Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel announcement: From the briefing

(briefing is over – coverage below, posted as it happened)

We’re on the fourth floor of the World Trade Center West, across the street from Bell Street Pier. The Stakeholders Advisory Committee members were briefed on the tunnel plan a bit earlier; right now, before the governor, county executive, mayor, and port CEO make the official announcement, it’s something of a party atmosphere, with officials of the various governments mingling with committee members, media, and others:

Outside, along Alaskan Way (not far from the TV trucks) – a handful of pro-elevated, anti-tunnel demonstrators with “No Big Dig” signs.

From the official news release: This is a $4.24 billion plan, which “includes investment in improved bus service, east-west city streets, a new seawall, relocated utilities, and an upgraded waterfront.” The state’s commitment remains $2.8 billion. The city, the release says, will spend $930 million to “replace the central seawall and construct a waterfront promenade, relocate utilities, build a streetcar on First Avenue, and improve east-west streets.” The county “will seek new motor vehicle excise tax authorization from the legislature to fund more than $190 million in transit capital and $15 million annually in operating expenses.” The release adds that the Seattle Port Commission will be asked “to consider a $300 million investment in the replacement of the south mile of the viaduct and a new east-west connection to the container terminals.” Federal funding also is involved. Timeline: Construction to start in 2011, tunnel to be open in 2015. We will add more details as they’re announced during the briefing.

The governor is in the middle of the announcement. She says “This is not a solution for tomorrow, this is a solution for the next hundred years.” She also makes it clear, this is not the same tunnel that went before voters — “this is a new solution.” She says, now is the time to make a decision. No additional details so far beyond what we wrote above. She opened by quipping, “My mother always said good things come to those who wait,” although she later went on to insist that the viaduct project is still on schedule.

8:51 AM UPDATE: Mayor Nickels is speaking now. He says, “The package announced today is a victory” — a victory for the people of the city, county, and state. He also calls it a compromise, and says he had hoped there could have been a solution that would not have required the building of a “new traffic corridor,” but says that turned out not to be possible. The mayor says the 1st Avenue streetcar will go from Pioneer Square to Queen Anne Hill. And he says federal and state help will be pursued “in upholding our end of the bargain.”

County Executive Ron Sims speaks next. He calls this a “very good” proposal and says he is happy that it’s a four-lane solution and not a six-lane one. He is now thanking West Seattle’s County Councilmember — now Council Chair — Dow Constantine for his role in the process. (Photo added later – Constantine and others, mostly Seattle councilmembers, to the right of the podium as the executives’ speeches continued)

Sims says that he, the governor, and mayor had a long and candid conversation in early December. He says that this could increase transit service by 25 percent – one million new service hours. (He has repeated that number many times.)

The three executives have just ceremonially signed an agreement. Photo in a moment. Now the governor is taking questions.

9:09 AM UPDATE: KOMO’s Bryan Johnson says an initiative is to be filed by some opponents of this project and asks what a delay would do to the project. The mayor answers: It would cost millions of dollars a month. He and the governor say “people have the right to voice their opinions” but she says “I will be very disappointed … if we delay this project … Because that viaduct, in my opinion, personally, is not safe, and needs to come down … We are on schedule now and I don’t want to delay it.” She also says, “This is not the same tunnel (people voted against).” And she says Boston’s Big Dig problem was trying to “move the world” to build a tunnel. “We’re going to keep the world in place,” she says. The governor was then asked if the viaduct still will come down in 2012; she says “we’re looking at whether … we leave the viaduct up with restrictions on it (beyond 2012) … One of the virtues of this idea is the lack of disruption to businesses on the waterfront … That’s one of the clear goals that led us to this decision – do not force those businesses on the waterfront out of business.” She says they have “not reached a final conclusion” on when the viaduct will come down.

9:15 AM UPDATE: In response to questions about whether this is the right decision, the basic theme is that the viaduct could come down any time soon — we are overdue for an earthquake. “We are not interested in nature making that decision for us … End this debate. It’s time for this to end. Let’s just move forward,” says county executive Sims. “It’s not going to be easy, it wasn’t easy getting here,” says the governor. “We now turn to the legislature and ask them for help … They must make the appropriation … for moving forward. If we don’t come together and move forward, will we look at ourselves like Minneapolis and ask, where were we, why couldn’t we move forward, and forge the political will to get something done. The day has come, the time is now, let’s go get it done, the people of the state of Washington and their families deserve it.” With a huge round of applause from the onlookers filling the room, that concludes the briefing – the governor says she has to get to Olympia for the legislative session. We will be circulating for reaction; more later.

