Details: The new group focused on “our side” of The Viaduct

The tunnel may be a mostly done deal but that’s only part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s future — even as some work is under way, like the 1st Avenue So. demolition in the photo above, a new round of talking about the Viaduct’s future has just begun. We brought you quick toplines yesterday afternoon about the new “working groups,” including the West Seattle-relevant South Portal group that has just convened – read on for details of who they are, what they heard about and saw, and what’s next:

You probably remember hearing about the Stakeholders Advisory Committee that reviewed a long list of options before the “deep-bored tunnel” finally was announced four months ago as the state, city and county choice. Now there are three such groups in action to help make sure The Viaduct’s multi-part future makes sense for the people who use it.

For West Seattle, the south section is the one to watch — since the tunnel’s lack of a mid-downtown ramp means that downtown-bound West Seattleites won’t be using it. Instead, drivers from this side of the bay will have to decide which new options serve them best – the new exits south of downtown to be built as part of the South End Viaduct Replacement — for which work starts soon — or the Spokane Street Viaduct’s new exit configuration, which will add a 4th Avenue So. offramp to the existing 1st Avenue So. exit.

There are many pieces to the puzzle, and that’s what the new working group is supposed to tackle — its purpose is stated as “to provide feedback on design including access into and around the south entrance to 99.” That means in a nutshell, these are the people who are supposed to represent the actual users in reviewing the plans. So who are they? The group roster isn’t on the Viaduct website yet but we got it at the meeting (which did not appear to have been attended by any other journalists) :

Here’s the list of “South Portal Working Group” members and who they are representing:
Bill Bloxom, Bloxom Company
Jerome Cohen, West Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Barbara Cole, Frye Apartments
Al Hobart, Joint Council of Teamsters No. 28
John Huey, Viking Bank
Ron Kieswether, Oak Harbor Freight Lines
Don Newby, Burien
John Odland, MacMillen-Piper
Marty Oppenheimer, South Park
Vlad Oustimovitch, West Seattle
Mike Peringer, SODO Business Association
Joyce Pisnanont, International District
Lisa Quinn, Feet First
Susan Ranf, Seattle Mariners
Paul Schieck, Seattle Seahawks
Ed Shilley, Nucor Steel
Pete Spalding, Delridge
Brent Stavig, Starbucks
Harold Ugles, International Longshore and Warehouse Union
Bill Weise, Silver Cloud Inn
Nick Wells, Pioneer Square Community Association
Cynthia Welti, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail

Leading the meeting, the trio of local transportation executives that led so many briefings during the process that led up to the tunnel decision — WSDOT’s Ron Paananen, SDOT’s Bob Powers and KCDOT’s Ron Posthuma, joined by Port of Seattle’s Mike Merritt (since the port is chipping in hundreds of millions of dollars, pending Port Commission approval).

They recapped how the process got to this point and summarized what’s in the works now, describing the combination of tunnel plus 4-lane Alaskan Way as “true capacity replacement” for the existing Viaduct, throwing in quick summaries of other projects including the Mercer work to the north and the future 1st Avenue streetcar (which will replace the former waterfront-streetcar line and extend to Queen Anne). As they summarized funding issues, they sought to alleviate concerns about the legislative language saying that some Seattleites would be on the hook for cost overruns, promising they are doing everything they can to make sure there will be no such overruns: “Our goal is to not have a cost beyond $2.8 billion” (the total of the state’s $2.4 billion obligation, plus a maximum $400 million that can be raised through tolling). John White of WSDOT added that the estimates include “risk, contingency and inflation,” so they are as certain as they can be that it won’t run over.

SDOT’s Powers added, “To put everybody’s mind at rest .. there are an awful lot of discussions happening between city and state right now … it’ll all get worked out at some level … we won’t dwell on that but will move forward on this project.”

The work that’s under way now — utility relocation — and soon to begin — the southern-mile replacement — also was summarized; WSDOT’s Paananen said a small part of the work was just sent out to bid, and one project estimated at up to $12 million came in at $8 1/2 million — “good bid results.” This fall, he said, the contract for the “big, heavy construction” in the southern-replacement zone will go out, and that is estimated at $250 million-$350 million, plus: “Later this year, with a Request for Qualifications in August or September, we intend to initiate the contracting process for the bored tunnel.”

Three days of open houses last week brought “tunneling experts” from around the world to Seattle, it was also noted, as the agencies move toward being able to start tunnel construction in 2011.

Then came a progress report on the Spokane Street Viaduct Widening Project, which Powers says is “on scheduled to be advertised later this month.”

If all the Viaduct-related projects are added together, it was noted, the cost totals $4.25 billion; $1.9 billion is the estimate for the tunnel itself, while the cost of Viaduct demolition and 4-lane street construction after the tunnel’s done is expected to be $290 million.

