The City Council will be voting Monday on a measure to accept the responsibilities lined out in the irresponsible tunnel law passed this summer, and a petition is being circulated with a request for the council to reconsider.
Make no mistake, political decisions cannot change the physical and economic realities that loom in the tunnel’s future: it is a really bad time to rush into this decision.
October 19, 2009
Dear Mayor Nickels and Members of the Seattle City Council,
We are writing today to express our concern over the undue economic, environmental and social risks that Seattle residents will be taking on if the City Council moves forward with its Memorandum of Agreement to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel. While our specific motivations are varied, we are united in our belief that in the current economic climate, it is premature to irrevocably obligate the City of Seattle to the fiduciary and environmental risks associated with this project without holistic review of possible detrimental impacts.
Below is an unbiased list of the critical issues and uncertainties. We believe that the voters and taxpayers of Seattle deserve answers to these questions before our elected leaders further commit significant public resources to the deep-bore tunnel project through the proposed agreement.
COST OVERRUNS. Who will pay for cost overruns and how? Currently the State has mandated that Seattle voters will be responsible for all cost overruns. While many have asserted that this is illegal, there will need to be some equitable distribution of the risk of overruns between the City, County and State. A recent study by the Sightline Institute showed that recent tunnel projects have gone over budget by 30 – 56%.
THE IMPACTS OF I-1033. If I-1033 passes, severely limiting both the City, County and State’s abilities to raise revenues, how will the project be funded without drastic cuts to other government programs?
SAFETY. The deep-bore tunnel plan leaves the current viaduct in place for the longest amount of time. The safety of the viaduct continues to be a pressing matter and leaving it standing until 2016 increases the risk of catastrophic and life-threatening failure.
CLIMATE CHANGE. The transportation sector generates half of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have repeatedly shown that new urban highways induce vehicular travel resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions. How will the tunnel project help us achieve our broader goals as outlined in the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement?
OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS. What are the range and consequences of potential environmental impacts? How will salmon and other marine life be affected? What is the likely cost of cleanup from historic industrial practices? How does building a tunnel support or detract from Seattle’s goals for a healthier, more sustainable and environmentally responsible future? We fear that these questions are not being adequately addressed due to the lack of alternative evaluations in the State’s EIS process.
PIONEER SQUARE IMPACTS. What will the impacts be upon our cultural resources in Pioneer Square? Since the tunnel does not have any downtown exits and there are no plans for the First Avenue streetcar, the project will direct a large number of cars through Pioneer Square, and the tunnelling equipment may cause instability under these cherished buildings.
GEOLOGY. The geology of the waterfront area is some of the most complex in Washington State.The tunnel routing goes through liquefaction zones andcuts across earthquake faults. What kind of risk does this incur? Will the tunnel be safe in an earthquake?
AN ELEVATED OVERPASS. Will the state rebuild a portion of an elevated structure West of Pioneer Square? If built, what impact will that have upon Pioneer Square’s connection to the waterfront?
CUTS TO HUMAN SERVICES AND OTHER PROGRAMS. What cuts will be taken out of other programs to free up the $17 million dollars in general fund resources that were identified to replace downtown parking revenue? Will these cuts be made in social services, arts, police, or parks?
SIDEWALK FUNDING. How will the City fund sidewalks when many of the proposed if funding sources for sidewalks are used to fund the tunnel project, including increased parking taxes, increased utility fees, and a vehicle licensing fee?
TOLLING COSTS. What will the tolling cost for the tunnel? Some WSDOT estimates place the annual toll cost at close to $3000 for a commuter who uses the tunnel daily.
IMPACTS ON HOUSING AFFORDABILITY. What will the impacts be to housing affordability be from new taxes, utility rates and other fees are levied upon development?
HIGHER UTILITY RATES. A report in Saturday’s Seattle Times documented the high costs of basic services that Seattle residents already pay. How will the new utility rates impact those at the margins and on fixed incomes? How will it affect Seattle’s capacity to be a jobs-generator?
As concerned citizens and in many cases experts on issues related to the proposed deep-bore tunnel project, we are urging you to wait before signing any agreement with the State. While we appreciate the desire to move forward with a solution to the replacement to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the City Council attend to the questions above before taking any next steps.
In short, we believe that there simply is not enough information at this time to commit Seattle to this momentous decision without further clarity on the issues described above. We hope that you do not bear this burden lightly, and are united in our belief that consideration to this letter will save the City residents from unwarranted expenses, service reductions and assure a waterfront replacement project worthy of Seattle’s world standing in the 21st century.