At a meeting in Seattle last week, lawmakers heard that the funding gap for replacing the storm- and seismically-vulnerable, crowded four-lane SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington can be shaved from $2.6 billion to $2.38 billion through a sales tax deferral of $220 million. They also had a look at the current menu of gap-closers. It includes more borrowing against electronic tolling revenues, plus higher toll rates on the 520 bridge, and especially, tolling of the parallel I-90 bridge. As ever, tolling's a flash point, but it needn't be ugly. It can equitable, and farsighted. Metro Puget Sound needs a comprehensive regional highway corridor electronic tolling plan, typically with express "HOT" lanes aside free lanes, and higher rates at peak hours.
SEATTLE-Most days it's the marine life that causes the most stir at the Seattle Aquarium. But on this sunny afternoon, an attraction of a different sort was the center of attention. As cars and trucks drove by outside the aquarium on the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct, inside the fate of the aging structure was being sealed. Surrounded by supporters, Washington's Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law the bill that commits the State of Washington to tearing down the viaduct and replacing it with a deep-bored tunnel.
"This wasn't an easy process," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels as he welcomed a crowd of several hundred to the bill signing ceremony, "but it is done, it is done, it is done!" Truer words have rarely been spoken.
With good cause, many people thought it might never happen. But on Friday, after seemingly endless debate and consideration, the Washington State legislature put its final stamp of approval on the decision to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bored tunnel.
There's a lot to this story, politically and logistically. Ultimately, however, the success of the deep-bored tunnel alternative (agreed to by Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and King County Executive Ron Sims), is a story of persistence, thoughtful analysis tethered to an understanding of advances in tunneling technology, and the triumph of consensus and cautious deliberation amongst a constellation of constituencies.
Without Cascadia, as Friday's article from The Daily Journal of Commerce shows below, it wouldn't have been possible for tunneling experts to be assembled last fall to challenge the pessimistic numbers presented by the Department of Transportation that made a tunnel option seem unfeasible.
In an op-ed in the Sunday Yakima Herald Republic, the Yakima Valley Fruit Growers-Shippers Association explains why it supports the recommendation by Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 with an inland deep-bored tunnel. The state senate has already passed a bill securing $2.4 billion in funding for the project, and the state house last week passed a transportation budget bill providing some of that amount for the tunnel. A house bill specific to the tunnel must still be passed and may be voted on as soon as this week. (The tunnel itself is estimated by the Washington Department of Transportation to cost between $1.2 and $2.2 billion, with about $1.9 billion the most likely amount - see last page here. On top of the $2.4 billion being sought from the state, Seattle, King County and Port of Seattle are to provide the balance for related mobility projects, which coupled with the state funds would bring total project cost to $4.2 billion).
As it happens, the central Seattle waterfront, where the seismically vulnerable Viaduct now stands, is our state's gateway to the world. Association Executive Director Keith Mathews explains why apple growers in Central Washington care about the tunnel proposal.
Consistent, efficient and uninterrupted access to the Port of Seattle (not only for export markets, but other, coastal domestic markets) is absolutely critical to our industry as well as others located on this side of the Cascade Mountains. And SR 99 is a critical link to the port. Since 1959, the Alaskan Way Viaduct has served traffic going to and from the port. In 2001, the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually earthquake shook it and severely damaged it. Though temporary repairs have allowed the viaduct to be reopened, state leaders are now seeking a way to replace it.
Several proposals have been considered, including the use of surface streets and transit only (surface option), replacement with another elevated structure, and the deep-bore tunnel and transit option now under consideration by the Legislature. There are several significant flaws to both the surface-only and elevated options. The surface-only option would eliminate one of only three north-south transportation corridors in the Puget Sound area (i.e. the gateway to the port), thus paving the way for gridlock on those streets, as well as Interstate 5 and I-405. The elevated option would involve tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and gridlock for up to six years while the replacement structure is built.
On the other hand, the deep-bore tunnel could be built while the reinforced Alaskan Way Viaduct continues to function. This will keep our truckers going to the port and the economic benefits flowing to Central and Eastern Washington. For these reasons, our association believes that the proposed Seattle deep-bore tunnel is the optimal solution in providing a clear access to and from the port via Interstate 90 and other routes. This proposal provides a reconstruction plan that minimizes traffic congestion during construction and provides an efficient travel path to and across SR 99 for years to come.
The association's primary membership is composed of 42 packer-growers who supply half the apples consumed in the United States each year, pumping nearly $2 billlion annually into the state economy and $15 million a week in paychecks for Central Washington workers.
A committee hearing is schedule today for a bill (HB2211) introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives to effectively exclude the Interstate 90 bridge from an east-west bridge corridor tolling plan that would help fund replacement of the dangerously windstorm-prone and earthquake-prone parallel State Route 520 Bridge. The bridge replacement is estimated by the state to cost between $4.6 and $6.6 billion, as the Seattle Times has reported. Both the I-90 and SR 520 bridges connect Seattle with major Eastside job centers and will have to shoulder more traffic in coming years as population and employment grow, even if transit and vehicle trip reduction gain market share. Dropping I-90 from the corridor tolling plan is something with which the state treasurer and a key Senate legislator who has introduced a regional corridors bill, beg to differ. More from today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The Senate measure (SB549) would create a regional transportation corridor authority in King County that, with voter approval, could impose tolls to finance improvements on SR 520...and I-90. It would permit tolling of both Lake Washington bridges, something (sponsor State Sen. Ed) Murray thinks is needed if enough money is to be raised to finance the 520 Bridge alone. He said world experience shows traffic will avoid tolls on a bridge if there's another nontolled route nearby....Murray said the two bridges are really managed together as facilities that both move people and goods across the lake. "They work together, because traffic on one helps traffic on the other," he said. "You can't solve problems on one without the other."
Former State Treasurer Mike Murphy also said both bridges needed to be tolled in order to finance a new 520 Bridge, and once said he wouldn't sell new bridge bonds unless there were tolls on both spans. Murphy's successor, Jim McIntire, hasn't gone that far but is helping lawmakers analyze the consequences of new tolls. Through a spokesman Wednesday, McIntire agreed it "would be very difficult to finance a new (520) Bridge without placing tolls on both I-90 and 520.".....Murray also thinks the tolls could help finance corridor bus service, which is under pressure in King County as supporting sales taxes decline. The county has proposed a car-tab tax to help it support new bus service.
Never mind Everett Dirksen's alleged remark. A billion is real money. The user fees would be well calibrated and reasonable. Final rates must be approved by the state transportation commission, but the committee summarized a variety of scenarios it studied. One-way rates would be $1.05 to $2.75 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; $1-$2.55 from 7 to 10 p.m.; 0 to 95 cents overnight; and 80 cents to $1.60 on weekends. Bridge passage would carry no toll for transit passengers at any time, or for ride-sharing vehicles of three or more passengers (or perhaps two or more, depending on what legislation is ultimately passed). The real kicker price-wise would be for peak-hour solo drivers, who'd pay $2.15-$4.25 from 5 to 9 a.m. and $2.80-$5.35 from 3-7 p.m. Rates rise as real-time road use does, to keep traffic flowing at 45 mph or more. If a final scenario within the range of those studied by the committee were adopted, then peak-hour solo drivers using the bridges would have to decide if as much as $9.60 a day to guarantee quick passage is worth the cost or not. No costs if ride-sharing, using transit, or tele-working. Lower costs if traveling off-peak.
There's no free ride anymore. The per-gallon gas tax won't be raised much, and isn't buying much anymore, anyhow. User fees are an important piece of the puzzle in surface transportation funding and shouldn't be applied in isolation in a major metro region such as Puget Sound.
King County Metro Reform
Other revenue measures must be considered as well, to help fund transit operators - particularly bus operators, who've been hit by a double-whammy of increased demand but plummeting revenues from sales taxes. At the same time, bus operators, particularly King County Metro, will need to: winnow service aggressively to routes and hours which have the highest percentage of seats filled; seriously consider far stiffer fare hikes than recently announced; focus more on express routes rather than "milk run" locals; and develop a plan to fund important amenities which improve the rider experience, such as mandatory pre-boarding pay kiosks, dual ground-level entries/exits, and on-board wireless Internet service (for a premium monthly fee). Last the region checked, in 2006, scheduled transit's share of daily trips was four percent (second paragraph of p. ES-6, here). That figure likely rose in the last two years but service funding difficulties now threaten continued gains in transit market share. Despite the current tight economy, we'd better figure ways to help our region's varied bus fleet operators adapt and improve for the long term. That must go hand in hand with funding crucial corridor management and infrastructure replacement plans that include time-variable electronic tolling.
Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims announced an historic accord to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on SR 99 along the downtown Seattle waterfront with an inland deep bored tunnel. (The last page of this state summary provides details on all project components and planned funding - the tunnel is expected to cost between $1.2 and $2.2 billion). State legislative approval is required. Now, Washington State Senate Majority Caucus Chair Ed Murray, State Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mary Margaret Haugen (pictured, right), the committee's Ranking Minority Member Dan Swecker, and committee member Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island have introduced Senate Bill 5768 to get the tunnel built. The bill will soon get a committee hearing, and if it clears the full Senate will require passage by the House and final approval by the Governor.
Several other legislators have already gone so far as to publish blog posts expressing their support for the Gregoire-Nickels-Sims tunnel plan. They include State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, State Sen. Joe McDermott, and State Rep. Ross Hunter. More on the tunnel's supporters - and one very important potential backer - in Olympia from C.R. Douglas in today's Crosscut. Members of the King County Council and Seattle City Council and a broad coalition of business, labor, neighborhood and some environmental groups also back the tunnel plan. The current Senate bill could be amended in either chamber, of course, but as introduced it would:
expedite environmental review and design of a four-lane, stacked deep bored (inland) tunnel which according to state plans would run under First Avenue from near the sports stadiums in Sodo about two miles north to near Denny Way;
approve disbursement of the already secured $2.4 billion in state gas tax and related funds for Viaduct replacement;
require generation of at least $400 million in tunnel funding through tolling the facility;
limit the use of that combined $2.8 billion to building the tunnel and demolishing the Viaduct, with replacing the downtown seawall and creating a waterfront promenade to be funded from non-state sources;
assign to the City of Seattle the costs of public utility relocation stemming from viaduct replacement and tunnel construction;
direct the Washington Department of Transportation to prepare by January 2010 a report to the legislature analyzing the revenue potential of tolling the tunnel, the impact of tolling on tunnel performance, and scenarios to offset or reduce traffic diversion onto other routes caused by tolling the tunnel.
One possible scenario, tolling parallel Interstate 5 through central Seattle, would help minimize diversion, raising additional revenues toward the $2 billion in needed I-5 work identified by WSDOT, and establishing the concept of north-south corridor tolling in west-central Puget Sound. In terms of an evolving regional policy, this could dovetail with a pending option to establish east-west corridor tolling on the State Route 520 and Interstate 90 floating bridges connecting Seattle and the booming Eastside, across Lake Washington.
Tolling of some sort is all but certain to be approved by the legislature on at least the SR 520 bridge as a condition of a federal grant to help fund a multi-billion replacement of the wind- and earthquake-prone structure.
A special SR 520 tolling implementation committee created by the legislature yesterday issued its final report to lawmakers. The committee found broad public support for time-variable electronic tolling on the SR 520 bridge and majority support in the region for such tolling on the I-90 bridge as well. According to the report there is potential to raise as much as $2.4 billion for the SR 520 bridge replacement through tolling both bridges. That's approximately 40 to 50 percent of the total bridge replacement cost.
The report also notes that peak-hour tolling on the SR 520 bridge could improve average speeds from the current 20 miles per hour to 38 mph. Improved peak-hour speeds on the SR 520 bridge are predicted because, given time-variable tolling, an estimated 24 percent of drivers would then either shift to less costly off-peak periods (six percent), transit (three percent), ride-sharing (one percent) - or they would change routes (nine percent spread over three alternates), or destination (five percent).
The projected aggregate shift away of one-quarter of peak-hour drivers following implementation of time-variable tolling on the SR 520 bridge is significant. So are the three-quarters of peak-hour bridge drivers who would not alter their patterns. We cannot wish or hector them into their homes, buses, or ride-share vehicles, nor force their employers to expand tele-work policies.
But further change can be induced through funding increased peak-hour transit frequency in key highway corridors with a full-on system of tolled express lanes, using express buses augmented with pre-boarding automatic pay stations, ground-level entrances and exits, real-time arrival information kiosks, and on-board WiFi connections to the Internet. That last part will prove a huge draw, prompting employers concerned with productivity and costs to more easily see their way to subsidizing large numbers of yearly transit passes for workers.
Accompanying all this must be performance-based measures of improved transit travel times and better inter-modal connectivity, especially for "last mile" travel to work or commercial hubs.
