Special Guest Post: Tunnel Digest

Head spinning from all the conflicting stories around the tunnel proposal and Surface/Transit/I-5 in this campaign season? Here’s a record-straightening summary of what has gone on in the recent nine months and where we are now. Some very big problems are emerging for Seattle in this deal. Whatever you thought in January, you should be paying attention now.

Recap: the January 2009 deal
In January, Gregoire, Sims, and Nickels agreed to jointly fund and build a $4.2 billion package: a bored tunnel, new transit service, a waterfront street and seawall repairs, and other street improvements. Current status:

  • The State hasn’t yet followed through on the promise to help the City and County raise funds for their projects. The MVET authorization for transit ($190 million), and stimulus money for streets ($80 million), didn’t happen.
  • This leaves Metro with a huge shortfall since their revenue plummeted, indicating there will be no new transit service, and existing service will be cut.
  • Remember, the modeling done in 2008 to test possible replacement options showed a big shift toward new transit usage in any scenario; not adding this service could seriously degrade Seattle’s mobility.

The underground bypass tunnel: how’s it coming along?
Planning, design, and EIS analysis are underway now. The costs, overrun risks, construction challenges, and environmental impacts have not yet been determined nor explained to the public. Without this crucial information, there is no ‘decision’ yet, much less a done deal.

  • At 54 feet across, this would be the largest diameter bored tunnel ever attempted in the world.
  • No alternatives solutions are being considered in the EIS.
  • There will be no exits downtown, so travel to downtown Seattle won’t be served by this facility. (The unfunded transit and street improvements are necessary for downtown access.)
  • Early soil testing indicates that a cut and cover tunnel may be required instead of a bored tunnel on First Avenue south of King Street in Pioneer Square; construction impacts could be brutal. The urban fabric is shaping up to be quite bleak around this tunnel mouth.
  • Tolling is not included in the EIS or the current transportation modeling (even though tolling is still expected to provide $400 million in funding).  The new transit service agreed to in January is not included either. Nor are the widely supported I-5 improvements. By ignoring these excellent (and necessary) solutions to urban mobility, WSDOT’s traffic modeling will predict an inaccurately high ‘need’ for car capacity on Seattle’s waterfront. What a strange and tragic twist, where an overly narrow EIS may pressure leaders to overbuild the waterfront street.
  • While WSDOT is typically accountable for its own cost overruns, the legislature’s tunnel funding bill says otherwise: “Any costs in excess of two billion eight hundred million dollars shall be borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit from replacement of the existing viaduct with the deep bore tunnel.” Sending an invoice directly to citizens is an absurd threat, and indicative of how the legislature intends to treat local interests if problems emerge.


A non-highway solution: does it work?
At the end of the stakeholder process in December 2008, the three DOTs put forth two recommendations: Surface/Transit/I-5 or an Elevated. (The bored tunnel was not recommended.) The S/T/5 solution is a set of projects to improve through-put on I-5, better connect the street grid, add new transit and incentives to inspire non-car choices, improve options for freight, and build an urban street on the waterfront.

  • Even tested against the unlikely worst case, where the expected ‘need’ for trips jumps an absurd 20 percent in six years, the S/T/5 options worked great for mobility. In fact, all eight solutions examined worked well, only varying +/- 1% in the number of trips they serve.
  • Modeling results from the stakeholder process revealed that providing choice is key in urban systems. Viaduct trips are short and local urban trips—85 percent start and end within Seattle. If people have options—a variety of streets, transit options, I-5, biking, etc—and links are made between urban centers, we can all get where we’re going. Trucks or people. There is plenty of pavement already if we just use it more efficiently.
  • Modeling results also showed a regular 4-lane urban street on the waterfront (stakeholder options A or B) is sufficient, given other improvements to transit and I-5. All the local economic and civic benefits of removing the waterfront highway can be achieved with either this approach or a bypass tunnel.
  • As is oft-repeated, the Viaduct poses a major public safety threat to Seattle citizens: it was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually quake, is unsafe, and must come down soon to prevent tragedy in another possible quake. The S/T/5 solution would allow the Governor to keep her promise of a 2012 closure date; furthermore, doing these projects now is the critical path to getting by without the Viaduct if it should fail. The bored tunnel plan uses a finger-crossing strategy against earthquake risk, and delays closure to 2016—or longer if there are any planning/design/legal/construction hiccups.

The tunnel plan emerged in January as a fragile political compromise, balancing what the State’s elected leaders think is important (maintaining their state highways, providing capacity for car trips bypassing Seattle, giving Boeing what they want) and what Seattle and King County leaders think is important (providing local mobility and access, freeing the waterfront, supporting local economic growth).

