Viaduct panel: West Seattle impact? We’ll get back to you on that

viaductphoto.jpgThe state, county, and city officials who’ve been working on the future of the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s Central Waterfront section always freely admit they have much more to study and figure out. But it was made clear at Monday night’s public forum — first comment opportunity since the unveiling of two “hybrid scenarios” — that one of the things they’re still figuring out is what the scenarios would mean to this side of the bay. Read on:

By no means a full house at Town Hall downtown – but respectable given (a) the icy weather and (b) the 5 pm start time. Among those on hand, West Seattle’s two Stakeholders Advisory Committee members, Pete Spalding and Vlad Oustimovitch, both longtime neighborhood activists who’ve spent countless hours in briefings and discussions (with 23 other “stakeholders”; roster here) as part of the process of determining the fate of what WSDOT’s Ron Paananen called tonight “the mile in the middle.”

The event had four components: The usual array of infoboards in the lobby, each with somebody hovering nearby, ready to answer questions about whichever component of the (proposed) project her or his infoboard was showcasing; a recap presentation (“how did we get here”); a moderator reading written questions from audience members; open mike for public comments.

Component #1, the recap, ran quickly from “the Viaduct is unsafe and must come down” to recap of “current structures cannot withstand another earthquake,” through the 8 scenarios that were evaluated, to the 2 “hybrid scenarios” unveiled last Thursday. Paananen noted that this project followed “five or six years looking at full-capacity replacements” before they took a different tack. He shared the stage with four men who had been with him at countless other briefings, including media events we’ve covered – right to left, it’s county Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi, WSDOT’S David Dye, city Deputy Director of Transportation Bob Powers, Paananen, and consultant Jim Parsons:

Having heard the briefing basics before, we listened for something new – what was once called a “lidded trench,” study scenario H, was described here as a “depressed lidded roadway.” The two new scenarios have slightly newer names — “I-5 surface/transit hybrid” (one way Alaskan Way and one way Western Avenue), with slightly tweaked graphics made available at the forum too:

Powers made a point of saying the I-5 improvements that are being stressed as part of this would include the 2-way Mercer Street “from I-5 to Elliott” and overhead “gantries” displaying signs with messages such as suggested speed (to maximize flow), trouble ahead, detours when applicable, all this labeled “active traffic management” — plus an extra lane squeezed into the northbound direction from Seneca to 520, and a new ramp from northbound I-5 to the E-3 busway.

The I-5 work is a large part of the $2.2 billion pricetag for this scenario, adding onto the $1.1 billion that’s already being spent for other work including the south end rebuild, for a grand total of $3.3 for the surface/transit hybrid.

There wasn’t as much to explain about the newly rechristened “SR 99 Elevated Bypass Hybrid,” aka the two elevated side-by-side single-deck viaducts, with Alaskan Way running beneath them, and a waterfront “promenade” to the west:

Most of the $2.3 billion “scenario” cost here goes to the actual infrastructure, with lots less to be done with transit and other routes, grand total (with that added $1.1-plus billion in related work) $3.5 billion.

For both scenarios, Powers acknowledged that they don’t know much yet about how West Seattle drivers will be affected; both had slides listing questions, each including “access from West Seattle to downtown.” (When reading that in the presentation of the first scenario, he referred to it as a “rough spot” that has to be “sanded down”; in the second one, something “we have to wrap our brains around.” A later public comment made note of the phraseology, and voiced disbelief that West Seattle hadn’t been better-studied already.)

Powers pointed out that the travel time will increase from West Seattle to central downtown under any scenario, because the Seneca offramp and Columbia onramp are going away, and also, he noted, because of “general growth.” The new on/off point will be at the South King Street end, period (which the team noted cheerily would mean shorter travel time if you happen to be going to the south side of downtown).

Time is also an issue in terms of construction — the elevated hybrid, Powers said, would take two and a half years longer than the surface/transit.

Then came a brief mention of the “bored tunnel,” which had been mentioned at the Thursday scenario unveiling as something that would continue to be “studied,” since the surface/transit scenario wouldn’t preclude adding the tunnel later, if necessary.

“We heard loud and clear from Stakeholders Advisory Committee members that they’d like to take a harder look at this,” it was noted, along with two ways in which such a tunnel could proceed: make sure whatever’s done now wouldn’t get in its way, or start doing it now so that the Viaduct could be kept open till it was done. The team promised they were “going to take a hard look and examine the costs … and as that information becomes available, (they) will release it to the public.”

Examining the costs also applies to the two “official” scenarios, since that yielded a testy moment toward the end of last Thursday’s briefing, when Gov. Gregoire, seated next to County Executive Sims and Mayor Nickels, declared her $2.8 billion contribution was where the buck stopped for the project, and if both scenarios cost more, she’s waiting to hear who’s going to cover the gap — “not me,” she repeated at the time.

