Democrats and Mayor's Office Respond to GOP Bill that would Stop Troubled Seattle Tunnel Project
1. Sounding like two dudes you'd hear in any Seattle bar grousing that "the tunnel boring machine has ceased to function ... and is not anticipated to resume functioning at any time in the near future," two Republican state senators—Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-6, Spokane) and Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale)—filed legislation yesterday to stop the tunnel project.
Their legislation laments that "dewatering of large portions of downtown Seattle has likely caused over an inch of settling" and ..."ironically, this activity has caused concerns regarding the sinking of part of the viaduct itself, despite the fact that the questionable structural integrity of the viaduct was one of the main reasons initially given for the need for the project [in the first place]...".
They conclude that "the viaduct replacement project has failed" and "has lost the political support of the people of Seattle,"
(Another observation, and sounding like PubliCola this time, the legislation also notes that: "significant questions have continued to be raised about whether the tolls to be generated by the project would either be too low to cover operating expenses or too high and cause added traffic diversion on Seattle's already congested city streets.")
And, finally, sounding like two dudes in a West Seattle bar, perhaps: The legislation includes a directive to spend the rest of the allotted money on figuring out how to retrofit or rebuild the viaduct.
I asked Mayor Ed Murray (an initial sponsor of the tunnel legislation in Olympia when he was a state senator) what he thought of the Republican bill (Baumgartner and Ericksen don't have any co-sponsors yet).
Murray's office referred me to Nick Harper, the head of the city's lobbying shop.
Harper told me:
The City wants to be a good partner to WSDOT as it continues to work with its contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, to move this project forward. It’s still early in the session, a lot of bills get introduced, and it will be interesting to see if this bill makes any headway in the legislative process.
Democrats on the senate transportation committee were a bit less circumspect and bland.
After asking if any Seattle senators had signed on, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), the ranking Democrat on the committee, texted he was "stunned" by the legislation, adding: "I think I can safely say that many on my side of the aisle will probably not support something like that."
Hobbs added a sad face emoticon to characterize his opinion of a retrofit or rebuild idea.
The other lead Democrat on the transportation committee, Sen. Marko Liias (D-21, Mukilteo) told me:
"Sen. Ericksen has been on a crusade against the tunnel since 2009, he's always supported replacing the current viaduct with an even bigger monstrosity. We need to stop encouraging lawsuits and focus on getting the project completed."
Liias pointed out that a new viaduct would have to be bigger than the existing one to meet seismic codes.
In a press statement, Sen. Ericksen said he was concerned that the "project is headed down a path that will lead to massive cost overruns."
2. Trying to keep up with all the people declaring for Seattle city council in the district stampede, but I missed the announcement last Friday that Mercedes Elizalde, co-Chair of the Seattle Women’s Commission, is running in the fifth council district in North Seattle.
In a press release that described Elizalde as a "social services champion," Elizalde, a community outreach provider at the Low Income Housing Institute, said she wants to see more social services in the rapidly diversifying (she's right) North End. And jumping on the news that veteran bleeding heart liberal Nick Licata was not seeking reelection, she said she would carry on Licata's legacy.
“My career has been devoted to protecting families and individuals who struggle with poverty or need vital services,” her statement said. “I know firsthand the impact of the deep cuts we’ve made to our social safety net over the last few years. And while some funds have been restored, it is nowhere near the level we need to start seriously addressing the homelessness crisis we have in our city. We need someone on the city council who has the experience to know which existing programs need rebooting and which programs need more support.”
Elizalde, who trotted out an endorsement from former Seattle state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (a children's advocate), is also on the board of the Children's Campaign Fund and the Tenants' Union.
There's no incumbent in the fifth district, and the race already includes three other candidates: Port of Seattle small business and program manager Mian Rice, a former transportation and regional policy planner at city hall during the Mayor Greg Nickels years and former mayor Norm Rice's son; former Church Council of Greater Seattle leader Rev. Sandy Brown—a social justice, gun control, and gay rights activist; and Halei Watkins, a Planned Parenthood organizer, were at the neighborhood event.
3. And that brings us to the city council speculation game: Yesterday, I said, with some confidence, that longtime Licata staffer Lisa Herbold was contemplating a run in the first disrtict, West Seattle. (Last week, city council member Tom Rasmussen, who represents West Seattle in the new districted system announced he's not seeking reelection.)
The musical chairs have reportedly—though, I report this with less confidence—stirred the interest of a few Mayor Murray staffers as well: his chief counsel, Lorena Gonzalez and his policy staffer, Brian Surratt.