New Viaduct scenarios: The view from another WS stakeholder

On this day after the state, county, and city went public with the final two “scenarios” for an Alaskan Way Viaduct Central Waterfront replacement, we are continuing to publish expanded reactions to the proposals, starting with the West Seattleites who have been part of the Viaduct-vetting process as members of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee. This committee does not get to vote on what it wants to see – it’s been brought together from various groups and areas with a particular “stake” in this, and has been used as something of a sounding board, through a series of long and arduous meetings (for which they are not compensated). Late last night, we published the reaction of committee member Pete Spalding of Pigeon Point; this morning, here’s what we’ve received from committee member Vlad Oustimovitch of Gatewood:

As I’m sure everybody has already learned, the combined project team from the three Departments of Transportation (Washington State, King County and City of Seattle) announced two options for dealing with the damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct. Unfortunately, the two options selected, a new waterfront side-by-side viaduct with no downtown exits, and a surface option that simply boosts the capacity of existing surface streets without maintaining through capacity, are both options that will generate incredible opposition from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. The rebuilt viaduct option has been deemed unacceptable by both downtown and environmental interests, and the surface solution is unacceptable to both the business community as well as all of the commuters that depend on the Viaduct to get to their jobs. West Seattle, more than any other community, would be seriously impacted by the surface solution. Neither of the two options offer a solution that will garner support from a broad base of constituents, and will undoubtedly once again lead us into acrimonious debate, dividing the region and stalemating the process.

The good news is that at yesterday’s meeting the stakeholders took the initiative for a diplomatic solution, with 24 out of 25 stakeholders stating that it was important to avoid the battles that would ensue from the decision to limit the options to the two offered, and to work on a compromise solution. David Brewster wrote an excellent article in Crosscut
“A peace treaty for the Viaduct wars” that explains how we are trying to broker a solution that is acceptable for the greatest number of stakeholders. Not just the stakeholders on the committee, but to all the stakeholders in the region. This would include different components of surface improvements, as well as a bored tunnel that would allow through capacity similar to what it is today.

I realize that many people in West Seattle would like to see another elevated solution that maintains the drive with the best views in the region, but I think that we all recognize that the most important thing is to maintain our ability to get around. The bored tunnel offers us two things, first the potential to retain the existing viaduct during construction, which is not possible with a rebuild and secondly (but perhaps most importantly) a political alliance that allows the Viaduct issue to finally get settled. If we do not consider the interests of everybody in the political equation, then it is very possible that we will be left with the surface option, which to me is not an option at all. We need to maintain our transportation capacity. The bored tunnel, although slightly more costly than a rebuild is a good investment. Economic studies have shown potential losses to our regional economy of up $3.4 billion dollars a year during any closure of the Viaduct and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

We need a solution, not another impasse that could have disastrous consequences not only to West Seattle, but to the whole region. That is why I am working very hard with the other stakeholders to help craft a diplomatic solution to stave off the crisis that will certainly result from the selection of the two alternates announced yesterday by our political leaders. I am disappointed that after a year of working on this, our leaders have decided to pit us against each other. To me, that is not an option. We need to work together in these difficult times.

I read all the responses posted on the West Seattle Blog on the subject on the Viaduct, so please take the time to post a comment. It is very useful to me to get feedback.

Thanks to Vlad and Pete for agreeing to share their thoughts. In the pipeline for later today – a guest editorial from former West Seattle Herald editor Jack Mayne.

If you want to follow just our Alaskan Way Viaduct coverage, by the way, here is the direct link to all stories we’ve flagged for that category (newest to oldest) – if you read via RSS, find the WSB Categories list in the right sidebar, where you’ll note each category has its own RSS feed.

For all the project information, and links to send your thoughts directly to decisionmakers, there’s an ever-growing website at For other coverage, you can also check the automated feed on the WSB “More” page – in addition to pulling links from regional media mentioning West Seattle, we also programmed that feed long ago to include Alaskan Way Viaduct mentions too.