Tele-work will need to grow through employer education, expanded government-funded pilot programs to measure benefits, and perhaps then modest tax incentives.
Another objective is continued development of on-the-fly ride-sharing facilitated by networked communications, one of several big ideas discussed by Microsoft's Chief Environmental Strategist Rob Bernard (TVW video with full transcript at page's bottom, here) during our Cascadia Center's jam-packed September, 2008 "Transforming Transportation" conference in Redmond.
The key conclusions from the SR 520 committee's report are that to manage peak-hour traffic congestion, scarce highway capacity should be rationally allocated through time-variable tolling; and that policy-makers must continue their important efforts - including electronic time-variable tolling - to ensure travelers can select from a robust menu of mobility choices. This pertains not only to Central Puget Sound, but also to heavily-travelled highway corridors in Clark County, Wash./metro Portland, and Spokane .
The unfolding actions to toll the SR 520/I-90 bridge corridor; and to toll the SR 99 tunnel, perhaps ultimately paired with central Seattle I-5 tolling; present a golden opportunity for the state legislature and Gov. Gregoire to continue carving their own broader environmental and economic legacy in 21st Century surface transportation.
In an interview with Ross Reynolds on KUOW-FM - MP3 audio file here - Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said it was "very likely" that tolling would be applied to the new deep bored tunnel planned to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in Seattle. (A state rendering of the bored tunnel's cross-section is below, right.) At the 3:02 mark, she states:
It's very likely that we will toll. Any mega-project that we do today is having to be tolled because historically we had so much federal money coming in (but) we no longer do...
"There has to be tolling. In any megaproject there is going to have to be tolling...There is no other way to move forward on megaprojects if we don't."
That's an on-target assessment, consistent with the strong support the Governor, some legislators, and the state transportation department have already shown for tolling current and planned projects. Electronic time-variable tolling is on the legislature's agenda this session to help fund replacement of the wind- and earthquake-prone State Route 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, and that plan could include tolling of the parallel Interstate 90 bridge. A federal Urban Partnerships grant of $138 million for the 520 bridge replacement, with millions more attached for regional transit projects, is conditioned on legislative approval by September 30, 2009 of tolling the bridge.
A recent poll by the state's 520 Tolling Implementation Committee showed significant public support for time-variable electronic tolling on the SR 520 and I-90 bridges, and for starting tolling on the old 520 bridge in 2010. For polling results, see p. 17 of the committee's Draft Tolling Report to the state legislature, released last week).
Electronic time-variable tolling is already underway on State Route 167 in south King County, and electronic and booth tolling are in place on the new southbound span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. And the governor has helped build support for electronic tolling on the planned new I-5 span across the Columbia River connecting Washington and Oregon, as a funding and peak-hour traffic management tool.
So, electronic tolling, and time-variable tolls, are on their way to gaining a foothold in Central Puget Sound, and in a major bi-state bridge project. And that approach for the deep bored tunnel on SR 99 makes sense - in terms of funding and public policy. The expected cost of the single bored, 54-feet diameter, two level tunnel to go deep under Seattle's First Avenue for two miles is currently pegged at $1.9 billion by the Washington Department of Transportation, though it could be less in the end. (The 14th slide in this WSDOT presentation of 12/16/08 indicated the cost for the single-bored SR 99 inland bypass tunnel could be as low as $961 million. More clarity on costs for all project elements will develop as engineering progresses.)
But for now, additional transit and infrastructure projects for the key north-south travel corridor bring the total package's estimated cost to $4.25 billion. The City of Seattle, King County and Port of Seattle are slated to supply the balance of funding beyond the state's $2.8 billion, pledged by the legislature for Viaduct replacement work. (More in this WSDOT deep bored tunnel project overview - the p. 3 chart details who intends to pay for what).
Under any circumstances, tolling the tunnel is a smart move policy-wise. In a concession to cost constraints and environmental concerns, it will only be four lanes, not the current six of the Viaduct. But with added transit service (including an up to 25 percent countywide increase in King County Metro bus hours funded by a 1 percent car license tab tax), a four-lane tunnel can prove workable, especially if there are toll pricing incentives to discourage overcrowding during morning and evening rush hours. Usually, it is only at those times and before and after professional sporting events at the First Avenue stadiums that the Viaduct comes anywhere near capacity.
But would tolling the SR 99 tunnel simply divert traffic to parallel Interstate 5?
Not likely. Even with improvements to I-5, SR 99 will retain a strong logistical advantage for many drivers.
Roughly two-thirds of the Viaduct's 110,000 daily vehicle trips are thru traffic bypassing the downtown core, and SR 99's location west of I-5 makes it a natural choice for many drivers in Seattle and points north and south of the city.
Whereas I-5 is now synonymous with congestion through Seattle, SR 99 enjoys a reputation as a breezy alternative. A reduction from three to two lanes in each direction should not alter that, especially if - as noted above - the tunnel is tolled to discourage peak-hour congestion.
Still, there are some access issues causing discomfort, particularly for local truck drivers going to and and from the Ballard, Magnolia and Interbay neighborhoods of Seattle. Under the current tunnel plan they would lose on- and off-ramp access to and from more convenient, west-side routes where northbound SR 99 bends east from Elliott Bay to an inland alignment. Additional entrance and exit ramps to the tunnel to address these concerns are seen at present as too costly, so a surface street route may be necessary for these vehicles (that could change, as talks regarding a tunnel spur to the northwest are ongoing). And unlike the Viaduct, this tunnel will not permit trucks bearing hazardous materials. More here from the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Everybody, including advocates of a six-lane tunnel, gets to give some blood. There's no way a project of this nature can ever win acclaim from all quarters as a perfect solution, but the tunnel's overall benefits to the region will be huge. It will maintain a crucial downtown bypass alternative to jammed I-5, while encouraging options other than solo driving. It will minimize disruptions to waterfront businesses during construction, versus a new elevated structure at water's edge, which would necessitate awkward detours during years of construction while the old Viaduct is torn down. It will open up the downtown waterfront for more recreation, development and commerce, adding huge increments in property values, which in turn will help finance the project and fatten tax coffers for years to come. And it will last twice as long as any new elevated roadway.
Electronic time-variable tolling makes sense not only to manage traffic flows and help fund the new tunnel, but also on some lanes of I-5 in Seattle from downtown to Northgate. This would contribute to $2 billion in badly-needed I-5 work; and help achieve a regional policy overlay on highways and major state routes of tolled lanes with free passage at all times for transit and ride-share vehicles; and for solo drivers, peak-hour premiums paired with off-peak discounts. This in turn would help drive further adoption of transit, ride-sharing and tele-work. But note: That transit piece depends on continued maintenance and expansion of transit services, such as that enabled by the Metro funding in the larger tunnel package.
In embracing the deep bore tunnel Governor Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Executive Ron Sims and Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani (all pictured above, left) - were spurred by an informed and savvy Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee - and have come together in what is for the Puget Sound region a near-historical political accord on a major infrastructure project.
The tunnel choice is a 100-year masterstroke, and time will prove that out. But let's not develop tunnel vision. A more pressing challenge, which aligns with the green transportation agenda, is breaking away from the piecemeal approach to road and bridge projects, in favor of a consistent regional road pricing strategy for private single-occupancy vehicles. One day that could mean a vehicle-miles-travelled tax on all roads and streets, with off-peak discounts. For now the region and the legislature should adopt a variable-rate tolling policy for some lanes on all highways and major state routes in Central Puget Sound, to alter for the greater good the ways and times we travel here.
Because mere exhortations to solo drivers to "do the right thing," aren't enough.
An editorial tonight online at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer praises the smart decision by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive to take a harder look at an inland deep bore tunnel to replace the worn out Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in downtown Seattle.
Could this be the Year of the Tunnel for Seattle? An idea that seemed buried could make a decisive comeback. After being left off a list of two final possibilities for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a waterfront tunnel survived the end of 2008. On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels postponed a final decision on a long-term replacement, which they had promised by Dec. 31.
Even on an already-protracted decision-making process, this is a healthy delay. Assuming that a choice can be agreed to within weeks, it's much more important to make a good call than an immediate one. We are glad that Gregoire appears to be looking closely at all the relevant numbers: costs, how to apportion them and how traffic will move....strong arguments for some inclusion of a tunnel option clearly got the governor's attention.
...At this point, a surface-transit option certainly deserves first place. It's the most reasonably priced. Unlike a viaduct and a tunnel, voters haven't rejected a surface plan. But the current tunnel idea, involving deep boring, is quite different from what Seattle voters turned down in early 2007. Gregoire seems to be interested in the advancing technology for boring, which has been used by Sound Transit. Tunnel backers at the well-versed Cascadia Center say costs would be lower than the state estimates.
Tolling and city contributions could help hold down costs. With the economy in the tank, a big state project might be a good idea. Perhaps federal help would be available. Gregoire, Sims and Nickels need to make a good decision based on solid numbers. That will get 2009 off to a good start.
KOMO 4 TV aired a story tonight (user-friendly Flash video link and transcript here) also highlighting the growing momentum for the deep bore inland tunnel option.
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire yesterday announced she'd push back by two weeks a recommendation on how to best replace the aging, earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 along Seattle's downtown waterfront. But there's more. A top Gregoire advisor tells the Seattle Times that the deep bored tunnel proposal - energetically advanced by Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee members plus our Cascadia Center and the general public - is "probably the most viable option." Deep bore tunneling technology has advanced greatly in recent years and the method is considered highly suitable for an inland downtown tunnel away from Seattle's waterfront. (A tunnel boring machine used for Madrid's M30 roadway project is pictured below, right.) The Times:
OLYMPIA - A proposed tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is making a comeback. A key adviser to Gov. Christine Gregoire said Tuesday that replacing the viaduct with a deep-bored tunnel "is probably the most viable option" - if the numbers pencil out. The comments came after Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels issued a joint statement saying they would miss today's deadline for deciding how to replace the viaduct and needed more time to study the options. They now expect to make a decision sometime in January, according to the Governor's Office. The reason for the delay? "The interest in the tunnel has led us to take some additional time to study it right," said Ron Judd, a senior adviser to the governor and her lead negotiator on the viaduct.....
Judd said transportation planners will be crunching numbers and talking to international tunnel experts to see if a tunnel is feasible now. "I think the governor would say that if we could make the numbers work, that is probably the most viable option," Judd said. "But that option is going to mean that there has to be a real meaningful partnership with the city and county and Port [of Seattle] to make it happen."
Gov. Gregoire's administration, the Washington Department of Transportation, the project team and SAC members are all to be commended for pursuing an optimal solution for the region and the economy which includes a deep-bored, inland, downtown bypass tunnel on SR 99.
A useful template for the detailed discussions which will continue next week is the state's own breakdown of the costs for either a twin-bored or single-bored tunnel. This WSDOT slide briefing presented to the Puget Sound Regional Council, SAC members and other interested parties on Dec. 16 shows:
A single bored, dual level tunnel could be 54 feet in diameter, with two 12-foot lanes in each direction, and an eight-foot and four-foot shoulder in each direction (see the 9th slide in the above link, they are not numbered).
Tunnel components are defined as work on city streets and at entrance ramps, construction of south and north portals, construction of the tunnel, utilities work at portals, and tunnel systems. Broader "scenario components" for the tunnel include downtown seawall replacement, an Alaskan Way and Western Avenue "couplet" boulevard system, waterfront utilities, surface street improvements, Viaduct removal, transit enhancements, and Interstate 5 improvements (13th slide).
"Tunnel only" costs for building a (two mile long) twin bore tunnel would be $1.24 billion, versus $961 million for the above described single bore version; (14th slide);
Those estimates grow to $2.82 billion and $2.13 billion, respectively, when WSDOT factors in contract and construction management, administration, preliminary and final design, contingency risk, and potential cost escalation (15th slide).
Addition of the above-described "scenario components" raises the figures to $3.5 billion for a double-bore tunnel and $2.8 billion for a single-bore tunnel (15th slide).
Adding in another $1.1 billion in already planned "Moving Forward" projects for improvements to SR 99 at the north and south ends of the existing, elevated Viaduct and elsewhere brings the total to $4.6 billion for the double-bored tunnel and $3.9 billion for the double-bored tunnel (15th slide).
So, to report that the tunnel is estimated to cost $3.5 billion, or $4.6 billion, leaves out a lot.
The state has $1.3 to $1.7 billion left to spend on Viaduct replacement at present. However, additional funds can be raised from:
a local improvement district funded by property owners whose values rise due to the project;
tolling the tunnel (and parallel I-5);
and quite possibly from the Port of Seattle and City of Seattle, which both have a vital stake in regional mobility and access.
The tunnel-only estimates ($1.2 B for double bored and $961M for single bored) can both be paid for within the current budget.
