Perhaps out-of-town readers are getting bored with the Viaduct. Well, so are we here in Seattle. But it's been more than 5 years since the earthquake and our political leadership doesn't know what to do, yet it wants us to pony-up billions. Here's my compressed take, much of which will make no sense without a knowledge of Seattle politics and geography. Sorry.
Additional & essential background (including the infamous the "Westlake Mall Phenomenon") in this post: 'You can't get there from here.'
Now, we start the analysis:
1. The Surface Option will gain just-enough political traction (and I mean a fair amount but nothing close to a commanding plurality) to scare the Governor into seeing the big unavoidable political fact of what I call the "Westlake Mall Phenomenon": Once you tear down the viaduct, you can't replace it. (Or only with enormous political cost.)
2. One (and only one) of those political costs is to the Democratic Party, and there are national implications:
Do we want the "D" in "Democrat" to become a standing joke for "Dither?"
That's what the public administration of this State (largely Democratic) and City (entirely Democratic) will stand for if it cannot make a decision on the Viaduct. The very worst thing which can happen to a politician — looking like a bumbler; anyone remember Jimmy Carter or Michael Dukakis? — is not that far away. Five years after the earthquake and we still don't have a plan, much less are under construction. It is embarrassing.
(And btw, that is not a comment on Carter or Dukakis, in substance. I think both got a bad rap. I am simply talking about the raw, mean politics of the sound bite. "D as in Dither" is not bad.)
3. So the Rebuild is a non-starter. (Once you tear down the viaduct, you can't replace it.) The entire notion of tearing down a structure (which only a small part of the population actually like) and then putting up the same thing (or worse) is bizarre. (We all know the Rebuild was only a stalking-horse for the Tunnel i.e. to make the Tunnel look not-that-expensive.)
4. There is not enough money for any Tunnel, much less doing it right (i.e. which would be tunneling all the way to Mercer so as to re-connect the street-grid between South Lake Union and Queen Anne.)
5. The Retrofit is the only option left standing. Btw, it also leaves money left over to work on SR 520 which is a nice side-benefit for the Eastside. Handled intelligently, it would make the Mayor and City Council look like heroes — "We saved a billion dollars by going with the Retrofit! So let's use it for the benefit of the Eastside!"
The Governor is a smart woman. She will get tired of all the blather about twenty blocks of highway and realize that she will get tarred with the brush — there goes that Cabinet post (Attorney General?) in a Democratic Presidency — if "D as In Dither" is traced back to her State. She will get it in due course.
The Governor will end up declaring an emergency based on "new engineering information" and adopt the Retrofit as an immediate necessity. Such an emergency action would foreclose any environmental lawsuits and make her look decisive in the face of bumbling local officials, which would be so.
Just an aside. It's easy to confuse what one wants with what is realistic. I seem to give short-shrift here to the so-called "surface option" but not because I think it an unrealistic option in reality. In some form such as a 35 MPH Boulevard it might very well work. But the real world does not work in reality but in mental perception. And I do not believe it is within the political imagination over the next 18 months to deal with the complexity of the surface option. It's just too dammed complicated and contentious. The pay-back for politicians — the perceived risk-to-reward — is simply too high. It's too unconventional etc etc. Its adoption by the electeds would unleash numerous lawsuits, reinforcing the idea that Democrats offer "inept management," an issue on which they are all too vulnerable.
Stefan Sharkanksy's take:
While I agree that the Retrofit is the only objectively realistic solution, I've been in Seattle just long enough to see that realism only rarely contaminates the decision process of Seattle's political leadership. If I had to guess, I'd say that a political tug-of-war between competing unrealistic solutions will continue indefinitely.