39 Replies to "New Viaduct scenarios: The view from another WS stakeholder"

  • Sage December 12, 2008 (11:48 am)

    Since the stakeholders asked for comments, I just want to offer that this West Seattle-ite sees the surface + bored tunnel as a nearly ideal solution. Open space, decent throughput, transit & bike alternatives, minimized disruptions, and not leaving an enormous mass of ugliness as our generation’s aesthetic legacy. I’ve been watching the viaduct debate pretty closely (like many of us on this side of the Duwamish, I’m sure!) and that seems clearly to be the way to go. Go team!

  • Meghan December 12, 2008 (11:59 am)

    I strongly believe we need a tunnel. Even if we build the least expensive, relatively shallow 4 lane tunnel connecting up to the Batter Street tunnel (with the first downtown exits right after the tunnel), it would provide the “bypass” option through downtown that the region (esp. us in W. Seattle) need. We could still have the one-way surface streets on Western and Alaskan Way for the local downtown traffic. So when you approached downtown from the north or south, you’d have “local” and “by-pass” options. I’ve seen this in other cities and it really works. An elevated structure like the side-by-side nightmare they are proposing would be a disaster and cut the city off from the waterfront. And the surface option doesn’t seem to have the capacity we need. Building the tunnel would allow smaller surface streets above it (and therefore, more open green space). Can’t we somehow come up with the money for the tunnel? Other cities (both in the US and other nations) are building projects much bigger than even our most expensive tunnel and they seem to be able to find it!

  • Scott December 12, 2008 (12:13 pm)

    The only option that will work for the commuters of West Seattle is the elevated structure. The surface street option will cause terrible traffic congestion making getting in and out of West Seattle impossible on both 99 and I5. Does anyone remember the last earth quake? Lets select an option that actually works!

  • villagegreen December 12, 2008 (12:28 pm)

    It’s the same nearsightedness that afflicts all aspects of Seattle city planning. That’s why we have no decent public transportation (costs too much and we don’t really need it). And we have cheaply constructed ugly looking condos and townhomes littered throughout the city.

    Why not think longterm and big. You get what you pay for. This is not a decision that should be soley based on cost. The tunnel is the only option that would truly reconnect the city with the waterfront. IMO, the surface option would create even more of a separation and greatly reduce capacity.

    I’m very pro public transit, but with no lightrail planned for the entire west side of the city, cars will remain the basic mode of transportation. If the city refuses to build rapid transit, I will continue to drive.

  • villagegreen December 12, 2008 (12:32 pm)

    Oh – if the city decides to build another elevated structure this town wins the prize for dumbest place on the planet. It’s truly amazing how such an educated city can be so stupid. Guess the saying is true that book smarts are no substitute for street smarts.

  • Roger December 12, 2008 (12:47 pm)

    I agree with Vlad that a hybrid option of tunnel and surface streets is the only intelligent and aesthetically pleasing choice.
    I am glad to see that he and Pete are working hard to communicate the thoughts and needs of this side of the city.
    What is needed is some central organization for our voices in West Seattle. If these decision-makers could clearly see that 20% of the city’s population will not just lay down and watch our future transportation options be destroyed.
    Enough is enough!

  • mpento December 12, 2008 (1:00 pm)

    I currently switch around between using the viaduct or alaskan way ground street for getting down to the west seattle bridge (upper or lower) I really don’t think the best planning can combine the traffic from the viaduct with the traffic on the ground (ferry passengers, tourists and those long long long freight trains) You cannot make a ground street in that area that will allow a driver to bypass the downtown area. The biggest problem I have with the viaduct at the moment is getting on and getting off. No matter how good a “solution” is chosen to replace the viaduct if the traffic cannot move before and after this peice of roadway we are still stuck with being stuck.

  • Keith December 12, 2008 (1:05 pm)

    I’m encourage to read that our WS Stakeholders are determined to hold out and fight for the right solution. I agree that tunnel/surface is the way to go.

  • John December 12, 2008 (1:07 pm)

    Bored Tunnel is the best option – from a loss of jobs, cost of re-route, long-term value perspective. I don’t see anyway around it – literally.