Risk factors can be firmly controlled with a stringent competitive bid process tied to innovative "alliance contracting" recommended by the Washington State Transportation Commission. Under this approach, design and construction can be coordinated by a contractor consortium which is paid in full only if strict performance measures are met, including an accelerated construction schedule and project completion deadline.
In addition, the downward turn in the global economy has resulted in a sharp drop in the cost of construction materials. Contractors are hungrier, as well. This reduces the cost overrun risk, especially if material and labor costs are locked in at something close to current value. Industry-leading professionals could be brought in to manage the project, with pay incentives for cost control.
Discussions in the coming weeks, before the Governor makes a formal proposal to the legislature for Viaduct replacement, are likely to include not only additional funding and financing strategies, but also cost control strategies, refinements of project scope, and a fleshed-out set of next steps. Many or at least some of the "scenario components" could arguably be left out. Even if not, the single-bore version, with the highest assumed level of administrative, design and risk costs, plus all "scenario components," is estimated by WSDOT to cost $2.8 billion, against $1.3 to $1.7 billion in current funds.
As noted above, that gap could absolutely be closed through tolling and a local improvement district, at no added cost to the state. Participants underscored such an approach earlier this month, as reported in The Seattle Times.
The legislature will make the final decision, during a session in which priorities will also include taming the state budget deficit and authorizing time-variable electronic tolling to help pay for replacement of the unsafe SR 520 floating bridge. You could say the stars are aligned.
Excitement over the looming federal stimulus package aside, each of the nation's 50 state governments will be necessarily embracing a "pay as you go" ethic to help ensure high-priority programs and facilities are maintained and built in these trying economic times. In surface transportation especially, the heavy lifting next year and in coming decades will have to be at the regional level.
In terms of congestion management, jobs stimulus, durability, life-span, seismic safety, air quality, and urban design and environmental amenities, the deep bore tunnel option trumps another elevated viaduct or a massive dumping of traffic on surface streets. A full life cycle cost-benefit analysis is the responsible approach.
We've only got one chance. Let's get this one right.
A real consensus is emerging. Last night at the final Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting on replacement of the earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 along Seattle's downtown waterfront, Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and a top aide to King County Executive Ron Sims joined the near-unanimous majority in voicing clear support for more detailed study of the deep bore tunnel alternative in combination with surface and transit improvements. Meeting notes here.
To minimize traffic and business disruption, the viaduct would stand until tunnel completion, and tolling the tunnel would close the funding gap. Tunnel boring technology has advanced greatly, as detailed a year ago at a Cascadia Center expert symposium on the topic. The downtown waterfront would be opened up, not blockaded with traffic or another elevated viaduct. Superior life cycle costs and seismic safety are other advantages of a deep bore tunnel. Credit for advancing the emerging compromise solution - still subject to legislative approval and a clear and workable finance plan - is due to all SAC members.
SAC members Vlad Oustimovitch of West Seattle and Tayloe Washburn of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce detail the argument for the "surface-subsurface hybrid" in today's Puget Sound Business Journal. Thanks to the SAC, the project team, and important research from deep bore tunnel experts convened by Cascadia Center, the message of the tunnel's viability is being heard at the highest levels, regionally. Governor Chris Gregoire is examining the tunnel option. She, Mayor Nickels and Executive Sims will make a recommendation to the legislature by mid-January, perhaps by late December, on a Viaduct replacement.
When the state evaluated eight options for replacing the viaduct, the deep-bore tunnel was the most expensive, at $3.5 billion. But since then questions have arisen about that cost estimate. The Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center, a nonprofit that explores transportation issues in the region, continues to push for a bored-tunnel option - just inland from the Elliott Bay shoreline, which would keep the viaduct in place during construction. The institute has lined up tunneling executives to argue that improvements in technology have made tunnel boring more efficient and that a bored tunnel could be built for much less than the state estimate.
....The Legislature has set aside $2.8 billion for a viaduct replacement. "We're not asking the state to spend one more cent," Washburn said. He said other financing options should be explored, such as regional tolling and a local-improvement district. "This is a 100-year investment, and we've got to get it right. We, the region, need to take ownership with a funding package to pay for the bored tunnel." Washburn said those who would benefit from a viaduct-free waterfront should help pay for a tunnel.
Dave Freiboth, with the King County Labor Council, agreed. "Any notion of going to the Legislature to ask for more than $2.8 billion is in a dream world. That's not in the cards and shouldn't be in the cards," he said. Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago said the region is capable of paying for a deep-bore tunnel. The City Council officially supports the surface option, only because the tunnel was considered too expensive. "We have the available tools and authority (to build a tunnel)," Drago said. The region should explore tolling on all area freeways, she said, creating a transportation-benefit district that could collect viaduct-replacement money, a special motor-vehicle excise tax for the tunnel, and a local-improvement district. "I'm very optimistic," Drago said. "What's new here is the region picking up the funding." The state said it will decide by the end of the year which option to select for viaduct replacement. But it's unlikely support for the tunnel option will disappear when that decision is made.
OK, another hot flash from your (currently) ''All Viaduct All The Time" news channel. Venerable Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly writes for tomorrow's edition (online tonight), "What's Needed Is A Third Option For The Viaduct."
The view here is we are not yet ready to swallow, and could gag on either viaduct option. What's needed is tough, honest analysis of a third option, the combination of a deep-bored tunnel and surface transit. Speed is one factor: Could a tunnel get dug and be open for traffic before demolition of the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct? The city has to avoid, at all costs, the kind of prolonged mess that disrupted and degraded Third Avenue when the bus tunnel was built. The Transportation Department's planners seem to have taken a deep dislike to the deep-bored tunnel option. We've heard sky-high estimates on the cost of going underground.
By contrast, experts consulted by The Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute have filled my e-mail box with analyses that an inland tunnel option would cost $1.7 billion at most. Don't know who's right. We need a analysis by a neutral team of experts.
Our decision-makers should consult Washington's congressional delegation on whether a tunnel replacement of an earthquake-vulnerable viaduct fits President-elect Barack Obama's definition of infrastructure repair. We could have a ready-to-go candidate for federal dollars. All this requires, in Royer-speak, a little more chewing. But, it a) spares us political gridlock in the Legislature; b)helps us steer clear of clawing in the courtrooms; c) potentially gives us a fast through route for freight and auto traffic; and d) ensures us a waterfront that's not an Aurora Avenue-by-the-sea.
Advocates of the deep-bored tunnel option to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 along downtown Seattle's waterfront, including business and neighborhood interests, rightly stress that the Viaduct serves some 110,000 daily vehicle trips and that the majority of that is "thru" traffic that neither starts nor finishes in downtown. According to p. AWV-5 of this report on the Viaduct, from Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, 60 percent of those 110,000 daily vehicle trips on SR 99 in the project area use the Viaduct as a route through, not to or from, downtown Seattle. This is crucial because if the Viaduct's six total lanes are replaced with surface boulevards including 20-plus traffic signals, plus more transit and an added lane in each direction on the shoulder of Interstate 5 for several miles, Viaduct thru traffic will nonetheless spill onto surface streets and I-5 and worsen congestion severely. More and more so as Puget Sound's population grows by half again in the next 30 years, and total vehicle miles travelled in Washington State rise a projected 54 percent from 2007 to 2030.
Thus the argument, in part, for a deep-bored tunnel which could handle the SR 99 traffic load without obstructing the waterfront like either the envisioned wide, heavily-used boulevards or another elevated viaduct. These are the two options currently recommended for further study.
Some non-governmental advocates of the surface-transit option to replace the Viaduct have been saying that "only 15 percent of the trips are regional trips." This can be misleading if it is understood to refer to SR 99's thru traffic bypassing downtown Seattle, because that is not the case. As this Washington State Department of Transportation document shows (p. 4), 85 percent of person trips through Center City (essentially the downtown Seattle core plus several adjacent neighborhoods) begin or end within a somewhat larger zone known as the "study area," including North and South Seattle. These person trips are on a wide range of streets and roads, on transit and in vehicles, and could be described as more local than regional. Fifteen percent of these person trips don't begin or end in the study area, and are thus considered longer-range, or more regional in nature.
That's all nice to know, and certainly of some use for transportation planning - along with such tidbits as the four percent market-share of scheduled transit for daily trips in the region, last any survey was done (see 2nd paragraph of p. E-6 here). But we're looking at tearing down a crucial portion of a specific state highway that carries 110,000 vehicle trips a day, 60 percent of which are thru traffic bypassing downtown entirely. Sixty percent of 110,000 is 66,000 vehicles a day.
There's a better way. The deep-bored downtown bypass inland tunnel can be built for
$2 billion or less. Nonetheless, to safeguard taxpayers from possible financial risk, a method strongly recommended for greater use by the Washington State Transportation Commission (see p. 9 here) should be employed. This is so-called "alliance contracting," in which highly competitive bidding delivers a stringent agreement between the public sector and a private consortium of contractors, who must perform project design and construction for a set price within a given timeline or suffer reduced payments.
Facility operations and maintenance can also be included in such an agreement, which is then termed a "DBOM" or "design-build-operate-maintain" project. British Columbia has used DBOM or related approaches successfully to control costs on several new infrastructure projects including a new rail line to the Vancouver airport, a tolled bridge across the Fraser River in metro Vancouver, and the rebuilt Sea-To-Sky Highway connecting Vancouver and Whistler.
Cost controls are one thing, capital is another. If additional financing beyond the remaining $1.7 billion in public monies is determined to be necessary to build the deep-bored bypass tunnel on SR 99, then several approaches should be considered. One is formation of a local improvement district (LID) where property owners who benefit from the project can approve a special levy. A similar approach is formation of a transportation benefit district (TBD) in which a $20 per vehicle license tab renewal fee surcharge can be levied without a vote and a higher amount with a public vote. In either case, electronic tolling of the tunnel could be integrated into the finance plan.
Another strategy that is likely to be viewed as daunting but which holds real promise, is investment from public employee union or building trade union pension funds, provided adoption of a north-south corridor tolling plan covering I-5 and SR 99 in Seattle. With respect to additional financing, we should heed the stated intention of the Washington State Investment Board, which manages numerous state employee pension funds, to invest 5 percent of its substantial capital in infrastructure projects. Jurisdictions across the U.S. are beginning to grasp what Europe, Canada and Australia have long realized: in some instances, innovative approaches to infrastructure contracting and financing are essential to getting road and transit projects built on time and on budget, and built sooner rather than later or not at all.
There is every reason for Washington State to take a leadership role here, not only on SR 99, but also urgently needed improvements to SR 520, I-5, SR 167, SR 705, SR 509, and US 2. Whether through LIDs, TBDs or union pension funds - and while deploying cost-control best practices - Washington State can and must move forward on major roadway projects required for public safety and improved mobility.
Cascadia Center commends the Viaduct project team and the state for all their hard work to date, and hopes that the ongoing dialog around further consideration of the deep-bored tunnel proves fruitful.
Since the recommendation came Thursday Dec. 11 from Washington State Department of Transportation, King County and Seattle officials that the wobbly Alaskan Way Viaduct through downtown Seattle on State Route 99 should be replaced with either a surface boulevard system and more transit, or another elevated roadway, the reaction has been remarkable.
...several troubling questions have arisen. Does a new, elevated structure really deserve to be one of just two finalists, with its massive commitment to autos and prospect of sealing the city off from its waterfront for perhaps the entire 21st century? For the surface option's waterfront boulevards, why do planners envision stoplights at virtually every block? Can even the most technologically advanced traffic signal synchronization system keep traffic flowing through all those intersections?
Most important, why have government officials tried to eliminate any longer-range option for eventually drilling a deep-bore tunnel should the surface plan wind up quickly overwhelmed by traffic growth? With boring technology advancing significantly, costs may be less than anticipated. And financing mechanisms, such as a regional tolling system, may change the feasibility of a tunnel for the better in the not-too-distant future, if not immediately.
A year-long review of ultimately eight semi-finalist options - conducted with advice of a special Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) - preceded Thursday's winnowing. Next comes a recommendation from Governor Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, before the legislature makes the final choice in its Winter 2009 session.
The rebuilt viaduct option has been deemed unacceptable by both downtown and environmental interests, and the surface solution is unacceptable to both the business community as well as all of the commuters that depend on the Viaduct to get to their jobs....Neither of the two options offer a solution that will garner support from a broad base of constituents, and will undoubtedly once again lead us into acrimonious debate, dividing the region and stalemating the process.
...we all recognize that the most important thing is to maintain our ability to get around....We need to maintain our transportation capacity. The bored tunnel, although slightly more costly than a rebuild is a good investment.