Next came the questions and answers. Fairly unenlightening, save the fact that one of the first ones read was attributed to a West Seattle resident saying “looks like both of these will make my commute much worse” since the Seneca and Columbia ramps will be gone. The panel took issue with that blanket statement about commute time, saying that if you are heading to the south end of downtown, travel times will be “equal to what they are today” – or, if you are going to the center of the city, could take 10 minutes longer. “Some trips will be shorter, some longer,” was the conclusion.

Why weren’t the Columbia/Seneca ramps included in any scenarios? was one of the next questions read. They were in the 2007 (election) version, the panel acknowledged, because that was in essence asking about a straight rebuild of the existing viaduct, theoretically — with some trepidation, Dye pointed out — retaining those existing ramps, while “the goal this time around was to develop an elevated with a smaller footprint, with the access to downtown via the (new) south end interchange.”

Another question: Who are the people — “names, please” — who will be making the final decision? That one didn’t quite get a clean answer, but it did clarify that what is to be chosen by year’s end will be a “preliminary preferred option” followed by a formal environmental review. (The Legislature’s role in a final decision was stressed, and it was noted that the governor had sent legislators a letter last Friday asking for their thoughts on the two “hybrid” scenarios.)

Another question: How long would each take to build? Powers explained the “construction-efficient” get-it-done timetable vs. the “traffic-efficient” keep-things-moving timetable. Little difference for both – the construction timetable could range from 5 years (construction-efficient surface) to 9 1/2 years (traffic-efficient option).

After the Q/A, on to the comments. First up, Randall Mastin, who said he’d been a truck driver for 25 years and is a fan of The Viaduct as it is now. “I haven’t heard anyone talk about how great this design is. It’s the best system I’ve seen in the entire West, handling traffic and congestion better than any other route.” He favored a retrofit, which was thrown out of the process fairly early on, with officials claiming it would cost too much to be worth it.

But Martin Kaplan, a member of the Seattle Planning Commission, said that group was unlikely to give its blessing to anything involving an elevated structure, and cited city principles saying that “new trips” downtown needed to be accommodated with anything BUT a facilitation of single-occupancy vehicle trips.

West Seattleite Bruce Bobzien might have begged to differ, if the commenters had interacted. His main beef was with the prospect of having less traffic capacity: “Right now we have a major roadway cutting through a major metropolitan city, going 50 miles per hour, three lanes each way, and we’re looking at moving that to two lanes each direction? From a West Seattle standpoint, all we want to do sometimes is just go into downtown and come back quickly and that’s really going to go away.”

Bruce Brewer warned starkly that “if travel time increases and capacity is reduced, employers are going to leave the city. If we don’t make improvements to our throughput, this will become an employer ghost town.”

Several more elevated supporters spoke, several pro-tunnel, and some simply in opposition to the surface option, like Kirk Robbins of the Queen Anne Community Council, who was one of two people who pointed out that the surface option would include more than two dozen stoplights along the path from Sodo to the north end. (The other one drew laughter and applause when he said, “If this is the best solution you’ve got after 8 years” — post-Nisqually quake — “it’s no good.”)

The loudest voice on behalf of West Seattle was Lea Kent, who said: “Normally I just think of myself as one of those 600,000 people (in the city). But to hear regarding West Seattle, either it’s something you need to ‘sand down’ or ‘wrap your head around’ — West Seattle is 20 percent of the population and that you still have not figured out how these options work for our part of the city is troubling. We need livability, we need access to the city. And every minute that we spend sitting in traffic at stoplights is a minute we’re not spending with our families and communities or doing other things that are more worthwhile. I’m not loving the elevated option, nor the surface transit option either. … I don’t think you’re understanding the bottlenecks getting out of West Seattle on transit now — unless you’re going to run a bus lane all the way to the Sound, you’re going to have everything stacked up all the way to the city.”

If you weren’t able to make it to the public forum, you can send comments; here’s how.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Stakeholders Advisory Committee meets again this Thursday at City Hall, 4 pm; according to the P-I (this one’s not on the Viaduct website’s events list), members also will be briefed on potential tunnel costs at a 5:30 pm gathering tonight at Puget Sound Regional Council HQ.

19 Replies to "Viaduct panel: West Seattle impact? We'll get back to you on that"

  • Magpie December 16, 2008 (6:12 am)

    I would bet that none of these men live in West Seattle or have to commute from here. I love the spin that we can get to Pioneer square quicker. Huh? I would bet that more people in West Seattle work downtown. I guess what we are really hearing here is, let’s thumb our noses at West Seattle, hell, it’s our chance to make something really pretty for tourists and developers. Our property taxes will go down in West Seattle, but those condos downtown will make up for it? Is this the mayor’s way of getting his own helicopter so that he doesn’t have to sit in traffic like the rest of us who are basically being sold down the river? Like true politicians, again, no answers at the end of the day. Just another study and too much talk and plenty of bad planning.