    WestSeattle stands to offer Seattle the most growth opportunity for affordable homes, localized growth, in-fill development, and a significant tax base for Seattle. I think it’s reasonable to invest wisely, in a solution that recognizes that a sound investment up front, will yield rewards near-term and long-term.

  • Renee December 12, 2008 (1:09 pm)

    If we build an elevated structure, 50-75 years from now we will be right back where we are now. If we go with the surface option, do we really think it will be a tranquil, beautiful, quiet, safe, pollution free, congestion free, pedestrian friendly environment? Not without any additional throughput which would remove many cars from the surface and allow for a better waterfront design, providing a legacy for our future.

    The bored tunnel is the solution. The only solution.

  • Bill December 12, 2008 (1:15 pm)

    For all of you who love the tunnel approach, please look into the mess that Boston’s Big Dig created for that city.

  • RS December 12, 2008 (1:18 pm)

    I thought I’d finally escaped the Big Dig when I moved here and lo, it has followed me! The amount of stoplights on the surface option just boggles the mind. I will definitely move out of West Seattle if that plan is chosen. I really don’t get how a big constant traffic jam is going to give us a “world class waterfront.”

  • cleat December 12, 2008 (1:24 pm)

    I can’t help be be concerned that the tunnel, overhead or anything other than surface street (which I’m not a fan of either!) will be subject to the fill in the area equaling liquification in some future quake … I’m not trying to play devils advocate, but if highway 99 works in Wallingford, North Seattle etc… what are the obstacles to making it work going through town on street level? Again… I’m not advocating it, but it seems to work further North … why not here? It just seems like liquification of the fill soil is more of a problem than people are acknowledging. I’d like to hear other’s thoughts on this. cll

  • ivan December 12, 2008 (1:32 pm)

    I would settle for the bored tunnel as a fallback option as long as the Viaduct remained open for traffic while they were digging it, but it’s still my position that an elevated highway is the superior solution — with three lanes each way! Why should we settle for two?

    This area’s population is only going to grow. The new people will bring their cars with them whether the local Green Taliban likes it or not.

    It beggars all logic that we would not plan for additional capacity and mobility. None of the options do that. Two lanes in each direction, tunnel or elevated, is LESS capacity than we have now. What CAN they be thinking, to constrict traffic in that way? Even if people ride the bus, this doesn’t help them either.

    We need to defeat the surface option at all costs. It’s no option at all.

  • Bettytheyeti December 12, 2008 (1:45 pm)

    Thank you Vlad for getting to the “crux of the biscuit.” The tunnel while more expensive upfront, allows for the least disruption. Money savings right there. What is value for your time? Remember this will effect congestion on I-5 too! Waterfront folk advocates would get their park. Viaduct folks, the port, and commerce could continue to use the viaduct until the tunnel is installed the viaduct dismantled. A great value should be attached to lessoning the pain; removing the viaduct IS going to be a pain. Our two “remaining” solutions require living without one in the interum.

  • Gary December 12, 2008 (1:49 pm)

    We need our Senators to go to bat to get federal dollars that Obama has been talking about for infrustructure public works projects. The more expensive tunnel, means more jobs for a longer time – if the tunnel can be planned where it will embrace light rail or other public transportation choices in the future,a carbon constrained future – I’m for it. We need to stop thinking about the old paradigm we are living in and invent new ways of being without petroleum fueled cars as our way of getting around.

  • Meghan December 12, 2008 (4:03 pm)

    I moved here from Boston several years ago and I can assure you: our 1 mile (or so) tunnel would be NOT NEARLY as big a project as the “big dig” in Boston! That was several miles of tunnels and highways. And yes, it had it’s problems. But now Boston has reclaimed its waterfront and is creating more new open space than our city has in it’s entire downtown core!

  • KSJ December 12, 2008 (4:15 pm)

    I take the viaduct to work everyday, commuting from West Seattle to West Lake Union. It takes 14 minutes. It would take about an hour on the bus, even thought there’s a route that goes straight there, but that’s another topic.