Under the (surface-transit option) if you leave West Seattle and drive through downtown going to north Seattle you will encounter 28 stop lights, a 90 degree turn to proceed through the Battery Street tunnel and a 30 mile per hour speed limit...I am not convinced that another elevated option will solve our transportation needs 50-plus years into the future. This is our opportunity to make Seattle a world class city with a world class waterfront. Building another elevated structure running along the waterfront does not help to accomplish that.
I lean toward the hybrid (tunnel and surface-transit) solution that has been brought forward by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce...I also encouraged the Executives to give a much stronger look at the deep bored tunnel option.....I am not convinced that the cost estimates have been thoroughly vetted and are somewhat exaggerated in materials that we were presented.
..a new Viaduct would represent the worst throwback to poor design in the history of the city and qualify Seattle for architectural booby-prizes for years to come. Such short sighted, single-purpose transportation thinking would consign the harborfront to blight and economic stagnation. After literally three decades of criticism of the present Viaduct, the region would inexcusably replicate the error for our posterity....the all-surface option will fare little better....As mitigation, there are some good ways proposed to improve traffic flow on downtown streets and expand transit use. A new lane squeezed out of I-5 would help, and is needed anyhow. But there is no reason to think such mitigation would begin to suffice in soaking up the existing (SR) 99 traffic flow. It would be an ironic environmental "improvement" that resulted in more clogged, polluting traffic tie-ups on the waterfront.
Even before an all-surface outcome is tested in practice, City, County and State will have agitated the already restive business, trade, and labor communities that consider politicians to be insensitive to what is required to make trade and commerce work on a waterfront. And - just to rev up the lawsuit and initiative process with real passion - the many Seattle area people who merely want to get through the downtown bottleneck as quickly as possible are going to be indignant over the prospect of start and stop, cheek by jowl traffic along Alaska Way.
The fallout is clear. Leading business and labor organizations, as well as international tunneling experts based in Puget Sound and neighborhood leaders, are voicing support for the deep-bore tunnel option, coupled with deep concerns that last Thursday's recommendations are inimical to mobility, commerce and quality of life.
A sentiment to "just do something soon" does not alone make for good public policy. Especially not when a region's economy and the usability of a city's downtown waterfront are at stake. The sooner that business and the neighborhoods can be made to feel that their interests are truly being addressed, the sooner a replacement for the Viaduct can actually be built.
The last time anyone hazarded a report, it was estimated that a whopping four percent of daily trips in Puget Sound occurred on transit (second paragraph of p. E-6, here). That was in 2006. Let's say that percentage has now more than doubled to ten percent. You'd still have nine out of every ten daily trips, occurring in vehicles - versus scheduled transit. Beating traffic congestion in the real world, that's how leaders need to lead sometimes. Like now. With an historic decision for Puget Sound and Washington State partly unfolding later today on finalist options for replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99, an apropos reminder comes from our neighbor to the south, in Oregon. Editorial writer Rick Attig of The Oregonian is encouraged by improved odds for getting the "whole enchilada" version of the new variably-tolled bridge with light rail and a bike-pedestrian path built across the Columbia River, connecting Portland with booming Clark County, Wash. And, he notes:
Until recently, too much of the bridge debate has centered on issues such as whether speeding up commuter traffic would lead to more sprawl and development in the Vancouver area. There's been precious little public discussion about the enormous economic benefits of removing a chokehold from the region's transportation system, or the associated environmental benefits from ending the daily idling of thousands of cars and trucks on I-5.
Ka-ching, and Hello, Puget Sound. If decision-makers fall prey to the extreme social engineering impulse and decide to tear down the Viaduct portion of SR 99 - which carries 110,000 vehicle trips per day - without restoring adequate thru traffic capacity via a deep-bored tunnel, then as a result traffic downtown and on nearby, parallel Interstate 5 will grind to a halt. Tunnel experts say the deep-bored option is affordable, and the best choice by far. The Viaduct decision needs to be part of a broader regional plan for time-variable tolling. To boost transit use, the tunnel could be routed under Third Avenue downtown and a transit station could connect by escalator to the existing downtown transit tunnel which serves buses, and starting next year, Sound Transit light rail.
A compromise option combining elements of the "surface" solution and a tolled deep-bored tunnel is also on the table, along with an array of surface, tunnel and elevated Viaduct replacement options. We'll see later today whether wise heads prevail, or not.
You don't have to be in Seattle long to hear about the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Hugging the coastline, the aging structure carries north-south traffic through the city. It's been the topic of debate for what seems like an eternity. Why? Because it has to come down or mother nature may take it down.
By the time the clock reaches midnight on New Year's Eve, Governor Gregoire, King County Executive Sims and Mayor Nickels will have on their desks a list of final options for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. They'll make their decision in 2009.
Cascadia Center is at the heart of the debate and has long advocated construction of a deep-bored tunnel to carry traffic under the city.
Click below to see Cascadia's most recent release and links to supplemental material.
Thursday, transportation officials from the State of Washington, King County and the City of Seattle are to choose two or three finalist options from a field of eight or nine, for replacement of the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle's downtown waterfront. Things are moving fast and furious and there is growing momentum for the deep-bored tunnel option - which compared to a new elevated viaduct or added surface street traffic would best minimize traffic congestion and environmental impacts, and open up the most public space on the waterfront.
With some 110,000 vehicles traveling the elevated roadway on State Route 99 every day, and the bulk of that traffic bypassing downtown, simply expanding surface street capacity and adding transit would result in unfathomable traffic jams on the city's waterfront and nearby Interstate 5. Leading business and labor groups have already urged decision-makers to keep tunnel options in play as the process advances.
Yesterday, a half dozen deep-bore tunnel industry experts sent a letter to the Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee explaining how current official estimates overstate the costs of a deep-bored tunnel. Last night at a meeting of the SAC, a ninth option was presented by Tayloe Washburn of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a "surface-sub-surface hybrid" proposal that backers say could be a "grand compromise."
Meanwhile, the region's leading news radio station, KOMO 1000 AM, has continued to air the latest. Here's a link to some of the segments about the tunnel option's viability that have been airing yesterday and today from morning drive straight through evening drive. One from the top of the 2 p.m. hour today sums things up well.
ANCHOR: "A deep-bore tunnel may NOT be dead...Turns out there's growing support among stakeholders for that option and with good reason. KOMO's Travis Mayfield reports."
REPORTER: "New research has surfaced."
BRUCE AGNEW, CASCADIA CENTER: "We have a letter from tunnel experts that have studied it, and they think the tunnel can be built for somewhere around $1.5 billion, instead of the figure that the consultant team used."
REPORTER: "Bruce Agnew with the Cascadia Center says a deep bore tunnel could be built while the current viaduct remained open...the surface options and the rebuild options would both mean closure for at least 2 years. Thursday the nine options under consideration are expected to be narrowed to two or three, the governor should make a final decision by early next year. Travis Mayfield, KOMO 1000 News Radio."
Then the state legislature, which convenes in January, will make the final decision.
The Viaduct decision is regional and needs to be evaluated as part of where Puget Sound is, and is going, in surface transportation. Transit is growing in popularity and that is something we can all commend. But the vast majority of daily trips will continue to occur in vehicles and so a regional, time-variable electronic tolling system is essential to rationally price peak-hour capacity and encourage alternatives such as off-peak driving, more tele-work and ride-sharing, and transit use. Tolls should be used to pay for maintenance and operations of roads, new lanes as needed for regional tolling, and for transit in the same corridors where the tolls are collected.
The legislature is already poised to approve electronic time-variable tolling in 2009 to help fund the replacement of the dangerously storm- and earthquake-prone State Route 520 Floating Bridge across Lake Washington. It is now considered highly likely that decision will also involve tolling the parallel Interstate 90 bridge across the lake.
The Viaduct replacement and cracked, snarled I-5 through Seattle, as well as I-405 and envisioned extensions of SR 167 to the Port of Tacoma and SR 509 south to Federal Way from SeaTac Airport all would benefit greatly from user-fee toll funding, as would deadly US 2 in Snohomish County, which alone needs nearly $2 billion in fixes. People are willing to pay tolls. Neither meager gas tax hikes (which are all that is politically possible) plus infrastructure stimulus spending will come close to covering the tens of billions of identified, high-priority roads projects in Puget Sound. Our population is to grow by half in the next 30 years. Let's not make this Viaduct decision with blinders on.
Over the long-haul, the deep-bored tunnel combined with surface transit improvements, is the most cost-effective, and effective way to replace the hulking, noisy, dirty, crime-friendly, crumbling Viaduct that makes distinctly unpleasant the experience of walking from downtown Seattle to waterfront venues along Elliott Bay.
The "cheap" solution, "surface-transit" only, would glaringly fail to meet thru traffic volume. The resulting traffic congestion and overcrowding of the downtown waterfront with vehicles would exact a huge cost on quality of life and the economy.
To supplant the aging and seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99, which blockades downtown Seattle from its waterfront, two elevated replacement options, three tunnel options and three surface/transit choices are under review. The state, King County and Seattle transportation department heads are to recommend a few semi-finalists as soon as the end of this week, with Governor Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Gregoire, and King County Executive Ron Sims then to make a final choice to the legislature by the end of this month or the middle of next month at the latest.
One of the eight options right now is a behemoth mixed-use elevated, enclosed roadway strongly favored by Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle), whose power is considerable. Meanwhile, the Governor, Mayor and King County Executive may be leaning strongly toward a surface boulevard and enhanced transit option. Business interests on the SAC and others, including our Cascadia Center, argue that the 110,000 daily vehicle trips on the Viaduct cannot possibly be handled well on a surface boulevard, and that when full costs to business, drivers and the environment are factored in, the deep-bored tunnel option trumps any of the others. From today's Times article:
"It's very frustrating to me," said Peter Phillips, a stakeholder representing the Seattle Marine Business Coalition. "We don't get materials in time to review them. We are not involved in an engineering discussion; this is a political engineering discussion."....Given a chance to have his say, Phillips believes a surface option, which the city supports, would destroy the industrial neighborhoods that rely on the viaduct.
"Surface is the cheapest to build, but what about the economic mitigation costs," he says. "It now takes 20 minutes [on the viaduct] to get from Ballard to the Duwamish [River]. With surface, it will take more than an hour. "My fear is that the state will position the surface option as being equal to all other options in capacity and environmental impact with the caveat that if things turn out differently, they'll build something to address those issues later."
Another advisory committee member thinks the deep-bored tunnel would be the choice of a majority serving on the body, if they were allowed to take a vote, and that this option is getting short shrift.
At a recent stakeholder meeting, the frustrations bubbled over. "I'm really, really unhappy the way this is coming to an end," said stakeholder Vlad Oustimovitch, an architect from West Seattle. "Stage managing is going on to make [the stakeholder group] irrelevant. I'm uncomfortable sitting at this table."
Last week, the stakeholders were briefed on the economic implications of the eight viaduct plans. The problem is there was no plan for them to review: The economist hadn't released it.....(Oustimovitcvh said), "There's definitely been some backroom discussion among the three DOTs [the Washington, Seattle and King County departments of transportation]. There's the sense right now that some kind of surface alternative will get selected....Oustimovitch supports the deep-bore tunnel alternative, the most expensive at $3.5 billion, and one he believes would be everyone's first or second choice. He asserts the extra cost can be made up in two ways: directly through tolls and indirectly by economic savings, by being able to keep the viaduct open during construction.
A report completed last month for Cascadia Center by the international transportation engineering firm Arup found that deep-bored roadway tunnels similar to what would be required to replace the Viaduct typically cost in the range of $200-$700 million per mile, which would translate a range of $400 million to $1.4 billion here. Last week, Cascadia sent a letter to the three executives urging that they include the deep-bored tunnel option as a finalist. Also endorsing a "sub-surface" or tunnel solution in another letter to those officials last week were The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association, and the King County Labor Council.
The legislature makes the final decision on the replacement, during a busy session that begins next month. If the three execs choose a surface/transit option, the huge negative impacts on traffic and freight mobility in the SR 99/I-5 corridor will likely cause state lawmakers to reject that option, and quite possibly, settle for the elevated, enclosed roadway/mixed-use project supported by Speaker Chopp.
The SAC is to meet again tonight, in the Bertha Landes Room of Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave., at 5:30 p.m. It's expected that SAC member concerns will be thoroughly aired.
UPDATE, 5:10 p.m.: Tunnel construction industry experts based in Puget Sound today sent this letter to state, county and city officials, detailing the flaws with the current analysis of deep-bored tunnel costs. And on his show "The Conversation," KUOW-FM's Ross Reynolds hosted a discussion today titled "What Should Replace The Alaskan Way Viaduct?" Cascadia's Director Bruce Agnew was among the guests.
A report titled "Large Diameter Soft Ground Bored Tunnel Review" has just been released by the transportation think tank Cascadia Center and global engineering and consulting firm Arup. It strongly suggests that a new state cost estimate for a deep bored tunnel of approximately two miles to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct could be greatly inflated.
