Reader Jim Nibblett wonders:
I've yet to figure out why there is so much push to prevent dialog about reinforcing and retrofitting the viaduct. Maybe I just have too much respect for people than to think that what they're about is wanting to sit at the 'cool kids' table. As far as I can tell, the Mayor has taken it as a crusade. Maybe what's going on is that he wants to be the 'strict parent' and 'do what's best for us' regardless of the realities of the situation.
Good question and what follows is pure conjecture on my part.
But I think that the key players at this time -- the Mayor et al and the People's Waterfront Coalition (PWC) under the admirable leadership of Ms. Cary Moon -- both dislike the idea of a retrofit because it cuts against their own vision for the viaduct corridor though for different reasons. The bottom line is that neither wants a low cost solution.
(Yes there are other players and I don't mean to ignore them but the Mayor and Ms. Moon are excellent metonyms for their respective clusters.)
If the Viaduct could in fact be rehabbed/repaired/retrofitted or simply used as a template for reconstruction then the Mayor's argument for a tunnel and Ms. Moon's argument for the tear-it-down approach would be dramatically undercut. The Mayor relies on the >$2 billion cost of a complete rebuild to narrow the distance to his >$4 billion (minimum) tunnel. And the PWC relies on the same figures to argue that their approach is not only more delightful (and no one says that the Viaduct is ideal) but cost-effective.
There seem to me to be a mutual (though I assume unstated) agreement to keep the rehabbed/ repaired/retrofitted/reconstruction option off the table. When you raise the issue the response is an airy "Oh no one believes that can work." Of course the facts are otherwise: see A simple and cheap viaduct fix.
Of course, I have no facts — only lack of a better explanation & logic — to back up my conjecture. There is no memo in my possession in which anyone says "And let's all be quiet about simply repairing it." But there does seem to be a willingness by almost everyone — and this goes way beyond the principle protagonists — to set-aside the possibility that the existing structure might be rehabbed/repaired/retrofitted or simply used as a template for reconstruction. It is odd and it reminds me of how we got into Iraq.
And it's not just the polar extremes — the Mayor and Ms. Moon — who dismiss the possibility of a repair. I've had people who have never even built a deck tell me firmly and with total confidence that the Viaduct is toast. They often add that the seawall is collapsing, too. Is it simply a fascinating example of a collective desire to believe facts which people want to believe?
Btw, I believe that the Mayor's proposal is deeply flawed from an urban design perspective — it's not extensive enough by half. If we are going to go to the enormous expense of a tunnel it should daylight at about Mercer Street, well north of where the Mayor proposes. Of course that would raise the cost even more. But the half-way measure which the mayor proposes is too expensive for its benefit. Daylighting the tunnel near Mercer Street would connect two vibrant neighborhoods: Lower Queen Anne and South lake Union. The arguments that this is a 100 year decision cut both ways — do it right the first time. A twelve block-long tunnel which daylights in front of the Pike Market's major outdoor space is bad way to spend >$4 billion.
I also urge a hard, sophisticated look by traffic experts at the PWC's plan. I personally don't believe that the PWC's plan will work, but I am no traffic engineer. Their plan deserves an honest hearing not the casual dismissal offered by WSDOT and the Mayor, much less the hysterical dismissal of the Seattle Times. In fact the quickest way to demonstrate that the PWC plan won't work is for the WSDOT to sponsor a really fair-handed study using national consultants. Let the chips fall where they may.
Of course WSDOT is itself in a bit of a bind. It plans to tear down the viaduct (with no replacement for 3-4 years) as part of construction. No matter what plan we choose, we will do without the viaduct for years. So WSDOT has to simultaneously convince us that
1. PWC's plan to do without the Viaduct won't work
2. WSDOT's plan to do without the Viaduct will work.