    If I had to take surface streets, as I do sometimes when the Viaduct traffic is messed up, it takes closer to 30-45 minutes. If we only have surface streets as an option, traffic through downtown will be a disaster. They would have to add two or more lanes each way to I-5 AND clean up the I-90/I-5 interchange to make that a viable alternative to a viaduct or tunnel.

    I vote for the tunnel plus surface street clean-up. It’s the plan with the longest view. And I agree with Gary, there is going to be federal public works money available, and this would seem to qualify for consideration.

  • Zenguy December 12, 2008 (4:19 pm)

    I am ok with a tunnel and surface street option, but it HAS to have at least one downtown exit! I cannot see my bus exiting at Denny and then coming back which means I would be on surface streets with stops every block. No thank you.

  • Scott B. December 12, 2008 (4:41 pm)

    It is ridiculous to willingly reduce our current traffic capacity. We should have three lanes in each direction with exits and onramps in the existing locations. I don’t care whether the replacement is a tunnel or a viaduct.

    A surface street “solution” would be the epitome of Seattle extreme liberal stupidity.

  • rjb December 12, 2008 (4:59 pm)

    The only reason our mayor wants to “open the waterfront” is not for all of Seattle to be able to enjoy the view and amble along the beautiful waterfront – it’s so the developers who will be able to now build more condos with unobstructed views.
    If people actually believe that developers are the mayor’s first priority, I have a bridge I can sell you.
    Elevated structure. Surface street is insane, as then we have to also add more work onto I-5. Adding one more lane for a limited distance won’t help with overflow. Surface streets? Bye-bye higher speed limit with no having to slow down for pedestrians, stop lights, etc. Tunnel? Oh yeah, I’m sure something that huge would come in at budget and in time.
    Waa. The condo owners downtown won’t have an ideal view. They’ll have to look at traffic. Where else is the current structure an eyesore? When you’re on the waterfront turned away from the water??

  • el_grego December 12, 2008 (5:21 pm)

    Tunnel/surface definitely. Getting rid of the viaduct will free up tons of space on the waterfront, and I’ll still be able to get to Phinney, Ballard and Greenwood in 20 minutes, and not ever have to go near I-5.

    I hate I-5.

  • PSPS December 12, 2008 (5:43 pm)

    A workable solution has to meet two criteria:
    1. It must maintain at least three lanes of unmolested traffic in each direction. As others have pointed out, any option that reduces capacity or imposes traffic signals on surface streets will render it no better than driving on 1st Ave. today.
    2. It cannot disrupt traffic on the existing viaduct for any significant period of time. Options that involve “temporarily” rerouting traffic onto surface streets or I-5 will just permanently divide the city in two because moving from south of the construction to north of downtown would not be practical. If this were to be the norm for months or years, people and businesses would just stop traversing the area.
    If cost is a problem, then the best option remains a retrofit of the existing structure, which could be accomplished for less than half of the cheapest existing option without disrupting traffic at all. But, of course, that option has been summarily dismissed. I suppose it made too much sense and politically-connected groups couldn’t suck up enough taxpayer dollars to make it worthwhile.

  • JayDee December 12, 2008 (6:21 pm)

    The current Viaduct is gulag-architecture; the elevated replacement is much more elegant. However, neither the tunnel or the elevated will address the need for exits northbound from West Seattle, or on-ramps southbound.

    Aside from age and the visual and auditory impact, what is wrong with the current viaduct? The current viaduct is viable–You can get off and go/get on downtown. If we can reduce the auditory impact and reduce the visual impact but keep the same options open, I won’t care if I am in a tunnel or on a elevated structure. Why can’t there be an exit from the tunnel or elevated at Seneca? Why not an on-ramp at Columbia? Screw the 1st ave exit (which I never use).

    Just compare the experience of the viaduct with that of I-5 and you can reach your own conclusion. I would rather have capacity of (or even existence of) our current viaduct and preserve the options of the current viaduct (We know they work).

