say in how the tunnel moves forward. Additionally, the state reportedly threatened to pull $5 million in funding for 16 Seattle Department of Transportation employees if the city didn't sign the document.

"The deadline for the signatures is tomorrow," Conlin says. Waiting another week "just didn't seem reasonable." Although Conlin says it might have been possible to push back the whole environmental process---"you can obviously do all kinds of things to rework things if you have to"---doing so would "knock the whole environmental review process off its current schedule."

Hahn says McGinn's office just got the SDEIS, a "three- to four-inch thick binder," on Monday, giving the mayor insufficient time to review the document. Hahn thought he had reached an agreement with state tunnel project lead Ron Judd under which Hahn would sign the document but the state would "sit on it" for a week, giving McGinn time to finish his review.

That agreement fell through late this afternoon, Hahn said, when Judd told him, "You guys sign by four today or you're out as co-lead."

Hahn says he isn't sure whether Conlin's decision will ultimately be good or bad for the city. "I don't know if any one arrangement is better."

Conlin says the city's law department told him they had no legal concerns about his unorthodox move.

I have calls out to the state and local transportation departments, as well as McGinn and the city attorney's office, and will update with any additional information.
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