(Remarks submitted to the Seattle City Council and probably of no interest to anyone outside Seattle, if even here. Readers should note that I am not recommending the ideal solution but merely surmising where, at the end of the day, we are going to pitch our tent.)
The Viaduct Dilemma
I am not speaking as an advocate but simply offering some observations about the politics of this issue. My point today is not so much that I am for or against the Rebuild option (I am in fact against it but that is irrelevant) but simply that I don't believe that the Rebuild is a workable solution. Here's the issue:
Once you tear down the existing viaduct
you will be unable— politically — to put up another one.
Both the Rebuild and the Tunnel require demolition of the existing viaduct long before its replacement is finished. During a projected construction period of a minimum of 3-5 years, the viaduct will be down; traffic will be rerouted using a “traffic management strategy.”
(I should note, by the way, that the reports about the various
timeframes are confusing so 3-5 years may be a minimum and it may be as
much as 10-11 years. It’s hard to keep track of the scenarios but this
article states that WSDOT’s current thinking is that we will have NO
Viaduct corridor for 3-5 years:
I believe that once people see
1. how pleasant the waterfront is without the viaduct
2. that the traffic can be handled, (assuming that's so — a huge assumption, of course)
there will be irresistible pressure to do nothing, to essentially adopt the Peoples Waterfront Coalition plan.
The first hurdle for the Rebuild (and this goes for the tunnel as well) is that WSDOT must convince people that this “traffic management strategy” is realistic and that the absence of the viaduct will not cause total chaos.
In convincing us that this strategy (why is it not a “plan?”) will work, WSDOT has to tread a very narrow line. It has to convince us that this strategy work acceptably and not lead to chaos, while simultaneously showing us that we can't really live with the plan on a permanent basis. We can muddle through but it's not a permanent fix.
OK. Suppose WSDOT is able to make its case i.e. that we can survive without the viaduct during the construction period and we proceed.
Then we face what I call the Westlake Mall dilemma.
It is well-known to architects that the client can rarely visualize the building until it is complete. Visualizing the absence of an existing structure is equally difficult. for the lay person.
It is my belief that once the viaduct is demolished and (big assumption here) the interim transportation plan is working, there will be enormous pressure to do nothing. People will say “Wait a sec! We are obviously getting by without the viaduct. Why spend the money on another one?”
And if enough money has somehow been cobbled together to make a credible start at building the tunnel, voices will be raised to save the money. "Look, it's working. Why spend $4 billion+?"
WSDOT now has to make a convincing case for continuing with the replacement construction.
I think you will face enormous pressure to adopt the PWC’s plan, which, ironically, the State itself will have proven actually works.
There is an element of dice-rolling in both the Rebuild and the tunnel. WSDOT has to devise a construction-period transportation plan which not only promises to work but does in fact work.
The interim transportation plan has to be a Goldilocks plan: It has to work just right.
It can't work too well because if it does the political pressure to stop construction -- stop spending these billions -- will be irresistible.
But it can’t work too poorly because then every elected official (and the senior staff in the agencies) will be looking for new jobs as we suffer through years of CBD gridlock.
In the final analysis, I don’t think the political establishment will be willing to take the gamble; and everyone will blink. The risk of doing without the viaduct corridor is too high. You have to rely on WSDOT’s “traffic management strategy.” And if it really does work, you won’t be able to rebuild anything at all.
So, those who sincerely believe that we need a second limited-access vehicular corridor through downtown and who favor the Rebuild (or the Tunnel, as well) as the only options are in a tough spot. If they tear down the viaduct we have they may very well not be able to build another. The only viable alternative is the retrofit.
May 15, 2006