The state's Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholders Committee (SAC) pegs the cost of the one-mile tunnel at $3.5 billion, but the Cascadia-Arup report surveyed deep-bored vehicle tunnels worldwide and found costs typically fall in the range of $200 million-$700 million per mile, for large diameter soft ground bored tunnels, created with assistance of a tunnel boring machine (pictured below at right).
Surface street and transit improvements will help replace the Viaduct, but 70 percent of the traffic is bypass or freight;
Deep bored tunnel technology is widely used, and provides lower full-life cycle costs than above-ground roadways;
Environment and urban design are enhanced with a tunnel;
A deep bored tunnel to replace the viaduct would likely cost in the range of $200-$700 million per mile.
SAC is expected to winnow down the eight options to three recommended for further consideration. In December, Governor Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims are to recommend one option. The state legislature will make the final decision.
Cascadia has learned from sources close to the proceedings that one quarter of the $3.5 billion SAC estimate for the deep bore tunnel is for design fees. These can be dramatically reduced, along with risk management and construction timeline costs, through a properly detailed "design-build-operate-maintain" contract with a project management consortium. In addition, time-variable tolling in the SR 99/I-5 corridor, including the proposed tunnel, could help fund the project.
All over the world deep-bored vehicle tunnels are being built in major metropolitan regions. Paris. Hamburg. Zurich. Dublin. Madrid. Wuhan. Nanjing. Shanghai. Scroll down here to Cascadia Center's chart titled "Supplemental Tunnel Project Data Examples" and you'll see costs per mile range from $106 million to $580 million for deep-bored vehicle tunnels in these cities, typically of four to six lanes. The chart is part of a lengthier submission we made to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC).
That cost range is worth noting, as SAC and state consultants work through options to replace the aging and unsafe viaduct on Seattle's downtown waterfront. There are eight alternatives now getting a closer look, and one is a slightly curving four-lane deep-bored tunnel that would run as much as 2.5 miles from South Royal Brougham Way to Aurora Avenue North and Harrison Street. Estimated costs for all eight alternatives are to be firmed up later this year. Then, after several final options are recommended by the SAC; the Governor, King County Executive and Seattle Mayor in early 2009 will give their recommendation to the state legislature, which will shortly thereafter make the final decision. It's supposed to be an open book, right now, as to what will be the final choice.
The Seattle Times reports today that of the $2.8 billion already allocated for Viaduct replacement by the legislature, $1.1 billion has been spent or committed for downtown transit, south terminus surface work, pier stabilization, utility line relocation, and improvements to the old Battery Street Tunnel, which will stay in operation no matter what choice is made. This leaves $1.7 billion. Replacing a seawall downtown for about $400 million is required as part of Viaduct project. That money might come partly out of the state kitty or the city might cover part or all of the cost on its own.
But the deep-bore option could still pencil out.
As we've reported to the SAC, global experience shows that now, deep-bored vehicle tunnels are being built for $106 million to $580 million per mile. The given length of the whole Viaduct corridor is 2.2 miles. But because of slight curves in the envisioned tunnel route, let's figure a liberal 2.5-mile length for the deep-bored tunnel. (Project refinements could actually result in a much shorter tunnel distance, but that's not clear yet).
If the global data we've gathered turns out to apply - fairly closely - to costs of a four-lane deep-bored Viaduct replacement tunnel here, and the length is 2.5 miles, the price would be in the range of $265 million to $1.45 billion, almost certainly closer to the high end. If the city ends up paying for just half of the seawall replacement, the remaining funds of $1.5 billion could cover the costs of a deep-bored tunnel.
None of this assumes additional funds from High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) lanes in a deep-bored tunnel, which are eminently possible and could help offset any additional costs, such as those caused the rising price of construction materials. In use around the United States as one of several emerging "congestion pricing" strategies, HOT lanes allow solo drivers for a variable fee, while multiple-occupant vehicles and transit travel free. Travel times are guaranteed to be faster than in general use lanes; experience elsewhere shows drivers at a range of widely varying income levels use and appreciate HOT lanes as a way to get where they have to, when they cannot risk being late due to traffic congestion. An admittedly preliminary 2002 Parsons Brinkerhoff study for the state found that tolling the Viaduct would be feasible as part of a broader regional highway corridor pricing strategy, and that each million dollars raised by tolling the viaduct, net of operations, could leverage another $7 to $10 million in capital investment and $1 to $2 million in debt service.
A complementary strategy, which limits taxpayer exposure, is via risk controls built into a design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) agreement with a contractor consortium. Public costs are capped and contractor payments and penalties are pegged to meeting strict project performance goals. The often-costly disconnect between the design and build phases is minimized; exacting timelines and operations standards are instituted; and the public sector retains ownership of the property and control of tolls, fares or fees. Increasingly, this is how smart governments are stretching infrastructure dollars further.
Even without these supplemental strategies, the deep-bored tunnel option demands serious review, going forward. As we note in our cover letter to the packet we submitted earlier this year to the Viaduct SAC:
Seattle has vast experience with tunnels, both historic and
contemporary. There are more than 100 tunnels in the area, totaling over 65 miles in length. Two current deep-bored tunnel projects in the area are worth noting: the Sound Transit light rail tunnel through Beacon Hill and the Brightwater sewage tunnel....experience shows that in the long run, elevated structures wear out much sooner and require more maintenance than tunnels. Full life-cycle costs and benefits favor a tunnel over an elevated replacement.....
The Viaduct is part of State Route 99, a major regional roadway. It handles about 110,000 vehicle trips daily, about two-thirds of them thru traffic that's mercifully zipping past downtown. With more than $2 billion in needed pavement and congestion reduction work on closely parallel, jammed Interstate 5 remaining unfunded, it's more important than ever before to provide an adequate alternative for north-south downtown bypass traffic on SR 99. Highway pricing is being developed for the replacement of the State Route 520 Floating Bridge, possibly including the parallel cross-Lake Washington span on Interstate 90. A electronically-tolled HOT lane pilot project is already underway on State Route 167 in southeastern King County, and there's electronic tolling on the new southbound span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The long Eastside north-south corridor of SR 522, I-405 and SR 167 is a prime candidate for expanded HOT lanes, at some point in the future. Electronic tolling is already here and will continue to spread. Against this regional backdrop, HOT lanes in a deep-bored tunnel replacement for the Viaduct would encourage more high-occupancy vehicles on SR 99, and increased transit use.
The Viaduct project's own partnership agreement signed by the governor, mayor and county executive makes clear that thru traffic flow and the economy are key considerations:
Any solution to the Alaskan Way Viaduct must optimize the ability to move people and goods in and through Seattle in an efficient manner....(and)...must sustain the city, region and state's economic vitality.
A deep-bored tunnel will be more durable and a better investment than an elevated replacement. It will open up the downtown waterfront to green, recreational space and encourage new, carefully-vetted development beneficial to taxpayers and the economy. Unlike the so-called "surface-transit option" which would raze the Viaduct and not replace it, a deep-bored tolled tunnel would keep traffic moving, and could demonstrate innovative contracting strategies in the public interest.
Despite the vehement and visceral objections of some critics to the very idea of a deep-bored tunnel to replace the Viaduct, it deserves very serious consideration.
The problem of infrastructure deficit received prominent attention from the governors and state officials meeting in Washington during the month of February. But aside from agreeing that the needs for infrastructure funding are great, that present resources are inadequate, and that earmarks are a poor way to deal with the problem, few solutions were offered as to how to meet the revenue shortfalls. That's why a March 11 hearing by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs took on special significance. The hearing focused on a bill sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) to create a National Infrastructure Bank (S. 1926).
Described by Sen Dodd as a "unique and powerful public-private partnership," the proposed Bank could potentially offer a fresh solution to the challenge of infrastructure financing.
The bill proposes to create an independent national bank financed with a $60 billion bond issue. Using the bonds to leverage private capital, the bank would supplement public spending and finance large capacity-building infrastructure projects "of substantial regional and national significance." Candidate projects would be brought to the Bank's attention by state and local sponsors. Eligible projects would include roads, bridges, mass transit systems, wastewater treatment facilities and public housing.
"The federal government does not and will not have the resources to meet our future national infrastructure needs," said Sen. Hagel in his opening statement. "While the proposed legislation is not the entire solution, it can be part of the solution." The intent of the legislation is to create "an architecture," in Sen Dodds' words, that would make it possible to address the challenge of modernizing the nation's public infrastructure in a concerted and systematicÂ manner.
Although the bill is not entirely clear on this point, we assume that preference would be given to income producing assets such as toll roads and bridges. Principal and interest on "project-based infrastructure bonds" issued for such assets could be repaid with revenue generated by user fees and makeÂ the projectsÂ self-financing. The tax-free bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government, would offer an attractive investment to institutional investors such as pension funds, whose liabilities and payout requirements would match the bonds' long-term maturities.
The Dodd-Hagel proposal should appeal to the large majority of congressional lawmakers who are reluctant to vote for higher gasoline taxes but who nevertheless believe that the nation's growing infrastructure deficit must not be left unattended.
The idea of separating capital spending from normal operating expenses and the concept of a national capital budget that would be immune from the vagaries of annual congressional appropriations, has a number of influentialÂ proponents. They includeÂ Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Felix Rohatyn and Warren Rudman, co-chairs of the Commission on Public Infrastructure of the Center for Strategic International Studies.
But the idea of a national capital budget is not without its critics. TheÂ Treasury Department might be opposed to the bonds if they became a new encumbrance on the U.S. treasury.Â The congressional appropriators might object to the Bank as usurping their prerogative to be the sole dispensers of the federal largesse. There mightÂ also be objections from those who believe that the answer lies in relying more heavily on market forces to direct private investment into the needed infrastructure rather than creating a new centrally directed bureaucracy.
However, the bill's endorsement by both Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, should add considerable weight to the notion of a national capital budget and ensure its continued visibility in the policy debate.
What's more,Â House Speaker Nancy Pelosi'sÂ support may earn the bill an early place on the House legislative agenda. At a news conference on March 12, Pelosi said she favors a national infrastructure plan and wants the House to take up legislationÂ such as the Dodd-Hagel bill thatÂ seeks to leverageÂ public funding with private capitalÂ to finance critical infrastructure.Â Â Â
RELATED: March 11, 2008 senate committee hearing testimony on the bill from Sen. Dodd, Sen. Hagel, and Mr. Rohatyn.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >ROADS, BRIDGES, TRANSPORTATION, FUNDING, PENSION FUNDS, NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE BANK, S. 1926, U.S. SENATE, CHRISTOPHER DOD, CHUCK HAGEL, HILLARY CLINTON, BARACK OBAMA, FELIX ROHATYN, NANCY PELOSI>
From Wuhan to Barcelona to Pittsburgh, More Deep-Bored Tunnels Are On The Way
New Zealand's finance minister Michael Cullen says a government-appointed steering group will investigate the feasibility of a public-private partnership to build a deep-bored tunnel for completion of an urgently-needed western ring road segment in metro Auckland. It would be part of a larger, 48-kilometer ring road network connecting major population and employment centers in the region, and could influence whether PPPs are used on other major road projects in New Zealand also facing funding gaps. The five kilometer long tunnel would cost an estimated NZ $2 billion ($1.6 billion U.S.), with private developers compensated for their up-front investment either through tolls or a government lease-back provision, over 35 years. More:
The Government wants the motorway tunnel, which it has called the Waterview Connection, to be completed by 2015...Cullen said the deep tunnel option was much less disruptive and not more much expensive than a tunnel built by cutting into the earth and then covering it back up again. "Once you take into account the cost of acquiring property. . . It is probably no cheaper and possibly more expensive than the deep tunnel option," Cullen said....Cullen said one of the advantages of a public-private partnership was that much of the money to build the tunnel would come from the private sector. "It reduces the pressure on other roading projects not just in Auckland but around the country."
Many states, provinces, regional and local governments now find that funds required for top-tier road and transit projects significantly exceed funds available from current - and even recently-increased - transportation taxes. Washington state is a case in point, as two gas tax hikes (in 2003 and 2005) have helped but hardly kept pace with major project funding needs. That's why our state's Democratic governor is talking very straightforwardly about tolling major highway bridges in Puget Sound and in the I-5 Washington-Oregon border corridor to help pay for replacements addressing glaring safety or congestion problems.
Public-private transportation partnerships allow better financial risk sharing, and quicker timelines to beat ever rising prices tied to robust global competition for construction labor and materials. The payback to private investors occurs over time, sometimes via a government lease-back of the newly built facility; or via tolls, the amount of which can be pegged to traffic levels at time of use, and controlled by government rather than the private partners. Without accelerated completion under a PPP, planned projects can drag on for years as politically-driven funding gaps remain, and the costs of materials and labor climb ever higher.
