Update: City Council votes to support The Tunnel

In case you want to watch as it happens, we’re noting this here before the vote: At the Seattle City Council meeting that’s under way now, councilmembers will vote on the Memorandum of Understanding that solidifies the city’s support for the deep-bore tunnel planned to replace the Central Waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. You can watch live here. Public comment at the start of the meeting included one person suggesting that the item should be tabled until after the election, since, in that person’s view, the Joe Mallahan-Mike McGinn mayoral race equals a referendum vote on yes/tunnel vs. no/tunnel. 3:19 PM UPDATE: Councilmembers have just voted unanimously in favor of the memorandum of agreement supporting The Tunnel, though there were a few sharp exchanges when Councilmember Bruce Harrell said he wasn’t sure why they were voting on this now, wondering whether they’re trying to “beat people over the head with our support for the tunnel” when, he noted, they’d expressed their support before. He also expressed hope that greater discussions is ahead for details of how the city will pay its share of the tunnel costs. ADDED 3:51 PM: Here’s the official City Council news release about this afternoon’s vote: (added 6:03 pm, other statements including that of mayoral candidate and tunnel opponent Mike McGinn)

Today, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to approve a Memorandum of Agreement between the Washington Department of Transportation and the city, authorizing both parties to move forward with the Alaskan Way Viaduct deep bored tunnel and Seawall Replacement.

This agreement marks the fourth in a series of contracts for the project. In September, the Council approved three contracts with the state that authorized more than $480 million in state funds to be used for reconfiguring the south portion of the Viaduct.

“We’ve reached agreement with the state and we will continue moving forward,” said Councilmember Jan Drago, chair of the Transportation Committee. “The citizens of Seattle deserve more than process, they deserve progress that brings them a vibrant waterfront and a safe, reliable transportation system.”

The agreement authorized today outlines the city and state’s funding and construction responsibilities and outlines Seattle’s $927 million obligation to the project set for completion in 2018.

Last Friday, the Council reviewed and discussed a variety of possible funding sources for the project, including an increase in the Commercial Parking tax and a new Transportation Benefit District to collect vehicle license fees. The Council is expected to act on proposed funding options in 2010.

“The viaduct replacement will provide safe, effective transportation solutions that our region desperately needs,” said Council President Richard Conlin. “By opening up our waterfront, Seattle will also create new opportunities for local businesses and tourism, enhancing the attraction of Seattle and Elliot Bay as a signature destination for residents and tourists.”

ADDED 6:03 PM: Several other statements have hit the inbox. First, mayoral candidate and outspoken tunnel opponent Mike McGinn:

Today, the City Council authorized Mayor Greg Nickels to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the State of Washington committing Seattle to the tunnel plan.

I disagree with the decision. I disagree with the timing.

But the reality is Mayor Nickels and the Council have entered into an agreement, and the City is now committed to the tunnel plan.

If I’m elected Mayor, although I disagree with this decision, it will be my job to uphold and execute this agreement. It is not the Mayor’s job to withhold the cooperation of city government in executing this agreement.

I will, however, continue to ask tough questions:

• We don’t know how much it’s actually going to cost.

• If it ends up costing more than the current budget allows, there is serious disagreement between Seattle and the State over who will pay the cost overruns.

• Where will the money come from, and who will bear the burden? Will we have to cut police, fire, library, or services for the poor?

I will not stop asking the tough questions nor will I ever stop standing up for Seattle’s interests in this process.

I’m worried the people that want the tunnel have a champagne appetite and the City has a beer budget. The question is who will end up paying the tab.

There is a clear choice in this election.

My opponent has refused to ask any hard questions about the tunnel.

In fact, when asked about the Legislature passing the cost overrun amendment, he said:

“If I were mayor, rather than taking potshots at Democratic leadership who put that (amendment) on, I’d express disappointment and say, “OK, we can live with this.”

Seattle cannot live with paying the cost overruns on the tunnel.

From City Councilmember Nick Licata:

“I crafted three amendments to the bored tunnel agreement between the city and state passed by the City Council today. The amendments would 1) clearly state that this agreement does not commit the city or Seattle-area property owners to covering cost overruns, 2) that the city would need to secure funds before beginning implementation, and 3) would seek funding for its projects.