There are bigger issues at stake for our city, though. What kind of transportation system fits future Seattle? What investments should we make now to transition to a future with 50 percent fewer vehicle-miles traveled by 2050 to reduce the emissions that cause climate change, as mandated by the State? Can we even afford a $4.2 billion megaproject?

Across the world, many leading cities are making big changes in their transportation systems to prepare for a different future—New York, London, Paris, Seoul, Copenhagen, San Francisco. Together, their successes show that it’s possible to relieve congestion, create beloved vibrant streets, grow the economy, AND cut greenhouse gas emissions through aggressively improving alternative choices, prioritizing freight, and decreasing car capacity. We should measure twice before we cut: building car capacity we may not need, at this high cost and risk, may turn out to be a terrible investment.

Many Seattleites (myself included) believe the tunnel plan is already a bad deal for Seattle. The situation could get worse, if this megaproject runs into trouble like 90 percent of them do. We better elect a Mayor—and City Council members—who have the intelligence to see what is happening and the courage to fight for Seattle’s best interests when things get rocky.

61 Responses to “Special Guest Post: Tunnel Digest”

  1. Brice Maryman

    And that, my friends, is why Cary is a genius. Great synopsis.

  2. Matt the Engineer

    I agree.

    I hadn’t realized this was the largest bore tunnel in the world. That would obviously require building a new tunnel boring machine from scratch (buying them used is often an option, as is selling them afterward), and probably means facing challenges that haven’t been considered before. Imagine how much smaller diameter this tunnel would be (and how many more people and goods it could carry) if we bored a rail tunnel through Seattle instead.

  3. slag

    Excellent! Truly excellent! I’ve been searching for ways to communicate some of these facts and others I’m just now learning. This post is a huge help. Thank you!

  4. Chris


    I don’t think the statement that the “S/T/5 options worked great for mobility” is accurate considering the travel times in the linked report. The trip from SODO to Ballard would be 10 mins longer most times of the day, and the trip from West Seattle (including transit trips) would be almost double the current time. I recognize that sacrifice needs to be made to reclaim our waterfront, but I think you may understating the negative impacts on mobility.

    I am very concerned about anything that would undermine the growth of downtown, and jeopardize the hub-and-spoke model of transit that presently works very well here. In terms of land use regionwide, while there will (hopefully) be lots of in-fill development in urban centers in the near, the die has largely been cast – downtown Seattle is a very small center of extremely dense development surrounded by miles upon miles of development that is not easily served by transit. Anything that makes downtown seattle harder to access (including travel times) undermines our ability to focus development downtown, and thus undermines our ability to serve commuters with transit.

    I am also very concerned that the trips made from south of downtown to 15th ave, including many freight trips, will gridlock the waterfront (or the couplet) in the S+T model – this would probably also be the case with the present plan for the bored tunnel, which is why I am a fan of a four-lane cut and cover bypass tunnel with a Western Avenue exit. There are 40,000 trips a day making this route presently. In the S+T alternative, these will be dispersed on the waterfront (or couplet) and 4th avenue/2nd Avenue. The plan for 4th avenue was to add a 5th lane by removing parking, making 4th even more of a freeway than it is now. I think the S+T concept undermines the quality of life downtown and therefore the attractiveness of downtown to new residents.

  5. Bout the same

    This is an incredibly lucid description of the deep-bore tunnel’s history and its failings. Excellent article in the context of Seattle’s current mayor’s race.

  6. Craig

    Great summary Cary, thanks for laying it all out so clearly.

  7. David in Burien

    Thanks for this very useful synopsis.

    I’ve never been against the idea of a tunnel, and I really don’t begrudge elected officials or business leaders planning for or around what “they think is important.” Unfortunately with this project, those officials and leaders based their plan on a shocking and disappointingly narrow view of Seattle as a static obstacle to be “gotten through or around” when considering mobility.

    By eliminating exits to downtown, this tunnel only serves that narrow view of mobility by serving only the 40% of present Viaduct traffic that is through traffic (ostensibly dumping the other 60% out onto the city or I-5). Exacerbating this huge drawback a tunnel wrecks the neighborhoods in the areas surrounding it’s north and south portals, as Cary points out. I think this is subject worth exploring further.

    But the worst drawback of the tunnel plan is the assignment of the overrun financing to citizens of the city it fails to serve and whose city neighborhoods it could wreck! This allocation of responsbility for funding is punitive in appearance, as though the State Legislature seeks to “stick-it” to Seattle; an irrational basis for legislating if there ever was one.

    If you must build a tunnel, finance it right, give exits to downtown Seattle, incorporate a robust transit overlay including light rail and streetcars, and build improvements in the street grid around the metropolitan area. Now that would serve what the leaders “think” needs to be served AND improve our livability here with an eye toward how we’ll probably be actually living in the next 50 years (as opposed to the last 50).