9:27 AM UPDATE: OK, one more update before we leave the briefing – just talked to County Council Chair Constantine, who says it’s up to state engineers whether they determine the viaduct safe enough to leave up while this is built, but he’s definitely concerned about West Seattleites’ mobility. We also talked about the motor-vehicle tax that is mentioned as the county’s contribution to raise money for more transit – a 1% excise tax, which means that every $10,000 your car is worth, it will cost you $100 a year. The County Council will have to approve it, and he says that it’s always tough to vote for a tax, but that there is a “crying need” for more transit service around the county.

11:08 AM UPDATE: Back at HQ now and will post a followup later with video, more graphics, reaction – First, though, another way in which this might cost you: Heard state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond talking live with KIRO radio’s Dave Ross as we drove back. She told him that while the state is committed to $2.8 billion, it only has $2.4 billion of that locked down, and the $400 million gap might come from a toll – $2 or less. What happens next all depends on what goes on in the Legislature, so whether you’re for the tunnel or against it, you might consider letting your legislators know how you feel: State Senator Joe McDermott, Rep. Eileen Cody, Rep. Sharon Nelson.

11:34 AM UPDATE: The Alaskan Way Viaduct website is updated with more information – you can follow links from this page, including the map that shows where the tunnel is supposed to start and end, and how it’s supposed to reconnect near Aurora, on the north end. The map also mentions the Delridge RapidRide bus service that will be added as part of the plan, which also was mentioned by stakeholders’ committee member Vlad Oustimovitch of Gatewood; our post-announcement interview with him will be in the followup.

44 Replies to "Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel announcement: From the briefing"

  • JoB January 13, 2009 (8:27 am)

    this sounds as though it could be more comprehensive that we could have hoped…

    but the numbers don’t add up.

  • GenHillOne January 13, 2009 (8:30 am)

    I’m SURE you already have this on your list, WSB, but I’d love to get more detail on the viaduct coming down (“in 2012 one way or another”). Does that mean we’ll have 3 years without a north-south option again?

  • Near Alki January 13, 2009 (8:37 am)

    Only 4 years to dig, bore, and construct that long tunnel? Wow, sounds a bit optimistic.

  • Robert2715 January 13, 2009 (8:38 am)

    Any live TV feed available via the internet?

  • dq January 13, 2009 (8:45 am)

    in an earlier article, it was mentioned that the viaduct was going to go east of the viaduct to minimize traffic disruption, but how will that affect the buildings that all lie east of the viaduct?

  • Cameron January 13, 2009 (8:57 am)

    The tunnel is great idea because it would look good with no viaduct. Tunnel is good idea so the traffic can go faster about 50 mph. Also tunnel is better so the people who live in condo can see the water and boats. Please built an new tunnel not surface streets on hwy 99. The surface streets on hwy 99 could make the traffic very bad, horrible, worst, and slow about 30 mph. Please get more money to built an tunnel. Please let them make an decision on an tunnel.

  • WSB January 13, 2009 (9:00 am)

    GHO – I haven’t heard that yet but will reread the press materials in case it’s in there.

  • Ashley January 13, 2009 (9:11 am)

    4 years yeah right. I have two words for everyone Big Dig. I am also happy that we take into consideration the people who live in condos along 99. Gosh let’s make sure they have a view.

  • Al January 13, 2009 (9:11 am)

    I am and was always against the tunnel. That said, if this is to be then the pressure has to be on the “decision makers” to do it right. Keep the public informed of the progress and cost. Make sure residents know what to expect as far as road closures since, IMHO, the SDOT usually does a miserable job with community outreach.

    In addition, since the waterfront “looks” like it will be opened up anyway, can a transit hub be located here in any case? Will this create an ‘open’ waterfront street like I see in the drawings of the proposed construction? One HOV lane in the tunnel must be combined with MORE SURFACE transit since the lanes on the tunnel will reduce capacity and reduce the number of exits to downtown. Thus, those who will go downtown will need more transit options than ever since downtown commuters (and buses) will have no option but mainly surface streets into downtown.

  • Anne January 13, 2009 (9:15 am)

    Don’t get me wrong-I would LOVE for this to happen-BUT-where is the money going to come from?Everyone is applauding the fact that a decision has finally been made,but how did THIS plan suddenly become so affordable?Lets be sure we all read the “fine print” regarding this plan-and thank you WSB for making so much information available!

  • Neighbor January 13, 2009 (9:33 am)

    This is no way like the Big Dig Ashely. Read up on it before you lazily start throwing around sound bites.
    This is a great investment for our future. Does anyone realize how this has just saved West Seattle’s economy, and all of our house values?

  • fiz January 13, 2009 (9:42 am)

    Where and how will this tunnel cross the train tunnel? When I worked at Third and Seneca years ago our building would shake when a train passed through.

