Urban Politics #227: Viaduct Vote


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata with assitance from my LA 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.

CONTENTS:

    • PROPOSED BALLOT MEASURE FOR ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT
    • GOVERNOR’S REPORT AND PATH FORWARD
    • TEXT OF PROPOSED BALLOT MEASURE
    • LETTER FROM GOVERNOR
    • OTHER EFFORTS
    • FINAL NOTE

 

PROPOSED BALLOT MEASURE FOR ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT

I have drafted and will introduce, along with Councilmember David Della, a measure for a Seattle public vote on a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The measure calls for a vote between an elevated option and a tunnel. The measure would implement the Governor’s proposal for a vote of Seattle residents.

 

GOVERNOR’S REPORT AND PATH FORWARD

On December 15, Governor Christine Gregoire issued a report on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and State Route 520, with findings and a recommended Path Forward to Action. The Governor found the finance plan for the tunnel alternative ‘not feasible and sufficient to complete the project.’ The Governor found the finance plan for the elevated structure alternative ‘feasible and sufficient to complete the project.’

She noted that it is clear that state and city officials intend to obstruct the choice of an alternative with which they disagree ‘therefore, my findings alone will not move the project forward.’ To break the stalemate, she proposed a public vote of Seattle voters between two options, an Elevated Structure and a Tunnel. She said the ballot question should also ask whether Seattle voters are willing to accept the additional cost of a tunnel.

She noted the state is willing to pay the costs for replacement of the Viaduct, but said the City would need to pay for additional costs for a tunnel, including any cost overruns resulting from the tunnel option. She said the City would need to make a ‘binding financial commitment’ to cover those costs, in a Project Municipal Agreement with the State. In addition, the agreement ‘must inform voters about the sources and certainty of the funding to which the city would be committed if the tunnel were the option selected.’

She said the vote needed to happen soon, before the end of the 2007 State Legislative session. In the report, she rejected other alternatives, including the retrofit, surface, Elliott Bay Bridge, Western Avenue Tunnel, or a bored tunnel.

Click here to view the report.

 

TEXT OF PROPOSED BALLOT MEASURE

The ballot measure conforms to the Governor’s request that Seattle voters be asked whether they prefer a tunnel or an elevated structure, and whether Seattle voters are willing to accept the additional cost of the tunnel, and what sources of funding might be needed.

The text of my proposed ballot title is below:

Seattle Advisory Ballot Measure Number 1 concerns a preferred alternative for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This measure is advisory only. If you vote for the tunnel alternative, you are stating that you prefer that a tunnel be constructed to replace the present Alaskan Way Viaduct. If you vote for the new elevated structure alternative, you are stating that you prefer that a new elevated structure be constructed to replace the present Alaskan Way Viaduct.

‘I prefer the tunnel alternative which has secured $2.4 billion of a likely total cost of $4.6 billion’
‘I prefer the new elevated structure alternative which has $2.4 billion of secured funding of a likely total cost of $2.8 billion’

If the Federal or State Governments do not provide revenue above the amount that is secured, additional local taxes, such as a property tax, may be required.

I have scheduled Special Full Council meetings for January 19th which is the last day that the Council can vote to place something on a March 13 ballot. The State sets dates that allow for local elections, and March 13 is the only one available before the end of the state legislative session on April 22.

 

LETTER FROM GOVERNOR

The Governor sent me a letter as Council President on January 4, further clarifying her position, in response to press inquiries about what she would do if Seattle residents are not given the opportunity to vote.

She stated, ‘if there is no resolution of this issue by the end of the legislations session, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will move forward with the elevated structure alternative.’

Click here to view the letter at the Seattle Times website.

In response, I sent her a letter on January 5 stating my intent to introduce the ballot measure along with Councilmember Della. I noted that the City Attorney, Tom Carr, has statutory authority to draft ballot language for the City of Seattle, and is reviewing my proposal. She subsequently sent a letter to House Speaker Frank Chopp and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels containing my proposal, for their consideration, as they had indicated a willingness to ‘work together on a mutually acceptable ballot measure.’

 

OTHER EFFORTS

Councilmember Jan Drago is also heading up an effort to see if an alternative proposal could be acceptable to the Governor and the Speaker of the House. She is working closely with the new House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn and other key decision makers from Seattle. If this effort succeeds, then there would be no need for a vote according to the Governor’s prior comments.

Nevertheless, there would still be a need for the City and the State to formally adopt a comprehensive Project Municipal Agreement stating who would be responsible for any increases in project costs. The Mayor’s Office is currently heading this effort and believes they are near agreement.

 

FINAL NOTE

Lastly, I also recognize that it is conceivable the Council will decide not to hold a vote at all, or to have one that does not include projects costs and the willingness of Seattle voters to accept financial responsibility for tunnel-related additional costs.

If a ballot title does not include this last information, I have been told firmly by the Speaker of the House that it will be ignored in the State Legislature. Consequently we might as well save ourselves some money and not hold this type of election.

If the Council does not place anything on the ballot then the future of the Viaduct replacement would appear to be in the hands of the State Legislature. And your guess is as good as mine as to what they would do with the money currently earmarked for replacing the Viaduct.

Keep in touch…

 

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