  • mar3c December 16, 2008 (6:26 am)

    planners still don’t get it. you can’t reduce single-occupancy trips without giving people viable options for getting out of their cars.
    simply “disincentivizing” people from driving by making traffic suck doesn’t really work.
    now, if we had some kind of fast rail option from west seattle to downtown that didn’t go anywhere near surface streets, preferably before they drop the viaduct into the bay…

  • mar3c December 16, 2008 (6:27 am)

    oops. gotta learn how the block quote works.

  • Dunno December 16, 2008 (10:11 am)

    All we need is one full week of current Viaduct
    shutdown. This happened for a couple of days after Nisqually quake and city gridlock resulted.

    West Seattle is adding how many new residents in the next 10 years?

    City plans on everyone working for the city or maybe a white collar job at Wa Mutual downtown?
    This way, all can take public transportion or ride a bike from West Seattle?

    No need for package delivery, plumbers, electricians, painters, construction, ects. Everyone can carry the stuff onto public transit?

    People in the north end heading for the airport, you will need to leave a day in advance to make sure you catch your flight.

    I’m all for a 6 lane tunnel or anything that keeps
    our city vibrant. Whatever is done needs to be constructed with the current viaduct in place in my opinion.

  • Keith December 16, 2008 (10:56 am)

    Bravo, Lea Kent!

    It’s astonishing (and kind of frightening) that West Seattle’s needs and relationship to the Viaduct are being completely ignored. I just sent in a comment asking that officials actually listen to our Stakeholder Advisors. Hopefully Pete and Vlad can give the city and state officials a clue or two that they are so obviously lacking.

  • Meghan December 16, 2008 (11:04 am)

    When are these people going to realize that the ONLY option that will work to satisfy everyone is a bored tunnel with surface streets overhead? We’ve simply got to make that happen! It’s totally feasible and possible to bore the tunnel while the viaduct is still standing, open the tunnel to traffice, then tear down the viaduct, and then build the surface streets. It’ll take time and money, but it’s well worth it, it won’t shut traffic city down competely for years, and this option will last 50+ years! Let’s figure this out, Seattle, or we’re either going to have a big, massive, unimaginably ugly elevated highway (much wider than the current viaduct) cutting the city off from its precious waterfront, or completely clogged surface streets that are totally inadequate from Day One!

  • Mario December 16, 2008 (11:20 am)

    It’s time to form the City of West Seattle. Our current city leaders are oblivious to the needs of our community. They even admitted so. We have no representation in our current state. They’re going to ram one of the two viaduct options down our throats no matter how much we protest. We’re screwed. But going forward, if we secede from the city, we can have a bigger united voice. We can keep West side tax dollars in our own community.

  • chas redmond December 16, 2008 (11:30 am)

    So for the upcoming 2009 City Council elections, let’s start asking each candidate what he/she would do for West Seattle and Ballard/Magnolia/Interbay accessibility. If the answer is anything short of grade-separated rapid transit then our correct response should be “next candidate.” If the answer is “grade separated rapid transit,” our next question should be “when” and if that answer is not coincident with the finish of the Viaduct rebuild then our response will again be “next candidate.”

  • villagegreen December 16, 2008 (11:33 am)

    Where were you tunnel proponents when it was up for a vote? All I saw at that time were tons of people with those stupid “I (heart) Viaduct” stickers. It was blatantly clear from the beginning that the Viaduct would be coming down. Building another elevated structure is just pure idiocy. It may work currently, but it completely destroys the waterfront and inhibits downtown development.

    The only option that makes any sense whatsoever for WS is the tunnel. That’s obviously why Nickels supported it. But all I heard from WS residents is what a boondoggle that would be and how it would cost way too much. Well now that we’ve shot the tunnel down this is what we’re left with: the surface street option. It sucks, but I would start getting used to the idea because that’s obviously where we’re headed.

  • iggy December 16, 2008 (11:49 am)

    My concer, apart from commuting to work, is that traffic gridlock would endanger health and even life. Medical care in West Seattle is improving, but we still have no hospital or ability to care for people needing advanced care or critical care. I’m in Gatewood, and I’m trying to go to Highline as much as possible. Works well except when it’s ice and snow like now. But for more advanced stuff, it’s still go downtown. And Highline is quite a distance for those in the north part of West Seattle. Nothing worse than being stuck in total traffic gridlock or on a bus in total traffic gridlock when you’re ill. Back in the 1990s when the Urban Village concept was the hot issue, there was a movement for West Seattle to seceed from the city and join King County. Might be worth revisiting this idea. If I recall, the West Seattle Police Station was given to us to “quiet us down.” Wonder what we could ask for this time???

