The C is for Crank

WSDOT Leader says Closing Viaduct Would "Devastate" Seattle's Economy

By Erica C. Barnett March 16, 2011

Responding on KUOW's "The Conversation" to calls by Mayor Mike McGinn to immediately shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Washington State Department of Transportation secretary Paula Hammond said a permanent shutdown would result in crippling gridlock downtown and on I-5.

"We have over 100,000 cars every day that use that bridge, and just to close your eyes and imagine where those cars would go … the gridlock that would occur in downtown Seattle and businesses would just devastate the economy of this region," Hammond said. "You'd see our daily congestion on I-5 double."

When host Ross Reynolds pointed out that gridlock failed to materialize when the state shut down I-5 in 2007, Hammond said the two situations weren't comparable. "When we shut down I-5, we had a lot of warning [and] an opportunity for you to make a different choice" than driving, Hammond said. "It was during  the summer, when people could take vacations, and so much warning and planning. ... [Drivers] made a temporary adjustment. We're not [talking about] a temporary adjustment here."

Hammond also warned that any referendum or initiative on the tunnel would cause delay, putting the project at risk for earthquakes and cost overruns. "this has been well planned and thoroughly worked out and I wish people would move on," Hammond said.

Alarmist claims about street closures, of course, are hardly unique to Hammond or even WSDOT---indeed, the threat of gridlock and economic meltdown gets raised any time tunnel opponents suggest that there might be alternatives. Part of this is understandable---WSDOT bases its dire predictions on traffic models that assume people will drive more and more. Experience, however, shows that people, in fact, are driving less and less in Seattle, a trend that holds true across the country.

And there is an alternative. In 2007, the city commissioned consultants Nelson/Nygaard to come up with an Urban Mobility Plan that documents how a surface/transit solution could work for Seattle (and at a lower cost, and less risk of overruns, than the deep-bore tunnel). If only Hammond and her engineers at WSDOT would read it.

(For another take on tunnel closure, check out Danny Westneat's piece---in which he points out that a group of UW faculty proposed shutting the tunnel down five years ago, and "nobody listened"---here.)
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