Deep-Bored Tunnels - A Global Phenomenon
The Auckland deep tunnel PPP proposal hasn't been greenlighted yet and could still be torpedoed. But the high-level attention from the feds is another indication - atop an impressive roster of completed deep-bored road and train tunnel projects in Europe and elsewhere - that today, such new tunnels are growing in popularity.
In Pittsburgh, a 450 ton deep-bore tunneling machine will punch two tunnels under the Allegheny River for the new, $435 million North Shore Connector link to Pittsburgh's light rail system. Work has started and is scheduled for completion in 2011.
After reviewing bids from more than 30 companies, authorities in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 8 million, have selected a Shanghai firm to supervise construction of a 27 kilmoter long, $2 billion (U.S.) tunneled subway line passing beneath the Yangtze River. Work is also progressing on a four-lane highway tunnel under the Yangtze in Wuhan, to be completed later this year.
In Vancouver, B.C., part of an ambitious $14 billion transit plan (which may yet require some private capital) is a deep-bored tunnel for part of an urban rail line through the city's vibrant west side neighborhood of Kitsilano, to the University of British Columbia. Echoing the province's transport minister, one merchant says:
It should be tunnel boring, and not cut-and-cover. You don't want to change the dynamics of the neighborhood.
Deep-Bored Tunnels In Seattle
There are literally dozens of other major highway and train deep-bored tunnels completed around the world in recent years. One is in Seattle, through Beacon Hill for Sound Transit's light rail line. Another such tunnel would be part of the planned extension of the line north from downtown to the University District. A major new deep-bored tunnel roadway is also possible in Seattle, as a replacement for the dangerously earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 through Seattle's downtown waterfront.
The Viaduct replacement tunnel now being discussed - including at a December symposium sponsored by Cascadia Center - is an inland, deep-bored option that would be financed with private sector partners and perhaps tolls. Speaker PowerPoints at the bottom of our Web page on the event variously highlight: Seattle's many tunnels; the impressive long term cost-benefit ratio for tunneled versus above-ground highways; huge advances in deep-bore tunnel technology; and successful deep-bore tunnel projects in Europe including Paris, Madrid and southern England.
A state transportation department-led stakeholder group is to make a final recommendation by year's end from among three current options - the committee holds a public forum in West Seattle Tuesday, February 12th. The final choice menu is: an elevated replacement; a so-called "surface-transit" option which would tear down the viaduct and funnel traffic onto surface streets while providing more and better transit service for Viaduct users; and an inland, deep-bored tunnel.
Seattle Channel News Talk Show Examines Tunnel Option For Viaduct
On Seattle Channel's "City Inside/Out" recently, former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice told host C.R. Douglas, "I'm a tunnel guy. I think that's the wiser choice to make." Another guest, former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, argued for the surface-transit option, saying that with traffic moving at a steady 35 miles per hour and well-calibrated traffic and pedestrian signals, it could be quite viable. Of the elevated replacement option, Royer said, it would be "big, disruptive, ugly and expensive." (Watch the video here. You'll need RealPlayer - download a free "basic" RealPlayer here).
A week later on City Inside/Out, Seattle City Council Member Jan Drago made several points in support of a deep-bored tunnel replacement for the Viaduct, in an interview by Douglas. Drago stressed that huge international construction firms are building deep-bored tunnels all over the world; that the technology has improved greatly; costs are a relatively modest $100 to $300 million per mile; and that a deep-bored inland tunnel to replace the Viaduct in Seattle would be a quite different, less risky approach than the covered trench on the waterfront proposed by the city and rejected in a public advisory vote last year (along with an elevated replacement option).
The Washington State Department of Transportation's point man on the Viaduct replacement, Ron Paananen, told Douglas in the above-linked episode that the long period of disruption stemming from other alternatives is an important consideration, and that a bored tunnel is "definitely feasible."He reiterated that no preferred option has been chosen yet.
In his PSBJ op-ed, Cascadia's Pascall argued that the surface-transit option and the inland deep-bored tunnel are complementary approaches - it's not an either-or paradigm.
...two alternatives have moved steadily along -- the surface street option and a deep-bore bypass tunnel....the two approaches appear compatible since they would minimize disruption to the waterfront and downtown while connecting these two iconic parts of Seattle. The bypass tunnel assists the surface street option by providing a capacity solution for the 60,000 vehicles that use the Viaduct each day as a through route, taking this load off the design of a surface street plan. Some strategists are already talking about a tunnel finance plan that includes funds which could be applied to surface street and transit amenities.
The choice of a Viaduct replacement option is at least 10 months off, if not a bit longer. As the process brews, it's worth noting that a public-private partnership to limit taxpayer exposure for a deep-bored tunnel is hardly a far-fetched notion. A state statute, RCW 47.29.140, spells out the requirements for public-private partnerships, including articulation of how partners will share risk management and project costs, who is responsible for cost overruns, what are the penalties for non-performance by contractors, and what accounting and auditing standards will be used. Under RCW 82.44.195, private entities may deposit funds in the state's transportation infrastructure account to help fund surface transportation projects considered critical to mobility. For every such private investment in a highway project, there must be a long-term payback, such as tolls - which state or regional entities would control. Under RCW 35.85.050, financing could also come from property owners within a designated tunnel improvement district.
As that statute articulates, those who benefit from a tunnel can be assessed a special tax to help pay for it. And the environmental, recreational and economic benefits of opening up the downtown waterfront - while simultaneously establishing a swift, underground downtown bypass on SR 99 - would be considerable.
The Washington State Department Of Transportation authorized a preliminary consultant inquiry - recently completed - into the feasibility of a tunnel to replace the congested, dangerously earthquake-prone and windstorm-prone State Route 520 Floating Bridge across Lake Washington from Seattle to the Eastside. It's one of just two bridges across the 22-mile long lake, and the jammed, 60s-vintage four-laner carries 155,000 to 160,000 people per day. The odds-on favorite to replace it is......a new, wider and safer floating bridge. However, well-heeled communities at both ends have strong concerns about bridge-related noise and air pollution, and on the Seattle side, about current roadway impacts on the Washington Park Arboretum. These concerns could translate into expensive mitigation measures attached to a new bridge, or absent that, litigation driving up the current WSDOT cost estimate of $3.9 to $4.38 billion. Due to their environmental concerns, community leaders in affected Seattle neighborhoods are looking favorably upon a tunnel for the sensitive western approach to any new bridge, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Debera Carlton Harrell reported in late October.
A bill passed by the state legislature includes funding for consultants to examine a western approach tunnel, a combination of tunnels and submerged tubes under the lake, and moving SR 520 out of the way of the arboretum. It also stipulates that any replacement of The Bridge Of 1,000 Sorrows (left) would have to include two general purpose and one carpool (HOV) lane in each direction, with the carpool lanes being capable of accomodating high-capacity transit. In a preliminary report to the legislatively-mandated SR 520 mediation committee, Casper Paludan-Muller of COWI Denmark found that "a floating tunnel anchored by stays, could be feasible" as a replacement for the current bridge. Paludan-Muller noted there is "no experience in the world yet" to support the floating tunnel concept and "further investigation is needed to reduce the risks." This would have to include an up-to-date assessment of earthquake resistance technology for floating tunnels, and associated construction costs. The COWI report notes that an immersed tunnel installed below the lake's bottom - something with which the firm has extensive global design experience - is another possibility, but would require a pile foundation due to Lake Washington's depth.
Paludan-Muller also reported that a tunnel solely for the western approach, which would lead into a replacement floating bridge, would be three to four times more expensive than building a widened western approach above ground.
No cost magnitude was given in the report for any kind of cross-lake tunnel, and certainly, any such endeavor would require community support and a financing plan which controls general taxpayer costs, in part through tolling, and perhaps also union pension fund or private infrastructure fund investment. The same financing tools will be important to consider even if a replacement floating bridge is chosen. Available revenues identified by WSDOT now exceed 50 percent of the estimated cost range only if tolling yet to be approved by legislators is included.
Far from a Seattle-centric concern, SR 520 is a crucial regional corridor linking Seattle to the jobs-rich Eastside; and connecting points east, southeast and northeast to the University of Washington in Seattle, a large regional employer and nationally-recognized educational and research institution. Following the rejection by voters Nov. 6 of the roads and transit ballot measure Proposition One, impetus is building for new approaches to transportation planning and funding.
The COWI report helps move the ball down the field, but we need to pick up the pace on SR 520 decision-making. Construction is not scheduled to start until 2012. With the bridge at risk of collapsing in an earthquake or severe windstorm - and taking a horrific toll on human life, and our civic reputation - that's simply too long. Yet doing it sooner also necessitates working even harder to ensure we have the best information, and the best design and finance plan for the replacement structure(s).
SR 520 decision-makers and the public will need to have the most realistic estimates of the full project costs - including environmental mitigation - of an immersed tunnel spanning the lake, a floating tunnel across the lake, a replacement floating bridge across the lake, and a tunnel versus a new above-surface structure for the western approach. Then, whichever options are selected, our region's and state's putative leaders will have to find innovative ways to raise the needed funds, making sure they don't try to soak wary taxpayers.
With the defeat by Puget Sound taxpayers of a multi-billion-dollar roads and transit ballot measure Nov. 6, momentum is growing for tolling and congestion pricing to help ease traffic congestion in the Seattle region, as this news and opinion round-up shows. In a Puget Sound Transportation Action Plan just unveiled, Cascadia Center also accents tolling and congestion pricing, along with centralized regional decision-making on transportation; more private investment in roads and transit; more bus rapid transit and commuter rail; an enhanced network of suburban park-and-ride lots; plus more government fleet purchases of - and fuel infrastructure development for - flexible-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Puget Sound hesitantly stands on the cusp of allocating more rationally its scarce road capacity. Tolling is a required condition for a federal grant of $138 million to help fund a $4.4 billion-plus replacement of the earthquake-and windstorm-prone State Route 520 Floating Bridge (a.k.a. the Evergreen Point Floating bridge). Tolling the 520 bridge intelligently will necessitate congestion pricing on that span plus enhanced transit options, and tolling the parallel I-90 to the south. The new tolled southbound lanes of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are proving popular, and a four-year congestion pricing pilot project is coming on State Route 167.
The growing impetus for further tolling and congestion pricing in Puget Sound aligns with national trends.
A privately-financed 10-mile toll road which runs north-south at the eastern reaches of San Diego opens today, as the San Diego Union-Bulletin reports. The South Bay Expressway will be operated by a unit of Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which assumed responsibility for a $635 million private investment to fund the bulk of the construction (total costs were $843 million) and operate the road, an extension of State Route 125. Tolls will range from $2 to $3.75, and will be levied via overhead gantries (above, left) communicating electronicallly with windshield-installed FasTrak transponders (below, right); and also via toll booths.
Some 30,000 to 40,000 cars are expected to use the tollroad daily, and tolls are intended to allow the company to recoup its investment and make a profit. Elected officials say the road would never have been built without private investment. Under the current agreement, MacQuarie will turn the road over to the state transportation department in 35 years, though that could be renegotiated. The South Bay Expressway is expected to provide congestion relief for heavily-used I-805, a parallel north-south road to the west. The deal was inked in 1991, but environmental and legal challanges delayed a planned 1995 opening until today. Regional officials would like to renegotiate a so-called "no compete" clause, which requires them to pay MacQuarie if they open competing toll or HOV lanes; four HOV lanes are being eyed for I-805.
This is not metro San Diego's first experience with tolling in recent years. The more dynamic form of tolling known as congestion pricing has been in place for almost 10 years on a major east-west Interstate in San Diego. CNN reports:
San Diego has been charging commuters a toll on an eight-mile stretch of I-15 since 1998, which lets those who pay use special lanes during peak hours. The charge varies from 50 cents to $8, depending on demand. Since the toll was imposed, usage of express lanes has nearly doubled, and the number of carpools has gone up more than 70%.
Back east, the New York Times reports (free reg. req.) the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is proposing to eliminate peak-hour toll discounts for transponder users, so that they would pay $8 peak tolls versus the current $5 (and $6 off-peak) tolls to use the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, and other bridges on Staten Island. Vehicles which meet low-emissions standards would only pay $4 at peak. The toll hikes, combined with proposed PATH commuter fare hikes, would raise an estimated $300 million per year to help finance a second commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, to Penn Station. The port authority wouild spend $100 million to completely phase out tollbooths in five years, in favor of electronic transponders. Public hearings are planned on the entire proposal.
A Hudson Valley daily - the Times Herald-Record - reports that the New York State Thruway Authority is being strongly urged by regional officials to institute congestion pricing for cars on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Currently, there's a frequency discount discount for cars, although trucks pay a congestion-based toll. Congestion-pricing for cars would help raise needed repair funds, the paper reports.