  8. Matt the Engineer

    [Chris], you’re still fighting for cut-and-cover? We voted that down. Your chosen example route doesn’t go to downtown, but to SODO – an area of limited residential or employment population. It’s good you’re against the tunnel, but wouldn’t a light rail line solve most/all of the traffic problems you mention? As our city grows, cars become less and less of a reasonable transportation solution – even ignoring peak oil and climate change.

  9. Cascadian

    Cary, thanks for pointing out that a 4-lane street is big enough. One of the things that bugs me about WSDOT’s “surface option” is that it included a massive 6-lane monstrosity. I think this point is at least as important as not wasting money on a tunnel, and it doesn’t get nearly as much attention.

  10. Chris

    no, that was a 6-lane cut and cover, 3 stacked on three and therefore much large and deeper tunnel. the Four-lane option would have two side-by-side lanes a with western exit.

    Sure a light rail light would be better, but that’s not a viable option anytime in the next 15 (20?) years. We’d need a second tunnel under downtown to make that work. We might get that eventually in ST3. I’m skeptical that a city-funded Link route as proposed by McGinn has any legs. I think a slimmed down, tolled tunnel that allows free flow in the western part of the city when I-5 is jammed is critical. I don’t get my McGinn thinks investing $500 million in I-5 “improvements” (which can’t be tolled easily, and therefore gridlock cannot be controlled easily) is better than $900 million for a new, secondary system supporting that primary system on I-5.

  11. Alex

    “Sure a light rail light would be better, but that’s not a viable option anytime in the next 15 (20?) years.”

    That’s simply not true.

    People in Seattle act like building new light rail lines is some form of rocket science. Other cities have built out much larger light rail systems than our in less time. For instance, Denver (39.4 miles built in 11 years in much more transit-hostile political territory). Portland, as I remember it, built something like 18 miles in five years, 93-98 and another 14 miles between 03-09, and they’ve built 85 miles in total since the mid 80s. Hell, even San Diego is adding 11 miles to its 51 mile system in the next six years. And those are the *American* cities.

    Link Light Rail is I think 13 miles or so… and took us what, 15 years from planning to today?

    Our problems are mostly mindset and process, I think. Too many provincial thinkers who don’t understand what is regularly done in other places, and too many who think the single-occupancy car is a viable commute strategy in a region that’s soon to have 4 million people.

    The sooner we recognize that (with a fast-growing population on a set of narrow strips of land) “drivable Seattle” is now an oxymoron, and start fast-tracking new strategies, the better off we’ll be.

  12. David Sucher

    The tunnel is a bad idea in so many ways. I agree and will support & work with people who opposes it.

    But Surface/Transit has no political legs.

    The scenario I expect is
    1, defeat of tunnel either by election of McGinn (preferred) or later by citizen initiative;
    2. failure of Surface/Transit to mobilize enough support to overcome its inherent contradictions and weakness;
    3. repair and civilizing of the Viaduct

  13. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    I do not see any problem with a few trips becoming 10 mins longer. No one in London would build a deep bore tunnel to save a little time going from Kensington to Greenwich.

  14. Cary

    Travel time predictions should always come with a big fat caveat. Even WSDOT says they’re not actual predictions, because they rarely come true in the real world; they’re just a mathematical tool to compare options.
    In the case of this modeling, an absurd 20% increase in trips was tested, just to reveal possible failures. Nothing failed. And no one really expects traffic to increase 20% in 6 years; it is expected to remain flat or possible decline, depending on fuel costs, carbon taxes, development patterns, and cultural attitudes about driving. So the results showing that 20% more trips can be served OK could be extrapolated to suggest that a consistent number of trips can be served very well.
    In the special case of S/T/5 where car capacity is reduced, the growing traffic assumption is even more unlikely. It would be more reasonable to assume a 15% to 25% reduction in trips that use the Viaduct; this is the average disappearance rate for car trips when capacity was reduced in a study of 60 real world examples. Reverse induced demand.

  15. ivan

    @ 13:

    It’s not “a few” trips and it’s not “10 minutes longer.” It’s a whole lot of trips, and it’s a whole lot longer than 10 minutes.

    This “surface option” only exacerbates the traffic jams around the ferry terminal at Colman Dock, and no one — NO ONE — who advocates for it has yet had the stones to admit it, much less tell us how this option is going to do anything for through traffic but make it a whole lot more nightmarish.

    Rebuild the Viaduct, bigger and better.

  16. Marian

    The problem with your viewpoint is that you believe Seattle is an inconvenience that must be by-passed as quickly as possible.

