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May 16, 2005

Highway Robbery?

I haven't had much new to say about Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct saga, despite the fact that there have been a bunch of significant developments of late:

  • Late last month, Governor Gregoire signed off on a 9.5 cents per gallon gas tax increase, which would provide (among other things) $2 billion to replace the Viaduct.  But the Viaduct only gets that money if Puget Sound can come up with enough cash to finish the project -- for the tunnel option, that means raising an additional $2 billion or thereabouts, the equivalent of about $3,500 in taxes per Seattle resident. Some observers are already predicting statewide political backlash from the gas tax in the 2006 elections.
  • Last week, the city touted a new study that found that the benefits of rebuilding the Viaduct outweigh the costs, and that paying extra to put the tunnel underground just sweetens the pot.  The city is clearly laying the groundwork to impose a levy on downtown properties that would gain value if the Viaduct were relocated underground.  But as David Sucher's City Comforts blog points out, most of the benefit to downtown property owners comes from getting rid of the Viaduct, not from building a tunnel in its place.
  • The Seattle Times editorialized yesterday in opposition to the "no-build" alternative.  Clearly, they're concerned that some of the powers-that-be have hardened into a "tunnel or nothing" position -- and that if the region can't figure out a way to raise $2 billion, that nothing would be built.  For some reason, this seems like a doomsday scenario to the Seattle Times -- though from what I can tell, the medium-term result of replacing the Viaduct and removing it are the same:  drivers are going to have to figure out how to get by without the Viaduct's capacity.

My only thing to add to all this is an addendum to City Comforts' point.  It seems to me that downtown property owners could well be substantially better off if the Viaduct were simply removed, rather than replaced with a tunnel.  Over the medium term, downtown businesses wouldn't have to deal with the noise and mess of construction.  Over the long term, downtowns are often better places to live without highways sucking the life and vitality from them. (Think New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Vancouver BC.)

So it's certainly odd that the city is building a case to tax downtown property owners to pay for something that's actually against their own financial interests.  If anybody's property values will benefit from replacing the Viaduct, it's the folks who live in the neighborhoods to the north and south of downtown -- so why is the city targeting downtown property owners to foot the tunnel bill?

Update: Fixed some typos and inconsistencies.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


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Tracked on May 16, 2005 7:39:48 PM


We're assured it's dangerous and must be torn down- so if we can't get the money for a tunnel, it should be torn down, and the land reserved for eventual tunnel construction.

The proof is left to the reader.

Posted by: serial catowner | May 18, 2005 6:40:26 AM

Now we're talking. It's not easy to keep the immediacy of the viaduct, well, immediate, but it is. We need to plan to deal without. SDOT is supposed to return to the city council sometime this summer with an improved "emergency" closure plan. Their draft was fairly unrealistic; it didn't consider the likely widespread damage to other routes and lifelines (e.g., electricity). But it had some good points regarding rerouting and retimeing lights. Councilmember Conlin seemed to suggest that we should do a trial of the closure. I agree, whether for a weekend or better yet, like serial catowner suggested, until (or if) we can afford a tunnel replacement -- we may just find we don't need it.

There's much support on this. A link to a letter myself and several other UW faculty wrote to the mayor back in February is here:

Posted by: Scott Miles | May 18, 2005 10:57:54 PM