The authority is being forced to adjust tolls again because volatile gas prices are slowing traffic growth, but it will need billions in new money regardless to fix the old bridge, the source of almost 20 percent of the revenue from the statewide system.
Puget Sound has tens of billions worth of projected road and transit project needs in coming decades, as our burgeoning population grows still more; an estimated 52 percent by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council's projections. Increases in the motor vehicle excise tax, sales and gas tax can help fund some of these needs. But taxpayers are making it increasingly clear these sources are not an infinitely deep well; and alone will far from provide the bulk of needed transportation funding. A study done by the University of Washington and Booz Allen Hamilton earlier this year for King County Executive Ron Sims projected that system-wide tolling in Puget Sound could raise $1.1 to $1.6 billion per year, and about $36 billion over 20 years.
That could fund a lot of new toll lanes, express buses, and commuter rail. IF Puget Sound and the state can muster the vision and accountability to make the investment.
UPDATE, 11/20/07: Austin Jenkins, veteran statehouse correspondent for public radio's Northwest News Network, writes today in the online daily news magazine Crosscut that following Prop. 1's defeat, key state legislators are dusting off an early '07 tolling bill and passage of some version is likely in the '08 "short session" starting in January. The current bill, Jenkins reports, gives the legislature sole authority to impose tolls unless it grants exceptions; would permit "variable," or peak/off-peak pricing; details guidelines for the state transportation commission to follow in setting toll rates; and mandates that all tolls be used for the facilities or corridors from which they were collected. Unresolved now is whether tolls could finance transit. Tolling of SR 520 will likely be coupled with tolling of I-90, Jenkins reports.
The Tacoma News Tribune reports this morning that the crumbling, 94-year-old Murray Morgan Bridge has been ordered closed by State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, raising strong city council concerns about access to Tacoma's tidelands areas for medical or industrial emergency response. A 2004 estimate pegs rehab costs at $77 million, but only $25 million has been secured to date, the TNT reports.
Current road and transit needs for the Puget Sound Region total $66 billion over the next two decades, according to a transportation governance commission created by the Washington State Legislature and Governor Christine Gregoire. Those needs are likely to grow. The population of four-county metro Seattle will rise from the 2000 U.S. Census level of 3.276 million by 52 percent, or 1.712 million - about as much as metro Portland today - to just shy of 5 million by 2040. This according to the Puget Sound Regional Council's new draft Vision 2040 regional update on growth, transportation and economic development. Additionally, roads and transit construction costs are rising ever higher.
The upshot: A solid long-term transportation finance strategy is crucial. Our Cascadia Center's Director Bruce Agnew and Senior Fellow Steve Marshall argued in a News Tribune "Insight" section op-ed Sunday, October 21 that we're at a crossroads, and must move well beyond reliance on traditional funding sources to address current system maintenance and future system expansion needs.
....new construction should be financed from tolls and private equity while federal Highway Trust Fund and state resources handle the maintenance of the existing system. Until now, large international construction firms and foreign banks have dominated the private sector partnership world. But today, local labor unions like the Northwest Building Trades and state public employee pension funds like the giant California Public Employee Retirement System want a piece of the action. The potential for funding alliances between public entities and labor unions or public employee pension funds is an important consideration in a state that has banned most public-private partnerships.
We are not talking about foreign investors making huge profits and setting ever-higher tolls. Instead, the men and women who build the infrastructure would share in returns on the investment while the public retains control over toll rates. As former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Gephardt noted earlier this year at our Cascadia Forum, "pension funds are patient funds, a 50-year return on investment" for union members and the public.
A special state transportation performance audit prepared for the office of State Auditor Brian Sonntag recommends, among other things, that the legislature "review whether new legislation is required for public-private partnerships for transportation infrastructure and implement any necerssary changes."
In California, interest in PPPs is also running high. Former Governors Gray Davis, Pete Wilson and George Dukemejian yesterday highlighted the need for private-public partnerships, in a Southern California newspaper op-ed, "California Infrastructure Needs 'Plan B.'" They wrote:
It's clear we need a new solution, a Plan B, to ensure our state's future success. We can do so by creating "Public Private Partnerships" or "P3." Through P3, most of the highway, bridge, rail, water conveyance, public health and other facilities projects are paid for out of a combination of taxpayer supported bonds, private equity and debt, and fees charged to those who actually use or benefit from the infrastructure and services. One successful model in British Columbia created a "state enterprise agency" to identify P3 opportunities and then impartially evaluate private- or public-sector involvement while focusing on ensuring the long-term protection and benefit of the community.
...Sacramento needs to pass legislation enabling P3 to function in this state. Senate Bill 61 (Runner), supported by the governor, is a first step but is stuck in the Assembly because of opposition by public employee unions who believe their jobs may be threatened. What they don't understand is that without this Plan B, a lagging economy and dwindling state revenue stream will indeed threaten their jobs and retirements.....We need a fair, open process that clears the way to plan for major new infrastructure projects that attract private sector planning, management and financial skills, while protecting the long-term interests of the broader community.
Thomas J. Donahue, president of The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, put it this way, in a recent Washington Post op-ed titled "Bridges To Somewhere":
What must our nation do to meet the urgent infrastructure funding challenges? Where is the money going to come from? We can start by unlocking potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment just waiting to be spent on power plants; pipelines; shipping and hauling routes to railroads and airports; privately constructed and operated roadways; and more. The money is there if government regulators would get out of the way. Countries around the world use an array of innovative financing approaches and public-private partnerships to bring key projects on line quickly. It's about time America did the same.
Transportation construction companies are taking the lead right now in public-private partnerships to build new infrastructure. One example is the new South Bay Expressway in San Diego. On a highway route initially proposed in 1959, the $635 million north-south artery built on the eastern edge of San Diego was financed by Macquarie Infrastructure Group funds based in New York and Australia, which will recoup their outlays via a 35-year tolling concession. Regular users can bypass tollboths, using windshield-installed tolling account cards which are automatically read by overhead transponders in the roadway. Depending on distance travelled, tolls for two-axle vehicles range from 75 cents to $3.50 for account-holders, nominally more for tollbooth customers. The toll is doubled for vehicles with three or four axles. The South Bay Expressway opens November 19.
Cascadia Center is planning a luncheon forum on public private partnerships in transportation, during the week of Dec. 17, in Seattle. Stay tuned for more details.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >ROADS, BRIDGES, PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS, TACOMA, SEATTLE, PUGET SOUND, WASHINGTON STATE, SAN DIEGO, MACQUARIE, SOUTH BAY EXPRESSWAY, TOLLING>
Puget Sound's arterial roads need more roundabouts. They're much bigger than the "traffic circles" in residential Seattle, and do occasionally materialize in the suburbs here. More to the point, they're cheaper than stoplights (both to build and maintain), reduce congestion and save fuel. Most importantly, roundabouts have 80% fewer crashes with injuries than regular intersections.
The Economist makes the case for roundabouts, and notes there've been about 100 constructed in Washington state, which is approximately one-tenth of the U.S. total. Some other nations have exponentially more than the U.S., the magazine reports.
So why don't we use roundabouts more, and why aren't they part of the solution? It might be a small win, but at this point, shouldn't we also be looking at any low-hanging fruit?
Other advantages: roundabouts are not affected by power outages (read: 2006 wind storm!), don't need their light bulbs changed, and don't have unattractive wiring hanging over intersections that can fall and kill people. In fact, they are a net positive if landscaped or festooned with a piece of art. (Arc de Triumph, anyone?)
Granted, this is not about to solve our whole congestion problem, but it should merit further emphasis from the federal and state DOTs, city and county planners, and elected decision-makers.
A report issued yesterday by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office urges the state to more aggressively attack highway congestion, beginning with a formal declaration that congestion is a top transportation policy priority. The Seattle Times reported on the findings today. The transportation performance audit, prepared for Sonntag's office by Talbot, Korvola & Warwick of Portland, goes on to make more than 20 specific policy recommendations. These include urging that the state legislature should:
"empower a single body - either the Department of Transportation or a regional transportation entity for the Puget Sound Region - to allow for a more integrated approach to planning for congestion reduction:"
"choose/identify transportation projects based on congestion reduction rather than other agendas;"
and "review whether new legislation is required for public private partnerships for transportation infrastructure and implement any changes."
The transportation performance audit, authorized under Initiative 900, also recommends the department add new highway lanes.
WSDOT observes in the audit report, correctly, with respect to new highway lanes and other capital-intensive proposals, that new state funding has been hard to secure over the years and much responsibility lies with the legislature.
News that federal DOT officials have accepted the offer by Puget Sound transportation leaders to toll a new State Route 520 bridge by September of 2009 in exchange for $139 million in new bridge-rebuild cash from the feds will accelerate a much needed debate about the eventual need for system-wide tolling here. This dialog is coming despite two state gas tax hikes in recent years, and a hard-to-get-your-mind-around $17.8 billion regional Roads and Transit vote on November 6. The new federal money for rebuilding the unsafe and congested SR 520 bridge - money explicitly conditioned upon supplemental tolling of the bridge - comes in response to a successful Urban Partnership grant application to USDOT from a team including WSDOT, the Puget Sound Regional Council and King County.
Several developments would add impetus to the dialog on regional highway tolling for Puget Sound.
First, the state legislature has to authorize tolls on SR 520 as part of the deal. Once that happens -- and given the inevitable backlash from some corners in the contentious local transportation scene -- the debate will start in earnest.
Another key player is Governor Chris Gregoire, who did not assert a pro-tolling position in the unsettled examination earlier this year of how to pay for replacing the aged and unstable Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in Seattle. One major concern for the Governor was "leaking" revenue as motorists used other untolled routes versus a tolled Viaduct. Given that a valuable federal grant for the crucial SR 520 bridge rebuild is conditioned on tolling that bridge, the stakes grow larger. The Governor needs to make regional highway tolling a big deal in next year's proposals to the Legislature.
In addition, local elected leaders who want to add a third major tax increase for transportation in four years to Puget Sound households (this fall's Roads and Transit ballot measure), need to be clear and honest about the inevitability of tolls and taxes. Study after study has shown that we will need twice as much funding as we have for safety, capacity and technology improvements to meet the twin challenges of more people and freight coming to our region.
Environmental and other prerogatives add to the impetus for expanded transportation funding options, including regional tolling. The transportation system is moving inexorably to biofuels and electricity due to national security and global warming concerns. As a result, the gas tax will soon fade away as the chief funding source.
So let's use the relatively positive experience from tolling on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge - and the current debate over SR 520 - to launch a much larger community discussion about system-wide tolling in Puget Sound.
Highways in congested metropolitan regions need to be thought of as a scarce resource, and priced accordingly for single-occupant vehicles.
In a Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed published this morning, our Cascadia Center's Director Bruce Agnew posits that tolling and private investment could pay for replacement of the shaky Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in Seattle - and for reconfiguration of badly-congested Interstate 5 in the city, as well. Neither are included in a multi-billion-dollar roads and transit ballot measure facing Central Puget Sound voters in November.
...two crucial transportation projects relevant to the Minnesota tragedy are partially on hold -- replacement of the central waterfront section of Alaska Way Viaduct on State Route 99, and full funding for reconstruction of the 40-year-old stretch of Interstate 5 from Northgate to Tukwila.
....any notion that the viaduct's 110,000 daily vehicle trips can be replaced by a series of transit enhancements fails to comprehend the complexity of moving freight in a constricted north-south corridor. Simply put, I-5 can't take any more traffic and freight can't take a bus. Solutions so far have been piecemeal and money is scarce.
....So we propose a bold -- some would say radical -- rethink. Our plan would consider both I-5 reconstruction and added capacity and replacement of the central section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, within the context of regionwide tolling and partnerships for private capital. A deep-bored tunnel through downtown to replace the viaduct, beginning at Sodo and splitting to either State Route 99 east of the Seattle Center or continuing to the Mercer/I-5 ramp, would segregate local traffic from through traffic, and would avoid the construction disruptions on the central waterfront that threaten businesses....
A twin-bore tunnel is being built right now in Seattle, for light rail: more details in Agnew's op-ed.
In addition to accelerating the reconstruction of I-5, our plan would redesign the reversible express lanes from Northgate to downtown...(with)...an additional "contra flow lane" in the opposite direction.
This would allow the (I-5) express lanes to operate 24 hours a day in each direction and provide an additional through lane in the difficult downtown area, which currently has only two through lanes. Overpasses and ramps would have to be modified or removed, but a bottleneck of gigantic proportions would be eliminated, and it could be done on the existing footprint. For this premium service, a variable toll would be charged for the express lanes only; drivers could still access the regular lanes free. We'd dedicate a portion of the toll to expand bus rapid transit options as a supplement to current transit investments on I-5 and Highway 99.