  • Mario December 16, 2008 (12:23 pm)

    iggy, I remember the movement to secede from the city! It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now. I only see benefits from forming our own City of West Seattle. We would have a bigger political voice to leverage with the viaduct issue. West Seattle is a bedroom community and there’s a huge amount of tax dollars leaving the community, far more than we get back. I bet we could fund more police officers for example. Maybe we could even save Pathfinder. We need a charismatic leader to get us there. We need another activist like Charlie Chong.

  • Mickymse December 16, 2008 (2:52 pm)

    While the bored tunnel option has its merits, it does absolutely nothing for West Seattle, as the only Downtown exit would be at the south end bear the stadiums. A tunnel will have no Seneca exit AND no Western exit, instead surfacing somewhere near KING5.

  • Mickymse December 16, 2008 (3:02 pm)

    I’m also wondering if WS Blog could perhaps get some media time with these folks, because I find a couple of things very confusing about the I-5/Surface/Transit Hybrid(.pdf):
    1) Why did they say there be no central connection to Downtown? We currently have streets that come out of Downtown to Western and we could re-connect Seneca or expand Columbia access.
    2) Is the proposed Delridge RapidRide to go down the new Viaduct Hybrid? Or down transit-only lanes on 1st Ave? The answer obviously has a major impact on commute times.
    3) We have 35 MPH on 35th Ave and Fauntleroy, which run through residential areas. Can we really only manage 30 MPH on the waterfront under this scenario?
    4) I realize we expect MORE cars and MORE people in this future scenario, but do we really require 28 stoplight signals? We can’t convert any of those into pedestrian-operated signals or over-/under-passes?

  • Ben December 16, 2008 (3:31 pm)

    The surface option is the only one that will result with benefit for W. Seattle and NW Seattle. Any elevated or tunnel structure will only move vehicles from the south end to the north end of the corridor resulting in congestion at the entrances and exits. WSDOT approaches everything according to the capacity of the trip container, not improving the area it serves. That job falls to the city, and Seattle will do nothing about its surface congestion until it stops working.

  • J December 16, 2008 (3:45 pm)

    Yes, Chas!

  • LK December 16, 2008 (8:23 pm)

    Hi. I’m the person who spoke out at last night’s meeting. Honestly, I was surprised I didn’t see more West Seattleites there…with pitchforks…and wearing “I am Charlie Chong” t-shirts. Which is what I want to see at the next public meeting.

    [I am not joking. I have a pitchfork.]

    If we do not organize ourselves, we are going to lose hours and years of our lives in gridlock, and we are going to lose our connection to the rest of the city. Neither of the lousy options on the table now is a done deal, because we can undo them.

    There seems to be an emerging consensus (Downtown + Port of Seattle + Viaduct Stakeholders group) in favor of a tunnel option plus transit improvements, grid improvements, and changes to I-5. I think this works best for West Seattle, too.

    Someone inside the process needs to tell us how to bring pressure to bear, and on whom. Vlad and Pete, can you help?

  • Dave December 16, 2008 (10:15 pm)

    I am surpassed at the lack of progress city and state officials have made over the last year on the viaduct issue. However, I am pleased to hear that a version of a bored tunnel option was at least mentioned. I started a year ago to promote the idea of a alternative bored tunnel under 6th Ave. – A tunnel that can be constructed while the existing route remains in use. Today I had a chance to explain the idea on the Dori Monson show featured on Kiro Radio. Here is podcast of the show (1:00 – 2:00PM, Dec 16th): If you are interested in learning about the most logical solution to the viaduct issue, please check check out the show. You can also visit to learn more.

  • Eric in Burien December 17, 2008 (5:42 am)

    [i]Where were you tunnel proponents when it was up for a vote? All I saw at that time were tons of people with those stupid “I (heart) Viaduct” stickers.

    Comment by villagegreen — December 16, 08 11:33 am [/i]

    That was the ridiculous cut and cover tunnel right on the waterfront with ramps to the Battery street tunnel that would be too steep for truck traffic.

    The deep bore tunnel is a completely different beast. It sounds like a promising idea and deserves at least as much study as the 2 current proposals.

  • average joe December 17, 2008 (7:29 am)

    this feels an awful lot like the powers (nichols, rice, etc…) are so ‘pro-tunnel’ ( a solution which has already been voted down, mind you) that they are placing BAD solutions in front of us so that the tunnel option is revisited. does anyone agree with that, or feel like that?
    after 8 years this is all they come up with? Unbelievable!
    I have a great idea. Let’s add more people to West Seattle, build more condos, and then reduce the capacity for working people to get into the city. Brilliant!

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