Stop the Big Dig West

Seattle City Council should reconsider tunnel

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The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) believes it is time for WSDOT and the Seattle City Council to reconsider the $3.1 billion bored hole tunnel that is slated to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Here’s why:

According to an analysis by Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology based on recent information by the Seattle DOT, trips by automobile have declined by 6% from 2000 to 2009, while at the same time the population increased by nearly 10%. That equates to 14% fewer trips per capita. In fact, whether you look at the city of Seattle, King County or the Seattle metro as a whole, driving is down even as the population increased.

The reasons for this make sense, as in that same timeframe the city has made more efficient use of its existing network of streets, started light rail service, improved bus and commuter rail service, created better bicycle facilities, made the downtown more pedestrian-friendly, and set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. All of this needs to be celebrated!

So why are we spending excessively to build a tunnel to bypass downtown Seattle? Why build a tunnel that encourages more driving? Why build a tunnel that will clog city streets near its entrances? And why build a tunnel that may sacrifice the integrity of historic buildings?

Apparently for a population that wants to drive less and live in a better urban environment. It’s senseless, since committing to traffic expansion undercuts the city’s world class commitment to tackling climate change.  Equally questionable is WSDOT’s justification for the $3.1 billion bored tunnel is predicated on forecast increased travel demand, when the evidence indicates otherwise.

Furthermore, these updated traffic statistics vindicate the report prepared by Smart Mobility in 2006 regarding viaduct replacement, commissioned by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Congress for the New Urbanism. This analysis found that strategies which reconnect street networks, particularly in the presence of incentives, would result in "disappearing" traffic, a finding that researchers from around the US and around the world have duplicated. Read the Smart Mobility report here: http://www.cnu.org/sites/www.cnu.org/files/SmartMobilityReport.pdf

The justification for building the bored tunnel is based in information that is being proven to be way off. It is increasingly clear that the Seattle region doesn’t need, and shouldn’t have to pay for, a $3.1 billion tunnel for cars bypassing the urban core. According to Bernstein, “Seattle should stay the course and celebrate its disappearing traffic and replace its viaduct with a waterfront boulevard connected to the street grid and mass transit. This will be a cost-reducing investment that pays permanent dividends."