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Tunnels suggested as I-5 fix

Original Article

If you can’t widen Interstate 5 through Seattle, or add another highway above it, why not dig down and put in an underground level or two?
That’s one of Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman’s 15 ideas for improving the flow of people and goods between British Columbia and Oregon.

Chapman was looking long range – well into the next century — during a talk yesterday at a luncheon for national and Pacific Northwest transportation officials as well as members of Congress at the Edgewater Hotel.

Sponsored by the institute, the luncheon preceded a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Ground Transportation next door at the Port of Seattle Commission chambers.

Chapman’s talk was met with polite applause.

“An intriguing concept,” said state Secretary of Transportation Sid Morrison after hearing the plan.

But state Rep. Karen Schmidt, R-Bainbridge Island and co-chair of the House Transportation Committee, noted that Chapman and his ideas were “not constrained by politics, environmental regulations or money concerns.”

“Bruce Chapman was trying to say that you must have a dream,” she said.

Chapman, a former City Council member, state secretary of state and head of the U.S. Census Bureau, described the results of the institute’s two-year Cascadia transportation study as “possibly provocative.”

He later remarked with a grin, “I’m not running for office.”

Among the suggestions:
-Extending Sound Transit’s commuter rail lines to Olympia and Bellingham.
-Developing a “Cascadia inland (transportation) corridor” from central British Columbia through Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon to California, taking the pressure off of I-5.
-Building a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.
-Replacing Seattle’s “seismically challenged” Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

Chapman said later that the overpass is likely to come down in a strong earthquake.

Budgets weren’t discussed, but Chapman and his institute suggest tolls and a regional development bank to cover some of the costs.

Chapman compared the idea of going under I-5 in Seattle to Boston’s “Big Dig.” The so-called “Big Dig” is a multibillion-dollar motor vehicle tunnel now being dug under that city’s downtown.

He said tunnels under I-5 could be used for vehicular traffic, transit, commuter rail and perhaps freight trains.

While going until I-5 hasn’t been explored, similar plans to ease congestion by going underground are being studied by the state.

State lawmakers appropriated $500,000 to study replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel that would take State Route 99 and rail traffic, Morrison noted.

The secretary said Chapman’s “idea of going underground fits better for the Alaskan Way Viaduct because we fel that [the viaduct] is coming down,” either by design or as result of an earthquake.

One benefit of a waterfront tunnel would be the creation of a strong seawall, Morrison said.

He added that an underground route could be built in two levels, one for automobile traffic and the other for trains, or a single level with rail and motor vehicle traffic divided.

There is general agreement that the current Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks through downtown, including a mile-long tunnel, do not have enough capacity for increased freight and passenger traffic over the long term.