Opinion: Reject Referendum 1, Reject the Tolled Tunnel
I love living in West Seattle. We have the Junction, Alki, Lincoln Park, and our community feels like a small town. The Viaduct and solid bus service enable West Seattle to remain connected to jobs and conveniences in the city. But that apparently wasn’t on the minds of local politicians when they gamed the process and cut a deal to replace the Viaduct with a $4.2 Billion tunnel.
Of course, everyone has seen the nice watercolors of downtown Seattle without the Viaduct, and downtown boosters threaten that a tolled tunnel is the only alternative. But something we just can’t afford isn’t a real alternative, especially when it makes our transportation problems worse.
The State claims it can raise $400 million in tolls, but the $9 round-trip toll ($2,250/year for commuters. $500/year more than for North Seattle commuters) is too much for most West Seattle drivers to afford. The Port of Seattle pledged $300 million, but will raise it with property-tax increases. Yet that money still isn't enough: the funding plan already has a deficit of $700 million, before the tunneling machine even begins digging beneath downtown skyscrapers.
It gets even worse: tunnel projects go 34% over-budget on average around the world. It’s no wonder that the State has refused to publicly disclose its tunnel financing plan. The State is broke, and knows how risky this is, so the legislature passed a law making Seattle taxpayers liable for all cost overruns.
How much will we be taxed to fix sinkholes or a broken tunneling machine for the largest tunnel ever dug (58 feet) compared to the $200 Million on overruns so far for Brightwater (13 feet)? Nobody knows. However we do know that a 10% cost overrun would bankrupt Seattle.
After spending all that money, our transportation options from West Seattle would worsen. According to WSDOT, drives from West Seattle to downtown would take on average 12 minutes longer, bus rides 20 minutes longer, the Seneca Street exit to downtown would disappear, and 2/3 of the drivers currently using the Viaduct would back up traffic on 99 to avoid the tunnel. The resulting congestion on downtown streets, I-5, and the waterfront would be the same as just closing the Viaduct tomorrow. So how can tunnel supporters claim the tunnel is needed to relieve congestion?
Many of our streets have horrible pot holes, but the billions spent on the tunnel would do nothing for that. Metro is planning to eliminate the 22, 23, 51, 53, 55, 57, 85, 116, 118, 119, and 133 bus routes in West Seattle, and cut service to the 21, 54, 56, and 125. But the tolled tunnel budget doesn’t include a penny for permanent transit service, while sucking billions away from other vital projects. Why on earth put all our eggs in this basket when it gives us so little for our money?
Instead of addressing these problems, tunnel supporters say it’s too late and we’ve talked too long. They ignore the data about the congestion the tunnel will cause, and try to change the subject to earthquakes. They even ask the public to get angry at other people, when the problem is their own terrible idea.
West Seattle is too wonderful of a community to give in to the threats and propaganda about the tunnel. West Seattle deserves an affordable option that makes our transportation system better, and doesn't endanger our basic priorities.
We can still prevent this mistake from happening, much earlier than we pulled the plug on WPPSS. Mail-in ballots will be due August 16, and I ask you to join me and Reject Referendum No. 1. It’s West Seattle’s opportunity to say “we want better!”
Brian Allen serves on the Board of Directors of Sustainable Seattle, co-founded Sustainable West Seattle, and is a Homestead Community Land Trust homeowner in the High Point neighborhood.