    The goal here is to improve infrastructure, economic value of the waterfront and affected neighborhoods, gain property tax revenue from improved property, improve city livability, increase mass transit options, and overall connect the Seattle grid (potentially reducing the number of cars funneled onto the one option you choose to take to/from work).

    It’s sad that you think the Houston mentality will work in Seattle–building more and bigger freeways only leads to more cars and bigger traffic jams. Instead we should work on creating a synced and efficient mass transit system.

    Try reading a little about how reducing freeways can help cities, and get out of that small world you live in:

  17. chrispy

    @16: Thanks for your smug suggestion to read the link; very nice. Here’s some food for thought though:

    1. One year prior to Portland cloing its waterfront “freeway”, it had opened the I-405 loop that went north to I-5, giving drivers two LIMITED ACCESS north-south freeways serving downtown. By removing the Viaduct and not replacing it with something… anything, Seattle drivers will have ONE.

    2. Portland also doesn’t have a port, a ferry system, or an extensive boat-based economy. Unfortunately, those all require something to transport goods and services via rail AND road. There is just no escaping it. Oh, and it’s metro area is much larger.

    3. San Fransisco had an extensive mass transit and subway system DECADES prior to the removal of both freeways used in your example. Seattle has just opened its first form of mass transit that doesn’t use roads (which you seem to hate) less than 6 months ago! It covers what – 13 miles? – and completely ignores anything north of downtown, and two areas with the highest residential growth: Ballard and West Seattle.

    Thanks for your incredible amount of thought on this, but not everything can fit your fantastic ideology. Perhaps YOU should get out of that small, close-minded world in which you live.

  18. ivan

    @ 16:

    I am for building all the mass transit we can build, and always have been. But between now and the time that we have it online, I am not interested in having traffic grind to a halt.

    Once we have the mass transit up and running, then come and talk to me about tearing down the viaduct. Not before. The public transit DOES NOT EXIST that will take up the slack for the decreased capacity and MOBILITY that the “surface option” would bring us. And wishing it did, or imagining that it might, will not make it so.

  19. Mark

    Thanks, Cary. Well done.

    As a Queen Anne resident, I confess to using the viaduct mainly for getting to Home Depot. Multiply that ridiculous usage by many folks in Ballard/QA and West Seattle who’d prefer to travel by light-rail, and the answer starts to look a bit obvious. I just spent a couple weeks in Portland … absolutely amazing how car-free it is. Hmmmmmm.

    However, I see chrispy’s point, and wonder if the reduction of short-trip car traffic overall would make truckers’ lives more bearable on the surface. As well, ivan has a good timing consideration.

  20. dan bertolet

    ivan @18: What is the factual basis for your fear that “traffic would grind to a halt.”? Do you think that all three DOTs would have signed off on the S/T/5 plan if it meant traffic would grind to a halt? Modeling showed that S/T/5 didn’t fail even under the unrealistic assumption of a 20 percent increase in trips in six years. Do you have some modeling results that show otherwise, or are you just making stuff up?

    The tunnel won’t open for seven years at best. With a few billion dollars and seven years we could make major improvements to Seattle’s transit system if we wanted to.

  21. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    ivan, it’s clear that you don’t believe the WSDOT and SDOT traffic models. I agree with you that at least under Nickels/Sims we’ve lacked the political will (or is it leadership?) to get the trasit we need. I also think you’ve made at good argument at publicola that if the status quo continues we’re probably headed for a retrofit. But, I don’t think any of these things are set in stone. Let’s elect a mayor who’s at least talking about transit instead of parking.

  22. ivan

    Dan Bertolet @ 20 asks:

    ivan @18: What is the factual basis for your fear that “traffic would grind to a halt.”? Do you think that all three DOTs would have signed off on the S/T/5 plan if it meant traffic would grind to a halt?

    In a word, yes. What “studies,” what “modeling” account for the interface between disembarking ferry traffic from Colman Dock and north-south traffic alongside Alaskan Way that isn’t the “surface option” proponents’ rosy best-case scenario?

    I’m not “making stuff up” because I don’t have to. I have SEEN traffic grind to a halt along Alaskan Way. I have EXPERIENCED it. I have spent 15 minutes at a time trying to get from south to north and from north to south while traffic cruised by at 50 on the Viaduct overhead.

    Ypu can’t expect me — or anybody else — to place blind faith in any “modeling” that says adding the Viaduct traffic to this situation — even at four lanes — is going to maintain traffic mobility. I’m not willing to trade off mobility for esthetics or for ideology.

    Joshua @ 20:

    If the tunnel’s financing plan is such a loser, as you and others claim, then what does it matter who the next mayor is? I’m not trying to make a case for Mallahan, but demonstrate to me that he is opposed to transit. I don’t think you can.

