The answer to that question is, yes, basically, we did. In March of 2007, the Seattle City Council put two advisory ballot measures before the people of Seattle. These two measures asked voters to weigh in on two options for replacing the viaduct: a rebuilt elevated freeway, or the so-called “cut and cover” tunnel. “Cut and Cover” refers to the method of construction, in which a trench would be dug up and then covered.
There are two things to note about that advisory vote. First, the option of taking down the viaduct and replacing it with improved surface streets, better transit, and an improved Interstate 5, referred to as the Surface/Transit/I-5 option, was not on the ballot. The second oddity was, of course, the fact that there were two separate ballot measures. If there were only two possibilities, as the State and City seemed to think, why not just have one ballot measure and let people choose between the two? That question is best answered by Councilwoman Jan Drago.
“Had it been a single vote, tunnel vs. elevated,” she now says, “we [tunnel supporters] would have been dead on arrival.”
The Governor mandated that Seattle vote over the options (something City leaders didn’t want to do), but failed to imagine just how clever ballot drafters could be. Drago knew voters were opposed to the more expensive tunnel (polls showed that), but she also knew they were opposed (though not as heavily) to the elevated option. A split vote would send them both down. “I presented the idea to [Deputy Mayor Tim] Ceis and it took him about two seconds before he said perfect,” remembers Drago. And perfect it was for the script she was writing. “We lived to see another day,” she says proudly. [C.R. Douglas, Crosscut.com, 1/16/09, How Jan Drago Dragooned a Viaduct Solution]
So yes, we did vote on the tunnel, and 70% of us voted “No”. What most of us didn’t realize is that the ballot measures were specifically crafted to allow tunnel supporters in City government to ignore the will of the voters, and build a tunnel anyway. Let me say that one more time. Our city’s elected leaders put a ballot measure before the people, knowing full well it would fail, all the while planning to build their tunnel anyway.
That is a particularly craven way to play politics.