Councilmember Licata left office on January 1, 2016.
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Urban Politics #137: Forum On Replacing The Viaduct

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


Forum On Replacing The Viaduct

At noon in the City Council Chambers 11TH FLOOR – 600 4TH Ave

Bring your brown bag lunch and listen to the following panelists tackle the following questions:

1.  Does It Make Sense To Rebuild The Viaduct?

2.  Do We Have The Money?

3.  If Not, Who Will Pay? Who Will Benefit?

4.  Do The Public Benefits Outweigh The Public Costs?

Panelists: House Speaker Frank Chopp Representative Helen Sommers, Chair, House Appropriations Committee Rob Ketcherside, Pedestrian Advisory Board Philip Wohlstetter, President, Allied Arts Victor Gray, Civil & Structural Engineer

There will be opportunities for public queries. For more information, call 206-684-8803 or e-mail

Why Cost Is An Important Element

The future of the Alaskan Way Viaduct could be the biggest capital investment the City of Seattle faces in the next 50 years. Cost estimates vary from $3.5 billion to rebuild the viaduct to over $11.6 billion for a tunnel. The City Council passed a resolution favoring a tunnel option, and the Washington State Department of Transportation has announced a tunnel as their preferred alternative. But shouldn’t we be asking if a tunnel is an affordable option?

I believe that our public institutions are moving too quickly to close the debate as to whether the Alaskan Way Viaduct should be rebuilt. For instance the City Council passed a resolution supporting tunneling the Viaduct over rebuilding it without holding a public hearing which could have highlighted the cost differential and explored where the tax burden would fall.

Replacing the Viaduct is no small matter. The cost difference between rebuilding an earthquake secure Viaduct and under grounding it, is equivalent in public investment dollars to building 12 football stadiums. Keep in mind that the vote to build the football stadium passed by only 51% of the votes cast after the proponents outspent the opposition fifty to one. The public is not easily convinced to increase their tax burden.

I agree with the Mayor when he says that the Viaduct is a top transportation priority for the region and with Gov. Locke when he says that, “I believe replacement of the Viaduct is equal in importance to any other transportation priority in the state or region.” But let us not confuse obtaining an earthquake safe solution with loading up a project with so many add-ons that only an immense sugar daddy can pay – or lacking one, look in the mirror for who is going to pick up the tab.

Seattle Time’s columnist Bruce Ramsey ( wrote in this Wednesday’s paper that the likely cost of the tunnel option comes out to more than $21,500 for each man, woman and child in the city. And how much assistance can we count on from the other government bodies? Even if State Referendum 51 passes increasing the gas tax, and a regional transportation sales increase tax passes, and a toll is levied on the new tunnel, four-fifths of the projected cost is still not covered.

And finally where we spend our dollars determines who benefits. Public investments should be distributed as fairly as possible throughout the city. Otherwise massive projects can tap revenue sources which could be used for investments in other parts of the city. For instance why is it that we could not afford the additional $400 million (in 1995 dollars) for undergrounding Sound Transit’s light rail in Rainier Valley, but we can afford over ten times that amount to underground the Viaduct?

These are some of the issues that the Public Forum I’m sponsoring on August 7th will address. I invite you to attend and to decide for yourself how we should proceed with the task of replacing the present Alaskan Way Viaduct.


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