  23. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    @21, I don’t believe Mallahan is “opposed” to transit, but he’s not excited about it. Perhaps McGinn’s proposal to bring a light rail plan and support for dedicated transit right-of-way is just posturing for votes… I’m afraid I’ve fallen for it.

    I thought you didn’t believe the financing numbers either, and that’s why you think we’ll get a retrofit. Have a change of heart?

  24. ivan

    Joshua @ 23:

    I never said I thought we’d get a retrofit because I didn’t believe the financing mumbers.

  25. David Sucher

    I think we will get a retrofit and in fact are already getting one.

    Both camps are dreaming: neither the tunnel nor the S/T are politically realistic. Both have huge camps of opponents gunning for them.

    Plus, and this is what galls me, smart proponents on both sides (a lot of the people writing here) refuse to display the imagination to understand how a repaired Viaduct can be a perfectly decent piece of urbanism. So involved with selling their own program that they really don’t look at the Viaduct or its overall city context with any imagination or, sad to say, objectivity.

    So as to politics, it is what it is and there is no point in trying to persuade you that both Tunnel and S/T are political pipe dreams. Reality triumphs.

    But I wish you smart people would see with fewer blinders of advocacy.

  26. Chris

    David, you may be right. I dream of a viaduct-less waterfront, and all the amenities that might take its place. Every time I walk by there I cringe.

    That said, I also drive on it on occasion. I take transit to work 90% of the time, but the Viaduct comes in might handy in making a quick exit from downtown for a client visit in ballard or points north, or south to Burien. If I-5 is packed on mornings I need to drive, I take the viaduct and loop back through pioneer square to where I work.

    I don’t get people who are so doctrinaire as to not be able to see both sides of this coin. to Marian @16, yes, there are trips when I want to bypass downtown, and quickly. And there are times when I want to stop and enjoy the waterfront. That is why I support as small of a bypass as is feasible, which seems to be two lanes in each direction, and the removal of the existing viaduct. This would: free up the waterfront, allow the traffic volumes/congestion to be regulated by tolling. This solution, IMHO, is a compromise on all sides and a workable alternative.

    @Alex @11, those system you mention were built in existing rail or freeway ROW and thus could be built much faster than the largely grade separated Link system. Link to the U-District is a subway that happens to be LRT technology. This makes comparison difficult. A ballard-west seattle line would again cost billions, and need to be in second transit tunnel because the first will be maxed out by operations after ST II. Again, I support all efforts to expedite planning but its a long-term project

  27. dan bertolet

    okay ivan@22, let me see if I have it straight: The consensus reached on a complex multi-modal transportation plan by the Seattle, King County, and WA State DOTs—agencies whose primary mission is to provide car capacity and if nothing else are known for being very careful and conservative in their planning—based on countless hours of work by dozens of professional transportation planners and engineers as well as a year-long community stakeholder process, all of that consensus is negated by the fact that you—ivan the blog commenter—have seen traffic get backed up on Alaskan Way. Got it.

  28. new_Seattleite

    I just moved to Seattle a couple of years ago but have already developed some opinions about the viaduct problem.

    1) It didn’t take me long to realize how valuable 99 and the viaduct are for getting around Seattle, especially for people who live in Ballard (as I do) and other points north. I have had a couple of nightmarish transits when the southbound tunnel at the north end of the viaduct is closed and I am spit out onto the surface streets…and immediately ensnared in hellish traffic. I just don’t see how dumping the viaduct traffic onto the surface streets is a reasonable option- even with reworking the streets.

    2) Improved transit might help, but there are big problems with that as a solution. Number one is that traveling by light rail is simply not an option for commercial traffic- which means not just semis but all the other traffic (delivery vans, salespeople, etc.). So no matter how much transit is improved, there is still going to be a large number of vehicles that need to go somewhere. Number 2, what about all the people in areas not well served by transit? Will there ever be light rail to Ballard, Greenwood, Shoreline? How about all those people who simply do not have the time to load their three kids on a bus for an hour to get downtown?

    3) Related to number (2), it seems to me that people often forget that Seattle is still an industrial city, with a major port, rail link, and manufacturing. In my opinion, it should remain an industrial city. In addition, any major city needs the kind of commercial traffic I discussed above. I worry that some in this town are trying to eliminate that commercial lifeblood and reduce Seattle to a bunch of office buildings and the condos to house the people that work in those buildings. A solid replacement for the viaduct- and a tunnel seems the best of the available options- is necessary for maintaining that commercial aspect (and I’m a far leftie and not usually pro-development, so please don’t think I’m a shill for business!).

    4) None of the options is perfect. Now that the tunnel project is underway, we should let it play out and not occupy the time, energy and money of the city with wrangling about it anymore. From what I have heard, this is what killed the monorail which was a pretty good idea as far as I can tell. As much as I like some things about McGinn, I am not going to vote for someone who is going to immediately tie up the city government with rehashing this whole issue when there are more important things to worry about.