So what part of the area will this new working group handle, it was asked? South Railroad Way to Royal Brougham Way, per WSDOT. (If you want to see the PowerPoint presentation made to the group, we’ve uploaded it here in its entirety.)

As for what’s still being worked out, and what this group will be asked to help focus – the connections to the tunnel on the south end were described as being linked to “new street connections to distribute traffic between Alaskan Way and First Avenue South, (while) maintaining efficient operations on the arterial street network, and moving ‘ramp traffic’ onto a new street connecting to Atlantic, to ease congestion.” New “east-west streets west of First Avenue” were mentioned too. And King County’s Posthuma brought up the future RapidRide bus routes. He said the initial RapidRide routes, including the West Seattle line in 2011, have “pretty solid” funding, although in response later to a question from Pete Spalding regarding the future Delridge line mentioned in the tunnel proposal, he acknowledged that funding is not so solid, and a Delridge RapidRide would likely have to wait until the economy improved and sales-tax revenue is flowing more freely to Metro.

Bicycle and pedestrian issues also will be in the scope of the group, the government reps said, as well as ways to maintain access for downtown businesses. The list of transportation projects in the area is long, including the Highway 519 link that’s under way now by the stadiums:

And also, a little closer to West Seattle, the East Marginal Way grade separation on port property:

Besides other projects we’ve already mentioned, the King County Water Taxi made the list too:

And there’s the South Holgate-South King section with an undercrossing at Atlantic:

Also getting a mention, the state ferry system’s downtown Colman Dock, which, it was pointed out, might need a reservation system to make everything work, once construction gets into full swing.

Looking at all these puzzle pieces will be part of the new group’s role too. John White from WSDOT explained that one area where they’ve “had to adjust (their) thinking” involves detours during construction – now that the bored tunnel is the chosen option, they’re looking for “new ideas for detouring” between Royal Brougham and King Street.

Once the government reps were done with their recaps and updates, group members got a chance to express their biggest concerns. A Pioneer Square Community Association representative noted that her group is worried about “the (heavier) use of 1st Avenue South between King and Cherry, since it’s a historical corridor.”

For the West Seattle Chamber, Jerome Cohen said, “Our main concern is the continuation of access into town, to hospitals on the hill, emergency access, especially during construction …” That brought a lengthy reply from SDOT’s Powers, who said “construction staging” should keep that access open, adding, “We think we can maintain two lanes in each direction … for the entire duration. There will be a couple moments where, when you go to tie new structures to old structures, we may have to go down to one lane for some time, but our goal is to maintain two lanes in each direction.”

West Seattle’s Vlad Oustimovitch suggested it’s “going to be difficult to accomplish the confluence of stadium traffic, ferry traffic, State Route 99 on the street grid … I hope that when you do the traffic modeling, you really fully examine all those different impacts.”

There was a lengthy discussion involving the Mariners and Seahawks reps regarding challenges in the stadium zone resulting from the 519 project, and how much parking has been lost as a result; the Mariners’ rep said flatly that disagreements involving the construction had almost resulted in legal action, until some “massive problems” were fixed last week. (Later, Burien rep Don Newby declared that it’s a “disaster” when there are events at both stadiums, because of the work that’s under way now.)

West Seattle’s Pete Spalding asked about the Delridge RapidRide route mentioned during the evaluation of alternatives. King County’s Ron Posthuma said it was part of the “hybrid alternative” but would require almost $200 million that the county currently doesn’t have: “We’re continuing to plan for that type of improvement but don’t see that kind of money, so it won’t be as soon as we might have hoped. We are looking at things we can do in this corridor – we’re going to have some additional service to Burien … but the whole thing we had laid out for Delridge, we don’t see that until the economy recovers and the sales tax comes back.”

Again, this was just an introductory discussion; this group meets again May 20th, and the two other working groups will have their first meetings soon (the “north portal” one meets tonight) – all meetings are listed on this webpage.

4 Replies to "Details: The new group focused on "our side" of The Viaduct"

  • sam May 7, 2009 (12:43 pm)

    some of that is really frustrating- much of the WS bus service will be impacted by the lack of an exit into downtown (from the bus routes that I know) but it sounds like Metro isn’t willing to step up with any service improvements to counter-act that reduction in quick access to downtown.

  • Al May 7, 2009 (3:12 pm)

    But Sam, Metro and SDOT do respond that Rapid Ride is expected to alleviate some of the problem. That is the Pat Answer you will always receive.

  • CB May 7, 2009 (7:23 pm)

    The Metro tunnel will provide access to downtown.

  • Al May 8, 2009 (11:15 am)

    The buses are not expected to access the Metro bus tunnel from West Seattle. They will remain above ground on the streets.

Sorry, comment time is over.