Guest Op/Ed: Vote "Yes" on Tunnel Referendum

By Erica C. Barnett June 9, 2011

Editor's note: Last week, PubliCola ran a guest op/ed by Kevin Fullerton and Brady Montz of the Sierra Club arguing against the tunnel referendum. (A "yes" vote is a vote in favor of the deep-bore tunnel.) Today, four tunnel proponents respond.

This guest op/ed was written by Pete Spalding, Don Newby, Herald Ugles, and John Odland, members of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee. Spalding represented West Seattle, Newby represented southwest King County,  Ugles represented the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and Odlund represented the Manufacturing and Industrial Council.

[pullquote]Walking away from the tunnel now would cost about $800 million that has already been invested. Every month of delay tacks on about $20 million. That’s your money.[/pullquote] One of the worst things about debating the replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct for so long is the temptation some have to rewrite history for their own purposes. As members of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee in 2008, we spent more than a year studying the options, and came to the conclusion that a deep-bored tunnel represented a unique opportunity. We only hoped that our elected representatives would share our enthusiasm. Today, we remain thankful for the leadership of the Seattle City Council, King County Executive Dow Constantine, the Port of Seattle commissioners, the state legislature, and Gov. Chris Gregoire for taking our ideas and working so hard to make them reality.


The referendum in August gives the public a chance to reaffirm our way forward. Unfortunately, some opponents of Ref. 1 are still stuck in the past, rehashing and re-fighting arguments that stretch the bounds of truth until they break. Now that they’re in full campaign mode, opponents are suggesting the “tunnel-building industry” orchestrated the entire decision-making process.

Of course, they offer no conclusive evidence of this involvement---because there isn’t any.

But don’t take our word for it. If you want to watch the stakeholder group’s discussion and vote to support the tunnel, go to this video on the Seattle Channel. What you’ll find is a large group of people from across the city coming to the conclusion that a tunnel was the best idea.

The tunnel opponents' revisionism does bring up an important point, however: What do tunnel opponents like Mayor Mike McGinn really want? They say they want a surface option. But the reality isn't pretty: forcing 110,000 cars and trucks onto city streets without any state money for road improvements or transit.

McGinn has offered widely different views on what this so-called surface option would look like, with no dollar figures attached. To make matters worse, McGinn’s idea would limit access to downtown by closing downtown and Capitol Hill exits on I-5. HOV lanes would be eliminated, and bike lanes on Second and Fourth Avenues would disappear. It would be a mess.

McGinn's surface-roadway idea would require the installation of 27 new stop lights on Alaskan Way between Spokane St. and Broad St.  It would take 48 minutes to drive from Greenwood to the airport on the new State Route 99, and it would take close to a half an hour to get from West Seattle or Ballard to downtown.  According to the state Secretary of Transportation, these traffic delays would virtually shut down I-5.

This city has seen enough gridlock, both political and vehicular. The mayor broke his campaign promise to not get in the way of the region’s decision to move forward with the tunnel. And he’s actively used city resources to disrupt the project ever since taking office, culminating in this wasteful referendum.

But the politics of delay and obstruction have a real cost in taxpayer dollars and economic opportunity. Walking away now would cost about $800 million that has already been invested. Every month of delay tacks on about $20 million. That’s your money.

Building a tunnel will finally connect Seattle to Elliott Bay, creating new open space and salmon habitat. Besides construction jobs, we will revitalize our business centers, keep freight humming, and help our economic recovery.

The first phase of viaduct replacement has come in under budget and six months ahead of schedule. After all the talk, all the debate, we’re putting away the rhetoric and rolling out the heavy equipment. We’re building something great.

It’s been 10 years since the Nisqually earthquake that rattled the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  Since then, there have been 700 community meetings, 15,000 public comments, and a year-long process that included stakeholders representing diverse interests from across the region.  We can say with authority that everyone gave something up in that process, but in the end, 24 out of the 25 stakeholders reached a broad-based consensus about a positive path forward that was based on the data, the costs and benefits, and the different perspectives each stakeholder brought to the table.

Enough is enough.  Let’s move forward!  Vote ‘YES’ on Referendum 1.

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