  • Meghan January 13, 2009 (9:55 am)

    As someone who moved here from Boston, I would really like it if people would 1) get educated about the “Big Dig” there and 2) STOP comparing this project to that one. Compared to the “Big Dig” (which was a HUGE, 12+ year project consisting of several much longer under water and underground tunnels), this 2 mile deep bored tunnel is relatively short and simple. ANY big project may go over budget and MAY take longer than anticipated, but trust me, an underground one is LESS likely than a surface rebuild to go over budget because the engineers will have a very good idea of the soils they’re going to be digging through and there are far fewer manmade obstacles in the way. And if you or your loved ones own a home in West Seattle, commute into the city core, or work anywhere near the Viaduct or waterfront, you should REALLY be supporting the tunnel!

  • Good news January 13, 2009 (10:07 am)

    I concur about the liklihood that property values and overall economic prosperity will thrive for the West Seattle peninsula compared with the other “non options”!
    This is the BEST decision for the future, to keep Seattle vibrant and properous and to keep our downtown core viable.
    I believe that we should be very supportive and to lobby the state legislature and our federal congressional delegation for affirmative votes and funding decisions.
    Let’s get going.

  • jai January 13, 2009 (10:10 am)

    Yeah for a decision! Hopefully we can now move forward.

  • Bob Loblaw January 13, 2009 (10:16 am)

    In the picture of the tube at top there appears to be room for a monorail line in there.

  • nuni January 13, 2009 (10:50 am)

    double decker tunnel *shudder* no thanks.

  • Westwood Resident January 13, 2009 (11:01 am)

    It does not cross the train tunnel. The tunnel starts south of Qwest field and will follow 1st/2nd Ave. Towards Aurora.
    It DOES NOT follow the waterfront.
    This fact needs to be shouted over and over…
    I have listening to people on the radio saying that we voted on this. WE DID NOT!!!
    This is a tunnel I can live with, even though I was opposed with a tunnel in the first place.
    I just want them to take in to account capacity (keep it the same or increase it) and build in population a 10% growth in 10 years.
    That is why I think 3 lanes in each direction vice 2 lanes would be better.

  • JH January 13, 2009 (11:07 am)

    I can’t be the only one who’s going to miss the viaduct! It has the best views of Seattle! I give any out of town visitors a drive on the viaduct. Seattle won’t be the same without this icon. Tunnel? Blech.

  • Westwood Resident January 13, 2009 (11:09 am)

    Bob – That is the full size shoulder that was one of the requirements for a tunnel. In case of an accident in there, they can move it to the side.

  • eileen January 13, 2009 (11:11 am)

    Is there a link to more info? I remember the old tunnel option had not down town exits? This tunnel has only two lanes each way – I assume the investment in infrastructure will take the load off?

  • Burton January 13, 2009 (11:20 am)

    Come on people. It makes sense for a tunnel, plus surface option while keeping the viaduct open during tunnel construction. For all you fear mongers. Plenty of tunnels have been built. Here’s a small one.

  • WSB January 13, 2009 (11:34 am)

    Here’s what the state has put up on the AWV website.
    I have some more images on a CD that I will be including in a followup I’m working on right now.

    In particular, follow the link to the “bored tunnel hybrid alternative map”- it’ll show more about where this is supposed to connect.

  • JanS January 13, 2009 (11:39 am)

    one thing I noticed. As an option on 1st Ave., they’re touting a street car…will this be a slow one like the S. Lake Union one? 1st Ave. is a bear to drive almost anytime…do we really need a slow moving street car right in the middle of it? Just a thought.

    I like this solution…let’s give it a chance and read all the information we can about it. Why be a naysayer before it even starts?

  • DALYDBL January 13, 2009 (11:42 am)

    Where is our Golden Gate? A suspension bridge could drape around our beautiful city like a glowing pearl necklace at night. Although it wouldn’t have exits per se, it would cost less than a tunnel and accomodate flammables. I wonder if anyone has considered closing down the viaduct for a week, placing Gregoire in a car & making her commute at rush hour sans viaduct. Then put Hammond in an ambulance at rush hour sans viaduct and lets see how they feel after they realize that we cannot do without this road. Gregoire’s statement about planning for the next 100 years is the biggest LIE I’ve heard in a while…

  • MJ January 13, 2009 (11:45 am)

    crosses under the train tunnel at about Union

  • big gulps,eh? well, see ya later. January 13, 2009 (11:58 am)

    Will there be self cleaning toilets in these tunnels? If not, deal breaker for me. Yay for anything at this point! I am pro tunnel and I dig it.

    The real question is did Ron Sims wife approve? Isn’t that how he makes his tranportation decisions? JK.

  • d January 13, 2009 (12:01 pm)


    Excellent video – thank you!