I sent these amendments to Gov. Gregoire and she does not support them. So, in the spirit of wanting to work with the state and not fight with it on the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Seawall, I will not be bringing them forward.

Let’s also be clear what this legislation does. Our Law Department says it commits the city to only 3 things:

1. To continue to work together to complete the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program;

2. To endeavor to open the bored tunnel by the end of 2015;

3. To develop additional agreements, deal with issues such as right-of-way use and utility relocation. Unlike this agreement, those will certainly be legally enforceable.

This agreement is policy statement, not a contract. I do not agree with certain elements of it, such as the intent to spend $150 million on the Mercer Project. But what is most important to me is providing a clear record that the city is not consenting to the provision of state law requiring Seattle-area property owners to pay for cost overruns. Since I am not introducing that amendment, I will state for the legislative record: I do not believe that in passing this agreement, the city of Seattle is agreeing to pay any cost overruns on the deep bore tunnel.

Future agreements will be when the real, substantive decisions will be made. I will support future agreements if they conform to the Federal Office of Management and Budget standards for best practices as previously identified by our City Auditor.

Unlike this agreement, future agreements must include a reliability risk analysis of funding sources, and the development of contingency plans in the event funding sources do not materialize.

And there’s a statement from Mayor Nickels:

“After years of debate and discourse, we are finally getting down to removing the dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct from our waterfront. I commend the City Council for taking this step and supporting the bored tunnel solution. Now, we must act on our decisions. I’m pleased that WSDOT will soon advertise contracts to replace the south mile of the Viaduct. We will preserve transportation choices and open our city up to Elliott Bay for the first time in my lifetime.

19 Replies to "Update: City Council votes to support The Tunnel"

  • make it stop October 19, 2009 (4:08 pm)

    I love how politicians speak for ‘the citizens’ to push their self-serving initiatives through: “The citizens of Seattle deserve more than process, they deserve progress that brings them a vibrant waterfront and a safe, reliable transportation system.” Last I remember THE CITIZENS voted down the tunnel Jan. Clearly there is some deep pocket Fed money for the City and State on the table aside from the money used for the tunnel (that will cost twice as much as they think). Not pleased with this stupid vote at all and it further lowers my opinion if the Seattle City Council if that is possible.

  • rw October 19, 2009 (5:01 pm)

    Whoever the next mayor is,you can be sure that the council will not be the lapdogs of the newly elected neophyte mayor the way they were for Nickles. Let the games begin.

  • Rick October 19, 2009 (5:53 pm)

    Gee, what a surprise!

  • Brian October 19, 2009 (7:13 pm)

    Do folks realize how expensive it will be to repair the sea wall (which is failing right now) the Tunnel option includes the repair work.

    No brainer.

    Two birds. One stone.

  • Donn October 19, 2009 (7:56 pm)

    It is interesting to note that McGinn no longer says he will be fighting this.

  • Roger October 19, 2009 (8:50 pm)

    Brian – That’s an issue that seems to be overlooked or dismissed. I agree with you completely.

    Donn – I heard McGinn’s statement earlier and find that telling, too.

  • Oliver October 19, 2009 (9:06 pm)

    Yeah, it’s interesting to note that McGinn no longer says he will oppose the tunnel. I found it hard to believe that someone so adamant about this single issue would suddenly change his mind and act more reasonable. His robo-calls opposing the tunnel were outrageous and over the line. He lost my vote with those calls. Seems like a disingenous ploy to get votes at the last minute.

  • WSB October 19, 2009 (9:27 pm)

    Note that if you haven’t seen the entire story, we did add McGinn’s entire statement after “the jump.” Also Licata and Mayor Nickels. I haven’t received a Mallahan statement so far but looking for one – TR

  • Dale October 19, 2009 (11:12 pm)

    fine…given the stage of the process I see no other option for either candidate. The fact that McGinn is willing to concede makes him more electable in my mind. He laid out the reasons why and I agree. POUNDING your head against a wall creates nothing but a headache!

  • Rob October 19, 2009 (11:12 pm)

    He flopped faster then the democrats spend money. I have no Idea who I am voting for.

  • wseye October 19, 2009 (11:23 pm)

    Let’s just get this project built before a few hundred of us get crushed when the viaduct comes down in the next earthquake.

