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Waterfront: Time For An Extreme Makeover?

By: Sam Bennett
Daily Journal of Commerce
May 28, 2004

A transit hub at the north end of the downtown Seattle waterfront and a tunnel from the waterfront to the Seattle Art Museum are two options the city should consider, according to Bruce Agnew of the Cascadia Center.

"The point we're trying to make here is that the waterfront can serve as a place to connect people without cars," Agnew said Thursday at a brown bag discussion at City Hall.

The Cascadia Center is part of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. It is trying to expand transportation between Washington, Oregon and British Columbia through public-private partnerships.

Agnew envisions a waterfront transportation hub at Broad Street, where passengers could connect with regional rail to Bellingham, Sound Transit to Everett and an extended streetcar line to Pier 91.

A lid over Interstate 5 near North 45th Street could be built to reconnect neighborhoods. The project could provide housing for civil servants, according to Bruce Agnew of the Cascadia Center.

The tunnel would link pedestrians to SAM and Benaroya, and "minimize the conflict between pedestrians and vehicles on the street," he said.

Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin, who hosted Thursday's meeting, said the same kind of innovation and hard work needed to build the waterfront 100 years ago would be required to rebuild it. "We will have to think equally big and comprehensive," he said.

Waterfront redevelopment has inspired a series of design charrettes in recent months, as the city and private groups attempt to coordinate their efforts in rebuilding or tunneling the viaduct.

The Washington State Department of Transportation and the city of Seattle are accepting comments on the viaduct's draft environmental impact statement until Tuesday.

Conlin said "ultimately the city says yes or no" on what to do about replacing the viaduct, though the city will rely on the state to help pick up the tab on the viaduct. He predicted $4 billion is a low estimate for replacing the viaduct.

Agnew said the waterfront "needs an extreme makeover" guided by a coordinated, comprehensive vision.

How comprehensive? To ease freight train traffic, he pitched the idea of diverting many Midwest-bound freight trains south rather than through Everett. That would involve building a new tunnel through the Cascades at Stampede Pass, but it would cut freight traffic along the waterfront by 75 percent.

"If we can get freight out of Seattle quickly, that's a good thing," he said.

Agnew also likes the idea of a passenger ferry at Pier 56, serving a variety of watercraft including jet catamarans. The terminal would be the western terminus of a corridor linking ferry passengers by an elevated walkway to Seneca Street.

"A top priority for us is to make a waterfront for the people," said Kate Joncas, president of Downtown Seattle Association. "It's very important for the local economy. We're strongly in favor of the tunnel. The fiscal reality is a big topic for our business members, but we can get a rate of return that's worth $4 billion."

"These are the kinds of ideas that define a great waterfront," said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound. "These ideas help us look to the future and realize things will be quite different."

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For More Information: Cascadia Project — Bruce Agnew
208 Columbia St. — Seattle, WA 98104
206-292-0401 x113 phone — 206-682-5320 fax