    5) One thing I have not heard anyone talk about is how much of a pain in the ass it is to get over to I5 from parts of north Seattle- and I imagine from south Seattle as well. Even if the flow of I5 through downtown is improved, the access to it will not change, and that’s one of the major reasons I find 99 so much more convenient.

  29. Wells

    Chris, you’re right about the 4-lane Cut-n-cover being the better tunnel option. Mike would be more likely to have it considered. The preliminary tunnel work in Sodo is applicable to this Cut-n-cover as well as to the Deep-bore. You should be able to get a copy of it, WsDOT’s Scenario ‘G’, online.

    I’ve watched morning northbound AWV traffic back up as far south as Jackson. This intolerable situation may be resolved with a 2-lane exit onto Western. With Scenario ‘G’ it would be an ‘uphill’ rather than the current downhill exit, which would make 2 lanes safer than 1 lane even while doubling capacity. It’s probably best to decommission Bell Street between 1st Ave and Elliott.

    Thank you again, Cary, for your great effort to force DOTs to embrace wholistic transportation planning principles.

  30. ivan

    Dan Bertolet @ 27:

    The DOTs have their political agenda, you have yours, and I have mine. You are free to decide for yourself who and what is credible, and so am I. Clearly you have made you choice.

    The “consensus” that you refer to — that the “surface option” will not have a seriously negative effect on traffic mobility — is not credible to me, and no condescending appeal to authority will make it so.

    Let’s not forget that WSDOT’s original plan was to rebuild the Viaduct. The stakeholder process that you refer to was a political compromise, plain and simple, and it insults the intelligence to pretend that it was anything different.

  31. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    @26: On the light rail “built in existing rail or freeway ROW”–partially true. But Portland (through downtown) and even Dallas have also taken existing publicly owned street right of way and dedicated it to transit. These repurposed lanes move many more people than when open to cars.

  32. Lone Wolf

    I think we should pass a law that allows only one car per family. Traffic will only get worse and we are killing the planet with co2. If people were forced to take the bus than we don’t need these expensive roadway projects.
    I also think we should shut down every big grocery store and only eat food we grown in our back yards.
    Who needs jobs and a good economy when we have hacky sack?

  33. wes kirkman

    Insults aside (okay, maybe a couple insults), I have many concerns over this project…no matter which way it goes.

    Yes, the money for the bored tunnel is a big deal. What really concerns me is the punt to Seattle in the event of overruns, especially considering only West Seattle and Ballard Seattleites use it, (as far as I can tell) not every Seattleite like some ass-u-me (ehem, new_Seattleite). After hearing Cary assert that this will be the widest tunnel constructed, I am even more concerned about this.

    Seattleites, and anyone for that matter, who do use this route to get downtown will not be able to use the new, bigger, better one. As a sore-foot freakin’ lib that walks to work (and sucks it up on price/SF so I can continue to do so), I feel no pain for these folks. However, I do question the results of such. They are most likely going to continue driving and, thus, end up on our streets anyway. And if they are no longer using it, who will be? Are we really spending billions on Boeing and Ballard residents with friends in W. Seattle? WTF?

    My next concern is regarding the surface option. I saw the surface alternatives…and I’m not so sure I want those either. What is better: an aerial structure over our head or Aurora on the waterfront? (btw: koodos to anyone who does not have their head in their a$$ and have realized that we already do have a high through-put surface 99, albeit a god-forsaken POS street…been on Aurora lately? Last I saw, that sh!t ain’t underground).

    Note: this is in no way me leaning towards a refab of the aerial. I am curious about the cut-and-cover as a compromise, but this is mostly an invitation for danB or Cary to speak to the waterfront Aurora deal and how we are going to ensure that we are going to retain (hmm…gain?) a nice pedestrian experience for pedestrians on the waterfront.

  34. Chris


    I agree on your point about not wanting an Aurora avenue downtown, but that comparison is only partially true. On the urban design side, it would be much better, without question. but in terms of traffic is will be gridlocked much of the day. That is the only way possible that “reverse induced demand,” as Cary termed it, can occur. Simply put, the trip is so slow and arduous as to make trips “disappear.” No gridlock, no reverse induced demand.

  35. Cary

    To Wes Kirkman @33,
    In the stakeholder process, options A and B assumed a 4-lane urban street on the waterfront (6 lanes south of the ferry terminal at Yesler.) Both worked as part of a larger systemic package of improvements. This is what SDOT is planning now: 4 lanes, urban scale and speeds, crosswalks at every corner, traffic lights. Think 1st Avenue.

