Sorting out this whole viaduct debate
The future of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was taking center stage Thursday as Mayor Greg Nickels and opponent Mike McGinn, vying with each other for one of two spots in the November general election, threw shots at each other. McGinn turned up the heat Tuesday by challenging Nickels:
If Nickels wants to debate this in person, I’ll meet him anytime, anywhere to have an open and public debate,” McGinn said in a news release.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House transportation committee, said Tuesday that the question of who’s right “is not clear-cut.” But she also said the debate is theoretical because the tunnel is a done deal and the state will build it regardless of what the mayor thinks.
Nickels began running automated phone calls to voters Monday calling B.S. on McGinn’s position on the viaduct, in which McGinn has repeatedly gone after Nickels for choosing the costlier option of replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. McGinn prefers tearing down the viaduct and dealing with the displaced traffic from the elevated highway from the highway through increased transit and widening Interstate 5 and asking city streets to absorb more vehicles.
Nickels’ point is that Seattle is responsible for $936 million of the $4.2 billion tunnel plan. The city’s portion would comprise $2256 million to replace the sea wall, $100 million for a waterfront promenade, $252 for utility relocation and $135 million for a streetcar line.
But even if the state were to go forth with McGinn’s so-called surface option, the city would likely to responsible for the same things, since the state is picking up the tab for the actual demolition of the viaduct and the construction of the tunnel paid partially through tolling.
“After all,” Nickels campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said in a news release Tuesday, “it is the city’s sea wall, it is the city’s utilities that hang under the current viaduct, and it will be the city’s new waterfront promenade.
“Surface transit still costs $3.5 billion, and – the crucial issue – costs the same to city taxpayers as the deep bore tunnel (even if we accept the risky premise that the state will still fund all the other work after McGinn rips up the compromise viaduct solution the city negotiated with them).
“A surface option costs a little less overall, but it only represents savings to the state – gas taxes we already pay that will just go to a different state project.
“So how does McGinn justify saying that he opposes the tunnel because the city will have to pay $936 million to make it happen, when the city still has to pay the same $936 million to make his preferred surface solution a reality?” Kaushik asked in the release.
“Mike McGinn is deliberately misleading the voters about where he stands on the amount of city money that will go into replacing the viaduct,” Kaushik said in the release. “McGinn is trying to conceal the fact that he wants to spend as much, and most likely billions more, in city funds on his preferred viaduct replacement option.”
Additionally, Kaushik said the state contended the state could decide to build a new viaduct or something nobody wants.
“That’s not logical,” McGinn said. “That the most expensive option will be the least expensive option.”
McGinn’s position, though, is that it’s not a sure thing that the city’s cost would indeed be as much as the $930 million it would have to pay under the tunnel option. And indeed, state Department of Transportation spokesman KaDeena Lenz said that when the state priced out the surface option, it never apportioned how much the state, the county, the city and other parties would pay.
Therefore, McGinn said that the negotiations that would result if the city were to hold out for the tunnel option could end up in the city paying less.
Clibborn said theoretically that’s true, if surface proponents expected the state to take on the cost of the seawall.
In that sense, she said, “what the mayoral candidates are saying is not clear cut. It’s hard to say what the state would agree to,” she said.
But she also said she would not support the state picking up the cost of the sea wall. And Clibborn said she doubted Senate transportation committee chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen would go along with it either. That would essentially leave the city paying for the same amount whether a tunnel is built or not.
The state went with the tunnel option, she said, because of the effect removing the viaduct would have on state responsibilities such as I-5. If the city were to decide it didn’t want the tunnel, Clibborn said the state most likely would build the tunnel, anyway.
“It would be very hard to go back (and revisit the tunnel decision,” she said. “Basically that is not a city project, it is a state project. We have the ability to go ahead and build the tunnel. That doesn’t mean Seattle can’t make it difficult.”
And indeed, McGinn has said that if he were elected, he would fight the tunnel.
Clibborn, though, said, the tunnel “is a done deal. The only impact the city could have would be to slow it down and make it very expensive.”
McGinn responded, “That’s what politicians do when dealing with the public. They use scare tactics that if you don’t choose the most expensive option, it’s going to be a lot worse.”
The debate between Nickels and McGinn was only intensified by the results of the latest KING5/Survey USA poll, which showed McGinn and T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan gaining momentum, with McGinn drawing close enough to raise the possibility of knocking Nickels into third place in next week’s primary and out of the November general election.
According to the poll, Nickels’ support dropped to 22 percent in the poll, down 4 points from the previous poll three weeks ago.
Mallahan had 19 percent of the support in the latest poll. McGinn had 15 percent. Publicola theorized why Nickels is really going after McGinn.
Meanwhile, McGinn also attacked Nickels, pointing out only 30 percent of city residents voted for the tunnel in a 2007 referendum.
McGinn pointed in a news release to Nickels’ comments to The Associated Press after the 2007 vote:
‘They’ve sent a very clear message — whether it is above ground or below, they don’t want to build another freeway on our waterfront,’ the mayor said. ‘The three of us have heard the voters. This is the
21st century and what the people of Seattle have said is we must put aside the 1950s mind-set about transportation and find new and better alternatives.’
McGinn said: “Not only did he break his promise, now he’s trying to stick Seattle taxpayers with the most expensive option on the table.”
McGinn reiterated his call on Nickels to tell voters what taxes he will raise to pay for the tunnel. “Seattle’s facing a budget crisis,” McGinn said. “Taxpayers deserve total transparency about which taxes will go up to pay for the tunnel. And they deserve that information before they vote.”
“And now Nickels is desperately trying to convince voters that they have to pay $930 million plus cost overruns no matter what solution we come up with,” McGinn said. “That’s simply false. The cheaper option he rejected would cost Seattle much less,” McGinn said.
McGinn pointed out that the city, under the tunnel deal, would be responsible for any cost overruns. The city has said the provision is unenforceable. But as the PostGlobe reported, it’s unknown what would happen if there are cost overruns and the city were to refuse to pay.
McGinn pointed out that the Seattle share of tunnel costs nearly equals the total of every other voter-approved levy in the city.
He called on the city to vote again on whether to support the tunnel. And he challenged Nickels to the debate.
Kaushik, though, responded, “Greg Nickels has debated Mike McGinn and the other challengers multiple times in recent months. If Mike McGinn makes it through the primary, there will certainly be other opportunities to debate the viaduct and other issues.”
Kaushik acknowledges to the local political site, Publicola, that Nickels used to support surface/transit, but said that changed when he realized the state wouldn’t pay for it. “[Nickels] went through a long and involved process of negotiation with the state and the county to come up with a compromise solution,” Kaushik says. “If Mike McGinn tears up that deal and says, ‘OK, we’re going to do the surface transit option anyway’ … the state is not going to pay for it.”
Nickels spokesman Alex Fryer pointed to the city’s plan for paying for the viaduct:
- Parking tax ($200 million)
• LIFT and/or LID, chargin property owners who stand to benefit from the project ($300 million)
• Transportation benefit district ($65 million)
• Utilities ($252 million)
• Transportation Improvement Board ($5 million)
• Federal grants ($55 million)
• Federal economic recovery funds ($80 million)
Fryer said the transportation benefit district would involve a $20 vehicle license fee, subject to passage by the City Council.
Re-locating utilities, which would also provide protection from an earthquake disrupting half the city’s power, would most likely require a small rate increase, Fryer said.