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Port Could Choose Not to Pay Its Share on Tunnel

By Erica C. Barnett March 31, 2011

The Port of Seattle's memorandum of agreement with the state says the Port won't pay its $300 million share of the tunnel improvements until the tunnel is built (the funding will pay for surface improvements and for tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct once tunnel construction is complete). That's already known.

But a letter from a port commission member obtained by PubliCola indicates that the Port's commitment may not be a sure thing—the money could be contingent on the agency's satisfaction with the project.

In a letter to a constituent this week, Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton wrote that the Port would not spend any money on the tunnel project until it's satisfied that "the corridor is working for the manufacturing industrial base of the city." If the port isn't happy with the tunnel's performance, in other words, it won't come through with the funding it has said it will provide.

Tarleton says that although she doubts "the current Port Commission" would renege on its commitment, a future Port Commission could. "How many elections are there between now and [2016]?" she asked rhetorically.

Additionally, Tarleton says, the Port has no obligation to release a funding plan on any particular schedule. Conventional wisdom among tunnel opponents has been that the Port of Seattle has reneged on its commitment to release a plan to fund its promised $300 million commitment to the tunnel by 2010.

Tarleton says the Port never agreed to a deadline. That view is backed up by Port spokeswoman Charla Skaggs, who says, "We've never had a date when we said we'd submit a plan." However, Skaggs notes that developing a plan for the Port to contribute to the viaduct replacement is Port CEO Tay Yoshitani's number-one policy goal for 2011, as laid out in his annual Performance Goals and Objectives report.

Tarleton says the Port's plan is to fund its contribution by setting money aside each year and selling bonds starting around 2016, when the tunnel is finished. She says the Port won't need to go to voters for a tax increase, as some tunnel opponents have worried.

However, Skaggs says she doesn't "feel like I can say that [the Port will sell bonds to fund its contribution to viaduct replacement], because the commission hasn't voted yet."
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