    Four data points create strong evidence that it is possible, effective, and necessary to have a sane four lane street on the waterfront:

    1. As I noted earlier @14, a very thorough engineering analysis of 60 capacity reductions around the world suggests that some of the viaduct trips, 15% to 25% probably, will not reappear in the system after the highway is removed. It just happens. It’s the opposite of induced demand. There is a funny article in the SF Chronicle when the Central Freeway was closed, entitled “Calling all cars” where the Caltrans engineers admitted they were just perplexed that they couldn’t account for about 50% of the trips that had formerly used this highway. Remember, 75% of the trips we take are not work related, and people are really flexible about these trips.

    2. One of the nation’s premier transportation and traffic engineering firms, Smart Mobility, looked at all the analysis from WSDOT in 2006, pointed out all the flaws, and reassessed the data. Their conclusion: a four-lane urban street would work great. They are the experts at building excellent streets that optimize efficient traffic flow and great pedestrian experience. It’s all about signal timing, narrow pedestrian crossings, narrow lane widths, and intersection design. Their study also showed that a well connected street grid does a BETTER job serving local mobility than a highway, because street grids provide more direct/ shorter routings, more flexibility and choice, and efficient relief of congestion when a bottleneck/ accident happens. Unlike highways, which inspire inefficient routings, make you wait out the jam when there is an accident, and generally cause conflicts where they meet a busy city grid.

    3. Check out the links to other cities in the original post: all of the places that removed highways, reduced car capacity, or increased the cost or inconvenience of driving say the same thing. It works. Smart systems math has replaced the clunky 1950s math for urban traffic planning; see NYC especially for leadership there. All cities are different, true, but is Seattle really that special that we can ignore so much empirical evidence from every city that has confronted this same challenge?

    4. This, from the recent Seattle Times article, explaining why there would be very little impact to other routes even if you took away the viaduct and just did NOTHING:

    “New computer modeling by Paul Waddell, a University of California professor of planning, predicts that if you remove the viaduct, and don’t add road lanes elsewhere, the result is an average 6-minute driver delay (small enough it might well be zero, he says) for various trips.

    He forecasts no spillover delays on I-5, and said there’s an 80 percent chance a trip from Lake Union to Spokane Street would increase between two and 10 minutes. Typically, the studies published by state government ignore people who would shift to transit, change jobs, move homes or relocate businesses, said Waddell, formerly at the UW.

    “In instances such as a temporary or even long-term closure of a major transportation facility, the reality in terms of traffic conditions is often far better than transportation officials expect,” his study concludes.

    So if instead of doing nothing, you build a four lane street and connect it back into the grid, add lots of new transit, fix I-5 to allow more flow, and fix some weak links in the grid, it’s pretty likely that all the demand can be met.

  36. Pragmatist

    We don’t need to build more capacity for cars but let’s not decrease the capacity we do have. Cars aren’t the enemy but CO2 that powers them is. If cars are powered by electricity (created by wind, solar, and nuclear power) then they won’t have any CO2 emissions.

    Let’s not turn the waterfront into an extension of Aurora by taking down the viaduct, making wide lanes (like Aurora), and not building a tunnel (or cut and cover).

  37. What would Jane Jacobs do about the Viaduct? | Seattle News

    [...] eco-friendly. The Washington Department of Transportation’s own studies, Moon says, show that the surface option works fine. “People are flexible, they’ll adjust,” she says. Make improvements on surface [...]

  38. You've got to be kidding

    Yes. By all means, let’s elect McGinn so we can continue this sniping another 8 years. It’s so fun to read.

  39. Wells

    Pragmatist, The sheer numbers of cars is as much a problem as their emissions. Seattle certainly has more than it can handle. Replacing the AWV with a tunnel (Deep-bore or Cut-n-cover) is not a solution to this larger problem.

    Also, the worst of Seattle’s traffic is generated regionally rather than within central Seattle. Downtown Seattle transit must expand to adequately serve inner-city residents, commuters and visitors, and not necessarily with streetcar lines. A trolleybus reconfiguration would do more good in less time, less expense and less construction disruption. The current trolleybuses are obsolete low-floor models and their route arrangement downtown is woefully inefficient. Metro ’stakeholders’ prefer noisy, air polluting diesels almost as if their principle stock, er stake, is in GM.

  40. Joel Horn

    Hello to a lot friends I see posting on this site.

    I am responding to the idea of a surface light rail bringing people in from Ballard and/or West Seattle to Downtown. This would be very difficult (probably impossible politically) to do for many technical and cost reasons. This was studied in the Schell administration when they were trying to stop the monorail (remember that Paul was not a monorail supporter). Using an elevated solution does work as was proven by the Monorail Green Line. That project did not fail do to technical issues, in fact it had a guaranteed fixed price contract that was signed after the technical analysis and budget estimates were completed. It also had an EIS that survived all legal challenges, was insured by a completion bond, and had assembled the right of way to build it.