    Everyone should look at that carefully – lots of depths and existing tunnels pop up fast.

    Awesome engineering! Holy smokes!

  • elgrego January 13, 2009 (12:18 pm)

    I’ll miss the viaduct, but this is a good solution. I’d only ask that they make it a six-lane tunnel.

  • AJP January 13, 2009 (12:26 pm)

    Yay for a tunnel! Yay for anything except the surface street option! Yay for progressive thinking ahead! And yes, the Big Dig was a mess, but there are hundreds of other tunnels across the world that are quite well built and very cool.

  • Krystal January 13, 2009 (12:27 pm)

    I just want to see what the on-ramps will look like, or how one from downtown will access the tunnel. I think I am going to stop driving by then though.

  • villagegreen January 13, 2009 (12:51 pm)

    2009 is off to a smashing start – and Obama hasn’t even been sworn in yet! I swear I was beginning to lose sleep over the certain free fall of housing values and overall general disaster that would have befallen WS had either of the other two options been chosen. I gotta give Nickels at least some props for this outcome. I just hope they can figure out a way to keep reinforcing the current viaduct until the tunnel is completed so it can stay open during construction. This is the best thing to happen to WS since all those car dealships along Fauntleroy went tits up !

  • JanS January 13, 2009 (12:52 pm)

    MJ – I’ll second it…impressive video – thanks for posting it…

  • RS January 13, 2009 (12:53 pm)

    Amen, Meghan! The alarmists need to stop evoking the Big Dig. The Big Dig was a much longer tunnel, a major bridge, another tunnel under the bay to the airport, and a giant green space constructed in place of the old central artery. I loved Barney Frank’s line about it: “Rather than lower the expressway, wouldn’t it be cheaper to raise the city?” In comparison, this is a much simpler project!!
    …Now let’s just hope ballot initiatives don’t kill it. Gotta love Seattle, but sometimes I miss machine politics. :)

  • WSB January 13, 2009 (12:56 pm)

    Ditto, it wasn’t mentioned in any of the materials provided at the event, not even the disc. I should’ve just gone straight to the WSDOT YouTube channel :) I’ll embed it on the site in the forthcoming followup.

  • Michael January 13, 2009 (12:57 pm)

    Seriously, I feel sad that the “No Big Dig” people have no idea how ignorant that comparison is.
    We have very fresh, recent local experience with bored tunnels, so I expect that this is well-thought-out.
    Now we have to fend off the usual public-money-wasting lawsuits and end-run referendums…

  • matt January 13, 2009 (1:43 pm)

    the right decision, finally.

    While I’ll lament the worsened commute, I am happy for the city as a whole. Huge improvement.

    Yes, it will be overbudget, but yes it will be worth it.

  • MAS January 13, 2009 (2:25 pm)

    Am I reading the map wrong, or do you have to dive off on Royal Pain if you are headed for downtown?

  • Westwood Resident January 13, 2009 (3:11 pm)

    Michael you said a mouthful there. There is ALREADY a lawsuit filed (or being prepped to file) and movements to get this stopped.
    The “No-Tunnel” people are under the impression that this is the same thing that was voted on 2 years ago. It isn’t but they aren’t going to say that. Either because they don’t want the uninformed to know or they are being obtuse and blind to that fact. Then again these are some of the same people that want to have the viaduct torn down with no replacement and don’t have the vision to see just what that would do to the traffic between north and south Seattle.
    I was against a “cut-and-cover” tunnel like was proposed in that election, but this is COMPLETELY different.
    As I said before the thing that has me worried is that it is only 2 lanes each direction instead of 3. If anything should be contested, it is that, not the selection of the “deep bore” tunnel.

  • Maharet January 13, 2009 (4:06 pm)


    Look at that configuration…. at Mercer.

    Was that always going to be 2 way?



  • WSB January 13, 2009 (4:16 pm)

    That’s part of a separate project that made it through the City Council recently. In fact, looks like there’s an event tonight.

  • 22blades January 13, 2009 (8:47 pm)

    Wow. KLM Cargo is coming to Seattle!

  • HarborBobbi January 13, 2009 (10:44 pm)

    I hope the “user fee” gets a State-wide vote so the people who graciously got us to pay for a road we use get to do the same on the AWV. Cheers, Seattle. Here’s to you paying for your own “Narrows Bridge” (OH WAIT…you will have route options)

  • Walt January 18, 2009 (5:28 pm)

    West Seattle properties appreciate because of a tunnel instead of an elevated viaduct? I don’t think so – the land developers and owners of mulitmillion dollar condos are the only ones to benefit. The rest of us will suffer with a slower commute and more traffic problems.

Sorry, comment time is over.