Gregoire nixes surface option for viaduct

Summary

Governor Gregoire says replacing the Seattle viaduct with a street-level boulevard would choke the city's traffic so badly that rush hour on Interstate 5 would stretch two hours longer every day.

Story Published: Feb 19, 2007 at 5:10 PM PST

Story Updated: Feb 19, 2007 at 7:54 PM PST

Gregoire nixes surface option for viaduct
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday that replacing Seattle's quake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct with a street-level boulevard would choke the city's traffic so badly that rush hour on Interstate 5 would stretch two hours longer every day.

A $2.8 billion rebuild of the elevated structure remains the only sensible option now on the table, the governor said in discounting the "surface option" that some civic leaders are touting, now that a tunnel plan has been rejected by Gregoire, key legislators and the state Department of Transportation.

King County Executive Ron Sims, the foremost proponent of tearing down the viaduct and replacing it with "robust" use of transit and a new surface-grade street, was furious with Gregoire's comments.

The state and county have crews exploring the proposal and Gregoire violated their agreement to keep it under wraps until the experts determine whether the plan could work, he said.

"I am sorely, sorely disappointed," he said in an interview. "I am stunned. I am entitled to more respect and courtesy than that. Wow."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, a tunnel proponent, and House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, a tunnel opponent, both have called the surface option a good fallback position. On Monday, Nickels' spokeswoman, Marianne Bichsel, said the mayor doesn't want the "bigger, uglier elevated structure" that the state is pushing, and that the surface option remains his second choice.

Seattle voters on March 13 will say whether they prefer a $2.8 billion viaduct rebuild, a $3.4 billion slimmed-down tunnel proposal, neither or both.

Assigned by the Legislature last year to pick a preferred option, Gregoire said in December that either a tunnel or a rebuild is technically feasible, but that only the rebuild option had financing lined up. She called for a city vote on the two finalist ideas, specifically rejecting a surface option that included a six-lane boulevard and heavy use of transit.

The city then slimmed down its original tunnel proposal, but the state, governor and key legislators said that one failed to meet safety standards and traffic needs. That's when talk of a surface option gained steam.

On Monday, the governor told reporters she isn't rethinking her opposition to the surface option.

"The only viable option on the table right now is the elevated structure," Gregoire said.

She acknowledged that state DOT staffers are working with the county on transit and other considerations, but said "I have yet to see any surface option that works."

A surface option, even one including six lanes of highway and very heavy use of transit, still "creates literally a parking lot on I-5" a few miles from the Seattle waterfront, she said.

"I think the citizens would be appalled," she said.

The governor said the option has been heavily studied and that experts say diverting thousands of vehicles from the viaduct would add two hours to rush hour.

"We cannot afford another car on I-5, let alone to create an enhanced parking lot," she said.

Gregoire produced the DOT's project director, David Dye, to back up her comments. He said "having 77,000 vehicles a day whizzing past" doesn't exactly meet the city's test of unifying the waterfront and the city, and that at least 50,000 vehicles would have to find an alternate route, such as I-5. Further, the cost would be $2.1 billion, not a great deal less than the viaduct rebuild, he said.

Despite all of her comments, Gregoire didn't completely shut the door on a surface option. "Show me. Show me," she said. "The only viable option that meets my criteria of safety, fiscal responsibility and capacity is the elevated option. I have yet to see any surface option that works." Heavy use of transit has always been presumed with any of the options, she said.

Sims was steaming mad when he was reached at his home and told of the governor's comments. Gregoire was talking about the old surface option and not the newer ideas the county has, he said. Sims declined to give specifics, saying he and Gregoire had agreed to study the ideas before making public judgments. He said she had no way of documenting her bold assertions about the impact on I-5 traffic and city streets.

The new proposals show great promise and deserve serious study, Sims said.