How do we pay for such a feat of engineering without added taxpayer exposure? Answer: In addition to tolls, union and public employee pension funds could be invested in these projects and would pay back a return over many years.
In the op-ed, Agnew explains why this is not merely wishful thinking. He concludes:
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature should consider modifying state law to allow this partnership with union pension funds. And if the November ballot measure fails, (replacement of) the State Route 520 bridge should be added to the I-5/Highway 99 pilot project.
Our failure to think big in the past is one reason we're in today's transportation mess. Let's start now to change that.
We've already mentioned the 50 km tunnel for $3.5 billion that the Swiss voted to build. I wondered: the Swiss are building some fantastic tunnel in the Alps (see Matt's 6/11 post)... but they're Swiss. Surely they must be crazy.
As it turns out, their costs are not unusual for transportation infrastructure projects in developed countries. A random grab-bag since 1994:
English Channel Tunnel
Cost: 9 billion pounds (US $14 billion)
Length: 50 km (31 miles)
Cost per mile: $451 mil
Cooper River Bridge, SC, longest cable-stay bridge in America
Cost: $531 million
Length: 2.5 miles
Cost per mile: $212 mil
Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Washington DC
Cost: $2.4 billion
Length: 1.1 miles
Cost per mile: $2.2 bil
Daily Commuters: 200,000 (twice the capacity for the same price as ours)
Millau Viaduct, France
Cost: $394 million
The builders, Eiffage, financed the construction in return for a concession to collect the tolls for 75 years, until 2080. However, if the concession is very profitable, the French government can assume control of the bridge in 2044.
Length: 1.5 miles
Cost per mile: $262 mil
Sydney Harbor Tunnel, Australia
Cost: A$ 554 mil
Built by a private partnership, the tunnel is currently on a thirty-year lease, and will be handed back to the State Government in August 2022.
Length: 1.4 miles
Cost per mile: A$ 395 mil
The San Jose Mercury News carries the full Associated Press story on the recent opening of the 21-mile Loetschberg Base Tunnel. Billed as the world's longest land tunnel, it is a trainway built through the Alps to ease road congestion and deliver skiers twice as quickly from south of Bern to the gateway town of Visp near the Zermatt and Gourmayeur ski regions of Switzerland and Italy, respectively. The tunnel's cost in U.S. dollars: $3.5 billion. Passenger trains will reach speeds of 150 miles per hour in the tunnel; freight trains 100 mph. BBC reports the tunnel will eventually handle up to 42 passenger trains and 80 frieght trains per day. A picture of the tunnel's construction is below, right. AP notes:
Switzerland is at the center of a north-south European axis where traffic has increased more than tenfold since 1980. The Swiss have tired of traffic jams caused by big rigs and vacationers filling their narrow valleys, and the rail plan has remained popular despite running billions of dollars over budget. "We did not want to become part of the road corridor for 40-ton trucks streaming north and south, and so decided to opt for rail tunnels," (Swiss Transport Minister Moritz) Leuenberger said.
A planned twin train tunnel was not built due to cost constraints, but had it been, even at an additional cost of twice the one built, the total cost per mile would have been $500 million. (For now, trains going in different directions will take turns using the tunnel).
Globally, train and roadway tunnels are being built in a variety of locales, at costs per mile far less than the $3.4 billion estimated for the (mile-long) downtown Seattle waterfront tunnel to replace the crumbling and earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct section of the regional aterial, State Route 99. That proposal was firmly rejected by local voters in an advisory March ballot measure, but as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported last month, an inland tunnel replacement for the viaduct's stretch of SR 99 - as opposed to a waterfront tunnel like that rejected by voters - is being discussed.
Some downtown businesses are talking about another tunnel replacement, dug several blocks east of the waterfront with boring machines rather than formed in an open trench, to avoid shutting waterfront businesses. "We shouldn't discard any ideas at this point," said John Blackman, chairman of Argosy Cruises and head of a waterfront historical group.
The idea of an inland tunnel replacement for the viaduct, combined with surface-transit improvements and perhaps even tunnel tolling as part of a larger regional tolling strategy, is likely to get further consideration in coming months. Limiting taxpayer exposure on tunnel costs via state-of-the-art "deep boring" tunnel technology and by private investment will likely be part of that coming conversation.
Economist Glenn R. Pascall, a regular guest op-ed columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal outlined the case for an inland tunnel to replace the Viaduct in a piece he wrote for that publication shortly after the advisory vote. (As he acknowledges in the op-ed, Pascall also is advising our Cascadia Center For Regional Development on viaduct replacement strategies).
The question is whether there is a way to liberate the part of the city that has been violated by the viaduct, while maintaining essential transport capacity, holding construction disruption to an absolute minimum, and financing the project's dollar cost in the very low billions. There may be an answer: the Bored Tunnel Alternative. Truth in packaging: I've been working as an adviser to a group that has been examining alternatives over the past few months and has focused on this one as the most promising. Members of the dialogue include Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center; John Wilson, a principal at the Gallatin Group; and Gary Lawrence, a principal at Arup consultants....they are poised to put forth the case for such an approach soon.
Bored tunnels have been built around the world for decades, but the technology of boring machines (called "moles") has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. This has enabled larger diameters (up to 51 feet), increased productivity and greater control of ground movements in a wide variety of conditions. Recent bored roadway tunnels include the M30 tunnel in Madrid, the SMART tunnel in Malaysia, the 4th Elbe Crossing in Germany, and the A86 West Tunnel in Paris. This type of technology is being used in Seattle by Sound Transit on its Beacon Hill tunnel, and is proposed for the University Link Extension and for King County's Brightwater project.
Cascadia Center expects to soon announce the date for a fall roundtable discussion on an inland bored-tunnel replacement for the crumbling, unsafe and obtrusive, crime-friendly waterfront elevated viaduct now marring Seattle's downtown.
It is too early to say right now what would be a realistic cost estimate, though that - and firm taxpayer protections - must and will be part of any proposal brought forward.
But it is certainly not too early to say that if the Swiss can build a 21-mile train tunnel through the Alps for $3.5 million - and even granting that a more extensive dual tunnel might have cost as much as three times that figure - we ought not to presume that a stacked, bi-directional, four- to six-lane SR 99 lidded bypass running for a length of one mile or slightly less under downtown Seattle will be a budget-buster. Especially if private-sector partners help foot the bill.
The local debate will again become pitched, with the environmental lobby asserting we can make do quite well with no new viaduct or tunnel replacement for the old structure. It's true that surface and transit improvements will be an important piece of the viaduct replacement puzzle. But when the roadway is torn down, as it certainly will be, replacment capacity at or near the viaduct's 110,000 vehicles served daily must be created. Otherwise, the region's remaining major north-south artery, I-5 - already badly congested - will suffer crippling delays inimical to Puget Sound's economic competitiveness.
Speaker Presentations At Cascadia/Microsoft/Idaho National Laboratory "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" conference, 9/4/08 and 9/5/08, Redmond, Wash. (Topics included electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy, traffic management systems and technology, transit. Many of these files are very large and may take several minutes to open/download depending on your internet connection).
The estimated cost now is as high as $4.4 billion to replace the dangerously earthquake-prone Evergreen Point Floating Bridge on State Route 520, which crosses Lake Washington to connect the populous and job-rich Eastside with Seattle. But only $560 million is in hand; and the rest is decidedly iffy, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. (UPDATE: The state DOT's 520 page lists $1.25 billion in identified funding, including $700 million in tolls). The P-I editorializes we need to get the full funding package pulled together ASAP.
...we're told that the Evergreen Point Bridge will be rebuilt, pronto, even though we're $3.5 billion short on the project's budget. We currently have just under 20 percent of the bridge's $4.4 billion secured....This "build now, figure out how to settle the bill later" approach is reckless. We're not advocating the endless dithering for which our city and state have become unfortunately famous. What we're asking our legislators and transportation officials to do is to firm up the numbers for necessary, urgent projects such as the 520 bridge.
Getting the money requires knowing the real final cost, which in turn requires settling important components of the project. The ingredients most necessary are leadership and planning. There is no decision yet on what kind of transit will go on it, no final decision on the number of lanes. The current discussion centers on a six-lane replacement for the existing four-lane structure. Six lanes are an utter necessity, anything less offers insufficient capacity. An additional wild card - perhaps carrying substantial added costs beyond the current estimate - is environmental mitigation. This includes forcefully-voiced concerns from neighborhood residents on both ends of the bridge corridor. What is the endgame price tag for mitigation really going to be? The sooner we know, the better.
Message received. But with no solid plan yet on its configuration or funding, the likelihood of further delay and cost inflation grow. We need a single point of authority, namely an empowered Central Puget Sound regional transportation commission, to settle the configuration questions legally and in a timely manner, and put together a full public-private funding plan for the bridge. The fall 2007 regional roads and transit ballot measure would include just $1.1 billion toward the $3.5 billion now thought needed to complete the bridge replacement; this as part of the larger $16 billion package. If that proposal does win voter approval, there will still be a backlog of about $46 billion in Central Puget Sound road and transit project needs. A clearly stated comprehensive plan to prioritize those projects and pay for them in a series of public funding votes, and through private partnerships and tolls, will be essential. If the fall ballot measure fails, the need for such planning and leadership will be even more pressing.
Piecemeal, scattershot planning undercuts public trust. Without that trust, the necessary taxpayer support of expanded roads and transit cannot be expected to materialize.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >EVERGREEN POINT FLOATING BRIDGE, STATE ROUTE 520, WSDOT VIDEO, FUNDING>
The replacement of Seattle's slowly sinking, aged and earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct has lately been at the center of an unresolved political and planning controversy now entering a much needed cool-down phase.
Yet the concern remains: what are the effects of large, elevated roadways over busy urban neighborhoods?
The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that in the booming Belltown neighborhood just north of downtown Seattle, the nearby elevated Viaduct helps encourage street drug sales and drug use which has demanded increased police presence and continues apace.
Under the shadow of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle police officers Katrina Stuckey and Andrew West seize a crack pipe and a rock of cocaine from a woman in Belltown who is about to light up. They've seen her many times before -- usually without shoes -- and she tells them she bought the coke with $10 she found on the street. West enters the incident into a BlackBerry loaded with the names, addresses, birthdays and long list of offenses of the crowd he's come to know at Western Avenue and Bell Street.
Here in "D3" -- the patrol district bordered by Denny Way, Bell Street and the waterfront in Seattle -- felony drug arrests jumped 74 percent to 328 in the five-year period that ended last year, according to Seattle police data requested by the Puget Sound Business Journal. Police recorded only 91 felony drug arrests a year in the district as recently as 2004....Belltown's trend is all the more startling because felony drug arrests throughout downtown Seattle plunged 72 percent to 1,059 during the same time period, police data show.
The gritty intersection of Western and Bell has become a center of downtown drug activity, police say....The intersection's features also make it suitable for drug activity. The viaduct acts as a dry hiding place where people can sell and use drugs. Drug dealers easily blend into the street crowd of people waiting for jobs outside the CASA Latina day workers' center.
Police crackdowns in other open air drug markets have helped shift some of that activity to under and near the Viaduct. But the two stacked three-lane roadways have long facilitated nearby loitering and crime, particularly drug sales and drug use, while simultaneously dampening impetus for upgrading the city's dispirited downtown waterfront.
One lesson is that if neighborhoods and public spaces are to be well utilized, they must be made comfortable and attractive, not dark and forbidding. That seems exceedingly basic, but the point manages to get lost sometimes.
A number of neighborhood sources interviewed by the Business Journal for the story about crime in the Viaduct's shadow report increased police presence has helped. Yet:
...other business owners and residents remain dismayed by illicit activities. Phil's Custom Bindery, which sits directly across from the viaduct and CASA Latina, will move to South Seattle in April. Scott Goldader, son of the bindery's founder and a co-owner of the business, said the move was spurred by uncertainty over the viaduct's future and drug dealing in the neighborhood. Goldader has grown weary of constantly phoning the police because of drug-related activity. "I'm tired of seeing it ongoing every day," he said. "It makes you feel not right, and angry."
Obviously, chronic drug abuse is not explained by urban planning, but robust open-air drug markets and other crime can certainly be facilitated by urban design decisions. Cost, capacity and downtown waterfront optimization will drive future decisions on how to replace the Viaduct. In a city more heavily invested each day in residential density - especially in and around downtown - livability and public safety should be no small concerns as the Viaduct debate moves into its next phase over the summer.
Another elevated viaduct would have a very different and much worse effect on the urban fabric for Seattle's growing downtown population and its many visitors from the region and world; compared to some combination of a taxpayer-friendly deep-bored inland tunnel, and surface transit improvements.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >CASCADIA CENTER, SEATTLE, TRANSPORTATION, ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT, CRIME, TUNNEL>