    The surface option is the death of a thousand cuts. Do we really want to turn Western into a thoroughfare? Sounds like a bottleneck at PPM. I’d love to believe that buses on 1st and 4th can solve our problem, but we have no problem now–the aging viaduct works pretty well. Why craft a feel-good solution to a problem that doesn’t exist?

  • Kim December 12, 2008 (7:15 pm)

    There has been no talk or visual about the trains. The railroad tracks run right through this. Delays now on the surface streets with a long train running through downtown can create gridlock for up to 30 minutes during rush hour.

  • B-Squared December 12, 2008 (8:20 pm)

    ELEVATED!!! I am glad to see this made the cut. It is the only thing that makes sense.

    This is a transportation corridor for people and goods going to and from downtown and those wishing to bypass it completely. I can’t help thinking that the people who are itching for surface options actually use the viaduct much.

    The elevated structure stills seems safer to me than a tunnel (liquefaction zone AND rising seawater – nice)
    It can be made aesthetically appealing, and probably quieter. But it’s a thorough-fare, not a library.
    surface option=cluster….! Imagine trying to use it when a sporting event is occurring downtown. Two stadiums = nightmare. Throw in some trains, and more buses, and a whole lot of traffic lights. Not so good.

    And I can’t help but think that the scope-creep that has occurred over how to replace the viaduct is massively fueled by developers and our development-friendly mayor and city council. This is a land-value grab, pure and simple. It feels like transportation has somehow taken a back seat to “enhancing” the waterfront. Come on west Seattle, get on the clue-bus! The elevated structure is the best approach.

  • Roger December 12, 2008 (8:56 pm)

    As I mentioned in a previous post, the “ELEVATED” option will not be built to be similar in looks or function. Everyone who thinks that they will get a widened viaduct similar to the one we have now, will be unpleasantly surprised. The design codes would require higher ‘walls’ thus eliminating a view for all but the tallest of vehicles and six lanes elevated along the waterfront will block out as much, or more sky than we currently have on our waterfront.
    Comparisons to the “Big Dig” in Boston are not only unrealistic but shamelessly baised.
    As for those who claim that a land-grab is happening downtown, please provide facts/figures to substantiate your claim. I am sure we would all like to read them.

  • AlkiResident December 12, 2008 (10:48 pm)

    The tunnel doesn’t make sense for a few reasons. It will have less lanes to move what will be more traffic in the future. No way will I ever feel comfortable in a tunnel that close to the water (sea level) and in an earthquake zone. As for the surface option, if drivers initiated their commute on the viaduct from downtown south and ended at the north end (and reverse), then a surface road would be a possible solution. But, that isn’t the case. Most traffic starts further south (or north) and continues out of downtown. On NPR, a representative of SDOT said that the surface route will encourage people to use other routes throughout downtown. Has anyone driven through downtown? Now add approximately 100,000 cars, which the viaduct handles on a daily basis. I vote to fix the existing structure or create something similar. It has served well.

  • Brian December 12, 2008 (11:08 pm)

    go with a big bore tunnel. and place the front street back from the water 200′.

    from the viaduct west to the water should be reclaimed by the city and made into a 200′ by 1 mile park with tress, grassy null, ect. Kind of like water front park in Portland.

    I would miss the view, but would be happy to trade it for a beautiful waterfront community building park.

    when we are driving we should be looking at the road.

  • Jeffro December 12, 2008 (11:23 pm)

    cleat – Aurora through Wallingford and North Seattle “works” as a highway, but it is a rather crummy pedestrian experience – unless you’re a streetwalker. Also remember that Aurora from the tunnel to Greenlake has no traffic signals, but once you hit the Greenlake signals, especially during rush hour, things can slow to a crawl.
    PSPS – I wouldn’t say we have three lanes of unmolested traffic. It eventually narrows down to two lanes to go into the Battery Street tunnel.
    The waterfront as it is now is already a vibrant pedestrian zone, definitely more than your average block downtown. Even the tourists have figured out that you can cross underneath the “concrete barrier” that is the current Viaduct. I’ve got to think it’s easier to do that than to play Frogger across Western Ave and then across Alaskan Way in the surface scenario.
    One thing I don’t hear being discussed at all is whether tolls are on the table or not. After all the talk about future tolls on the 520, I’ve gotta think there’s gonna be some quid pro quo against us westsiders. It would be nice to hear about the likelihood of tolls to better inform our decision.

