// How We Got Here: Part One

The Nisqually Earthquake of 2001

In 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct and its supporting seawall, and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was forced to invest $14.5 million in emergency repairs. WSDOT further determined that the viaduct had a 1-in-20 chance of being shut down by another earthquake prior to 2010. As a historical backdrop, the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 destroyed San Francisco’s Cyprus Street Viaduct, and forced the closure and demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway. Memories of Loma Prieta were very much in everyone’s minds as the City and State began the process of dealing with the Viaduct issue.


Over the span of six years, local and state government fought bitterly over a potential solution. The State, represented by Governor Gregoire, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D-Wallingford), and WSDOT were most concerned with maintaining vehicle capacity through the SR 99 corridor, and with the overall cost of the project. Despite a near supermajority in the Legislature, the House and Senate Democratic leaders were concerned that “yet another megaproject for Seattle” would be used throughout the rest of the State as a political issue, and could cost the party seats in the 2010 elections. As a result, both the Governor and the Legislature came down on the side of rebuilding the Viaduct as an elevated freeway and refused to spend more than $2.8 Billion on the project (their estimated cost of rebuilding the elevated freeway). In fact, Speaker Chopp (himself a Seattleite) proposed a substantially larger elevated structure, which would have a park on top and street-level shopping. This solution was widely panned in Seattle as further cutting off the city from its waterfront, and as unrealistic in design.

Public opinion in the city was divided. Auto enthusiasts lamented the potential loss of what is admittedly a beautiful drive past downtown, and many were in favor of rebuilding the viaduct. Most everyone else, however, was more concerned with the historic opportunity to reconnect Seattle’s downtown to her waterfront. Many pointed out the similarities between Seattle’s current situation and that of San Francisco following the Loma Prieta earthquake, and a consensus began to grow among Seattle residents who favored an “anything but elevated” solution.

Continue to Part Two:  The Dueling Ballot Measures of 2007

Tunnel quotes

“The voters have again told us loud and clear that a new freeway through the heart and soul of the city is not the answer. I couldn’t agree more.  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 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.”
said Mayor Greg Nickels [Now he supports it.] (in Seattle Post-Intelligencer)