  • Pete October 20, 2009 (7:54 am)

    It is good to mention the expense of having to rebuild (repair) the seawall but also remember that the single largest expense is having to relocate all of the utilities that are on or under the existing viaduct. One thing that seldom gets mentioned is that no matter what solution you are in favor of the majority of the money that the city of Seattle will have to spend will be the same amount. So whether it is the surface/transit or the tunnel project we still have to pay to relocate the utilities and repair the seawall.

  • KBear October 20, 2009 (8:38 am)

    In response to the first post, voters did not reject “THE tunnel”. The current proposal is a different route, different construction, and much lower cost than the one that was on the ballot a few years ago.

  • swimcat October 20, 2009 (9:06 am)

    This is an interesting development for McGinn on the tunnel. Why the turn-around with only two weeks to go? If he really won’t oppose the tunnel if he is elected mayor, this has made the upcoming election a bit more difficult. Now I don’t know what to think-

  • dawsonct October 20, 2009 (11:20 am)

    I elect people to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions while they are in office; that is the ‘representative’ part of our democracy.
    (Public financing of elections would go far to return a certain amount of trust to the populace [once again, we’ve allowed Portland to take the lead]).
    If you take into consideration the contorted street grid that makes up our downtown, and the fact that we will probably still have some form of personal transportation even when we get off the petro-teet, it is simply impractical to try to redesign the whole grid to allow for all the extra vehicles when the viaduct is gone. Maybe if our founders had listened to the Olmsteads, or if Forward Thrust had passed (or any other mass-transit bill ca. 70’s, 80’s), a surface option would be feasible, but at this point in our city’s history the tunnel really is the most sensible option. Yes, it will be outrageously expensive, but we need to start taking a MUCH longer view in our city and region. We need to create and maintain an infrastructure that will continue to serve our community long after we are gone. Every generation has the responsibility to create a legacy and it feels as though we have been getting away from those ideals in our country for a while.

  • Mark October 20, 2009 (11:54 am)

    Can’t let that incorrect comment hang out there…
    The tunnel and waterfront/seawall improvements are divorced from each other. A previous tunnel proposal integrated the two, but the current bored tunnel will be blocks east of the waterfront.
    In just about any current scenario, the seawall is repaired/replaced, the waterfront undergoes significant changes, and the central waterfront viaduct comes down… tunnel or no tunnel.

  • Mark October 20, 2009 (12:07 pm)

    I think there is a general lack of clarity about what we’re actually getting with the current scenario.
    If you drive from West Seattle to downtown, you’ll need to get off of 99 in Pioneer Square and either take a tweaked Alaskan Way or other surface streets into the city. There will be no Seneca or Western exits.
    The Pioneer Square/South Downtown off ramps, on ramps, tunnel entrance, and other stuff is a huge concrete jungle. If anyone thought that the pedestrian environment between the stadiums and the waterfront is not pleasant now, just wait until this tunnel happens.
    Be sure you all understand what is happening before you throw your support behind it. WSDOT and SDOT actually proposed completely eliminating Alaskan Way between Spokane St. and the stadiums. I think that has been revised, but… huh?

  • dawsonct October 20, 2009 (12:07 pm)

    Rob, as long as you are going to interject your political bias into this, shouldn’t we talk about the hundreds of billions of dollars that have disappeared into the Middle-East, not to mention what essentially is an unfunded mandate with the trillions of dollars it will take to re-equip our armed forces and to care for all of the physical and emotional trauma our veterans will be dealing with for the rest of their lives?
    I don’t recall this fiasco being dumped on our nation by a Democratic administration. Cheney/bush saw an opportunity for they and their friends and contributors to syphon our tax-dollars out of the treasury for their own personal wealth and gain, and they took it.

    Feel free to save face and publicly deny that to your death, but at least be honest with yourself.

  • WSB October 20, 2009 (12:16 pm)

    Re: How West Seattle gets to downtown … it’s been a few months since the South Portal Working Group’s last meeting (they were supposed to start up again sometime this fall but nothing’s listed on the website, I will check with various folks to see if there’s any indication of what’s next and when) … for those interested in a closer look, many of the presentations from those meetings are online. This one, for example, shows specifically what’s envisioned for West Seattle access:
    Other items can be viewed at:

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