  • WSB December 12, 2008 (11:30 pm)

    Excellent question. Given all the brouhaha at the end of the meeting regarding where is the money coming from, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them surface, though right now the financing plan for these options has not been nailed down.

  • bolo December 13, 2008 (8:44 pm)

    I call Foul on the Unfairly Depicted artist renderings shown at the top of this piece. Why is there almost no shadow from the 1st Ave S./ S. Jackson intersection yet the shadow thrown from the elevated starts almost directly under its west edge and extends out to its width again toward the east? What is the objective?

    And is it actually showing the center raised planter strips deleted from 1st Ave S. to make it a three-lane NB one way + one parking strip?

  • WSB December 13, 2008 (8:52 pm)

    These are from the WSDOT gallery of images of the original 8 scenarios – they have not yet released anything new relating to the “final two”; scenarios C and D, couplet and elevated, are the basic building blocks of the two “hybrids” so that’s the imagery being used until and unless something else comes out.

  • Pam December 14, 2008 (1:32 am)

    I like the bored tunnel option the best as well. The idea of making our commute longer – even 10 minutes is extremely counter productive. It is like suggesting they take out part of I-405 and putting in surface streets and lights. They work on other highways in the area to improve traffic, but they want to add time to our commute. It will end up making a mess everywhere. I’ve been on the downtown streets when the viaduct is closed during traffic. 10 minutes? try 2 hours!

    Why do all the designs (even past designs) delete the Seneca exit? Having more than one exit and one right in the center of downtown gives us options when traffic is bad. And an option to get away from game traffic.

  • Thermo December 15, 2008 (6:17 pm)

    Don’t hate me for this, but I would really like the City to shutdown the viaduct for a month so they can understand the impact of the various “solutions”. I know how bad it would suck for us West Siders, but I think we need to show the city how much it would impact all traffic flow. I think they are eyeballing the development money from a surface street option and not caring about the traffic impact. I’m getting tired of the emphasis on mass transit and bike lanes. I need to drive my car…..

  • Greg December 15, 2008 (9:45 pm)

    I went to the Public Forum tonight and after listening to presentations and reviewing the documents, I’m in favor of the tunnel. The surface street option does not seem practical, it relies too much on active traffic managements, improvements to I-5, destroys Western Ave, and adds 15 lights between W. Seattle and Seneca. The elevated bypass is going to be have the same issues as the current viaduct, except it will not fall down. Both options have too many compromises and we need to find a better solution, even if it costs more.

    For those of you that bad mouth the Big Dig, I travel to Boston regularly and their downtown is much, much nicer for it.

  • Paul Chasan December 15, 2008 (10:40 pm)

    I like the surface option. Both an elevated highway (irresponsible) or a tunnel (irresponsible, delusional) do nothing to ween us from our addiction to cars. I commute downtown via bus from west Seattle daily. Its fast and convenient. The proposed transit improvements will further ease the transition.

    It makes me sad when i hear my neighbors voicing opinions are based solely on short-term self interest at the expense of the greater good of the city and planet.

    These opinions do not represent everybody living in West Seattle.

  • WSB December 15, 2008 (10:45 pm)

    For anyone else who stops by tonight (Monday), I covered the Town Hall forum and am writing about it now – will add the url to this comment when it’s up – TR

  • Fred Bentler December 17, 2008 (6:15 am)

    I think relying on cars doesn’t work and won’t work in the future. I don’t think it’s an abstraction to suggest we must change how we get around. I do think if we’re going to spend billions fixing up old infrastructure, we should include something new that sets us in a better direction. So, here’s something completely different to weave into the project mix:

    Care to give it a vote?

Sorry, comment time is over.