City Hall

The Eight Most Interesting Moments From the Tunnel Debate, According to Me

By Erica C. Barnett December 17, 2010

Josh got his say on last night's debate in today's Morning Fizz. (Spoiler alert: Morning Fizz is not an actual person.) Here are my own highlights from last night's tunnel debate.

State Sen. Ed Murray, asked how he would guarantee that Seattle residents aren't put on the hook for any cost overruns on the tunnel, said that if Seattle elected leaders would work with him, he would work to get the cost-overruns provision removed from state legislation:
I disagree with most who say the language doesn't matter. Maybe it's not enforceable, but it's there and it shouldn't be in there. . ... I think the language needs to come out. I don't think we should let any jurisdiction in this state have to bear the full brunt of the cost of any project, particularly when it is a state project. … I hope the city is working with the house to solve that problem because I think the senate stands ready to remove that language.

Mayor Mike McGinn, on the cost-overruns language:
The language is real. [It does say] that we have to pay. It does express the intent of the legislature. ... There's another part of the language that caps the state's contribution to the project at $2.4 million. That's real too.

City council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen, on why he believes the city is protected against cost overruns:
What the mayor is not telling you is that this is a design-bid contract. ... The contractor is responsible for building the project within the budget that they have bid, and that has been a very successful way of making sure that projects come in within budget. He didn't tell you, also, that there are very significant bonds and insurance that also apply to this contract should there be contingencies that occur. What the mayor also didn't tell you is that while there is that unfortunate statement in the legislation that says area property owners are responsible for cost overruns. He didn't tell you that legislators still have to pass additional legislation to make it enforceable. That law is not enforceable, but it is a hook that the mayor uses to try to undermine this project, which he said he wouldn't do when he ran for mayor. Since he becomes mayor he did a switcheroo, and now he's doing everything he can to try to undermine the project.

Then, a tense exchange between Rasmussen and McGinn (Rasmussen looking straight ahead, McGinn facing Rasmussen and addressing him directly):
McGinn: My question for council member Rasmussen is, when will you start defending Seattle the way you defend Olympia?

Rasmussen: That's a really good campaign speech, Mayor McGinn, but it doesn't work because if you've been following what the council 's been doing for the last nine months ... we have a lot of conditions that the state has to meet before those gas are signed.

Murray, on why the state can't simply transfer funding from the tunnel to human services and social programs that are threatened by statewide budget cuts (and on a controversial statement by the mayor that the city can't trust the governor and the legislature to protect its interests):
Under the [state] constitution, the gas tax can only be spent on roads. … It's just absolutely disingenuous to say that the ... gas tax can suddenly be transferred over to pay for this incredible crisis we're in. … It doesn't help when a Democratic mayor of a Democratic city, in the press, bashes a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature. Mr. Mayor, you keep making derogatory comments about the legislature … I think it's time for Seattle to realize that you don't make friends with Olympia unless you start treating us differently. You're making Seattle's ability to move its agenda in Olympia almost impossible.

And a back-and-forth between People's Waterfront Coalition founder Cary Moon and King County Labor Council executive secretary Dave Freiboth about what, exactly, a group of viaduct replacement "stakeholders" approved back in 2008:
Freiboth: The surface option was not viable. It was going to destroy the livability that we already have. It was going to make this town more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Moon: We had all agreed to choose the surface/transit/I-5 option. There's a letter that shows that. Everyone signed it: Dave Freiboth signed it, Mike O'Brien signed it, I signed it, Tayloe [Washburn, of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce] signed it. It said, let's do surface transit with the money we have now and then, if it turns out we have more money later, let's look at theta deep-bore tunnel.

Freiboth: That's not accurate. I didn't support the surface option. The document you're talking about, Cary, also talked about exploring the subsurface option, the tunnel, if it could be brought in within budget. After we got through the process, we discovered we could do that.

Tom Rasmussen accuses McGinn of not caring what happens if the tunnel has to be shut down or collapses, and McGinn responds:
Rasmussen: It's been ten years since Nisqually earthquake. At that time, we knew it was quite urgent that the viaduct be replaced. So, Mayor McGinn, I see three scenarios: We either build the tunnel, or the state closes the viaduct just as the county had to close the South Park Bridge because we keep debating and dithering. And you talk about social justice. You know what's happening to the people of South Park. Imagine what would hap to this community if we had to close the viaduct because of your dithering and your efforts to stop the project. Or, worse yet, the viaduct collapses and, mayor, you have to order our fire officers and our police officers to pull people from the rubble.

McGinn: Tunnel proponents, when they decided to go for the deep-bore tunnel, what they decided was to leave the viaduct up for longer, for years and years longer. … I think that's what's irresponsible on safety. I think we should have gone with an option that would shut it down earlier.

Finally, O'Brien says he isn't sure he wants to be part of a system that can fund a deep-bore tunnel but can't find money for education and health care, and Rasmussen and Murray accuse him of being intellectually dishonest:
O'Brien: I'm not sure I want to be part of a system that says we can't fund our educational program, we're going to kick 60,000 people off health care, we're going eliminate the safety net because we don't have any money, but we're going to build the biggest deep-bore tunnel in the history of the world. That's not the social justice community I want to be part of.

Rasmussen: I think you also have to keep in mind that the gas tax, unfortunately, doesn't pay for public health. The gas tax doesn't pay for human services. I wish we could use it for those purposes, but [we can't], so to say that to use the gas tax to pay for a tunnel is taking money away from families is not true and you know that … There are many  issues related to social justice with your plan, which creates gridlock.

O'Brien: We set up a bunch of rules, and our rules say that we can't fund education because we don't have money, we can't fund health care, we can't fund a safety net, but we can fund all the highways we want. That's a system that was created by people like us, and if we're fed up with it, we should figure out how to change that.

Murray: To say that every state legislator  who voted for that 14.5 percent gas tax increase [which partially funds the tunnel replacement], partly to put people to work, is somehow working against those same people or that they're ... not taking  into consideration the children in our schools and the people who need health care is just intellectually dishonest.
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