    The best way to take car load off of the waterfront is to build the Green Line. I realize the incredibly painful sigh that this causes in so many people but it was a great idea in 2002 and is still a great idea in 2009. It would take significant pressure off of any viaduct alternatives be they renovate/replace the existing structure, tunnel, or surface alternative.

    The main purpose of this comment is not to promote the monorail but to comment that building a surface light rail on the West side of the city is going to be extremely difficult and probably not going to happen.

    Thank you.

  41. David Levinger

    There is so much intelligence among the people discussing these issues here. It makes me hopeful about the future of transportation for this city–if we can get Mike McGinn elected.

    Tunnel proponents seem motivated by an ideological commitment to a fantasy-solution. I am in Oslo Norway right now where the main highway E-18 (their I-5 equivalent) is in a tunnel through the downtown and they are adding a floating tunnel of perhaps 1 km to reclaim and redevelop waterfront presently occupied by industry.

    The WSDOT-Discovery Institute deep-bore tunnel does not bury traffic and doesn’t have the support that these Oslo projects had when they were initiated. I am not ideologically opposed to tunnels, but I sure as morning do not support them ideologically!

  42. Alex

    Wes writes “Are we really spending billions on Boeing and Ballard residents with friends in W. Seattle?”

    Well, yes.

  43. Alex

    “pragmatist” writes “If cars are powered by electricity (created by wind, solar, and nuclear power) then they won’t have any CO2 emissions.”

    Not true, Well over 50% of the total lifetime emissions of a given auto are non-operational: the CO2 emitted by manufacturing, maintaining, parking and providing roads for that car. Add second-order effects and even much smaller cars powered by completely zero-emissions energy (which we are a long way from having) probably still result in 50-66% as much CO2 being emitted as today.

    Cars cause climate change, and will under every scenario we currently can plausibly imagine.

  44. Cary

    Joel @40,
    You’re a guy who has read every page of all the technical research about mass transit options for West Seattle and Ballard. You’ve spend thousands of hours in public meetings hearing from citizens about what they care about, and what they will and won’t tolerate. You’ve dug in deep to all the transportation modeling examining how much West Seattle and Ballard car trips actually would rather shift to high-speed mass transit.

    So what options ARE technically viable for better mass transit to the west side? And what would have to change politically for transit that requires taking a car lane to succeed — like a true BRT system or light-rail?

  45. Joel Horn

    Wow, now that’s quite a question.

    I just clicked into here to see if there were any comments and found #44. I will have to think a bit about how to best answer those questions.

    I am off to a bunch of meetings and may not be able to respond to this until tonight but as always you don’t hold back do you.

    By the way, I enjoyed reading your Guest Post that starting this thread and may ask a few questions back to you but let me focus on #44 first.


  46. dan bertolet

    There’s a lot of followup to this post that would make for good stand alone posts on HAC.

    Joel @40, if you want to write a response to Cary’s question @44, I’d be happy to post it.

    Also, Chris @4, you seem to be making the argument that a bypass freeway would reduce sprawl, which is counter to “conventional wisdom.” Let me know if have any interest in articulating that further for a stand alone HAC post.

  47. Joel Horn

    Thanks Dan, just got home, will probably try to answer Cary tomorrow. Thought about it a lot today. Do you want me to just post response here or send to you some other way? Your choice.

  48. Bringing Better Transit To The West Side | hugeasscity

    [...] note:  In the comments on Cary Moon’s tunnel post there was much discussion about options for transit service and McGinn’s proposal for light [...]

  49. On The Wretchedness Of A World In Which Susan Hutchinson Can Pose A Serious Challenge To Dow Constantine In The Race For King County Executive | hugeasscity

    [...] Dow Constantine becomes the next King County Executive: I support him even though he is backing the deep-bore tunnel (gasp!).  At a recent event Constantine cited concerns that reopening the debate could lead to far [...]

  50. One Issue | hugeasscity

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  53. Best of 2009: What would Jane Jacobs do about the Viaduct? | Seattle News

    [...] eco-friendly. The Washington Department of Transportation’s own studies, Moon says, show that the surface option works fine. “People are flexible, they’ll adjust,” she says. Make improvements on surface [...]

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  56. What Would Jane Jacobs Do? | TXT-Urbia

    [...] eco-friendly. The Washington Department of Transportation’s own studies, Moon says, show that the surface option works fine. “People are flexible, they’ll adjust,” she says. Make improvements on surface [...]

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  60. Don’t Worry, It’s Probably Nothing | hugeasscity

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