Beginning of the End
Posted: February 18, 2011
So long on-ramp - for now
The Seattle Super Sonics suffered their third loss in a row. President Bush was seeking a $1.6 trillion tax cut while promising to reign in spending. Columnist Jean Godden reported that at a recent lunch the Tacoma port director spilled a glass of red wine on Seattle port chief Mic Dinsmore. And, the chambers of commerce for Seattle and Bellevue were issuing a call for regional funds to rebuild the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge.
If Seattle Times readers were still perusing these and other items in the newspaper at 10:54 am on February 28, 2001, they were about to feel a rumble at their feet that would signal a seismic shift in Seattle’s civic landscape that sends aftershocks to this very day.
But, nearly ten years to day after the Nisqually Quake the saga of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will take a fateful turn over President Day’s Weekend as construction begins in earnest in the effort to finally replace the viaduct.
The north-bound viaduct on-ramp from 1st Avenue South next to Qwest Field will be torn down over the weekend in the first major step in a three year, $476 million effort to replace the southern portion of the viaduct as it approaches the central waterfront.
The replacement ramp is already almost complete and construction crews hope to have it reconnected with the viaduct by April 1.
In the meantime, those who use the ramp will be on their own to find an alternative route because there is no detour route.
There is no detour route for the simple reason there is no way to provide one, given the Emerald City’s gorgeous but crazy topography.
The absence of an alternative route somehow seems appropriate since things are never easy when it comes to our deeply loved, highly hated and hotly debated elevated highway.
Is the ramp tear-down the beginning of the end? Or, the end of the beginning?
Will the rebuilt southern portion of the viaduct wind up dropping down someday into the deep bore tunnel? Or will it drop to Mayor McGinn’s preference, the much dreaded surface option.
Nobody knows because so many political episodes of the soap opera are still unwritten but based on a few recent developments, we bet the story ends with the deep bore tunnel, and here’s why.
Initiative efforts are underway to let city voters pick which viaduct replacement option they prefer. But these efforts will wind up DOA.
Government jurisdiction on the project is divided – the state owns the viaduct while the city owns the land beneath it - but the replacement structure is a state project funded with $2.4 billion in statewide funds and it would take a statewide initiative to challenge it.
The replacement budget also includes about $300 million in federal funds and the federal government does not allow citizens rights of initiatives or referendums.
So, one way or another, in one court or another, the initiatives will be tossed out if they don’t die of their own weight.
Previous mayor Greg Nickels used to hint the city would withhold building permits for a plan to rebuild a completely elevated viaduct replacement, and the specter of Mayor McGinn and his high-minded friends at the Sierra Club continue to loom over the tunnel from his HQ in City Hall.
But the recent tunnel-related dispute involving the downtown federal building was a helpful reminder of some nuts and bolts of the government pecking order.
State officials have to satisfy the federal officials that the tunnel won’t harm the old federal building because the state cannot condemn federal land to allow the project to move forward. When it comes to government, the feds usually trump everyone.
However, city governments are subunits of state government, and if need be, the state can condemn city property. So, the city’s chokehold on the project is not as firm as some city officials have tried to make it seem.
The Mayor could still try to withhold building permits, but that strategy is doomed if the mayor continues to buck up against seven city council members who want the tunnel. It takes seven votes to override a veto and presently the tunnel is supported by eight council members.
So, after the President Day tear down, the next big turning point will come in November when five of the present nine council members will be up for re-election. Those members are Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Tom Rasmussen, Sally Clark and Jean Godden – yes, the very same Jean Godden who reported in her column about the red wine spilled on Mic Dinsmore’s fastidious white shirt..
If the Mayor’s team can pick up two of those seats in November, there will be three “no” tunnel votes on the council and Mayor McGinn’s veto power rises like the Enola Gay carrying the political A-bomb that blows up the tunnel.
But, if four of the incumbents are re-elected, the council majority would hold the seven council votes necessary to make the veto threat moot.
Next stop? Tunnel.
WSDOT has an outstanding web presentation of all the road changes that will become part of the south end replacement project at http://wsdot.wa.gov/projects/viaduct/simulations/ .
We Punch Above Our Weight
Jon Talton wrote an insightful article for the Seattle Times on Feb 5th, 2011: Manufacturing is back, but it isn't pretty. The experience of the Great Recession and its run-up underscored the importance of maintaining a sector that actually makes productive things. In the article Dave Gering from the MIC was quoated.
(In case you haven't heard)
First Ave Ramps to/from SR 99
The southbound off-ramp from SR 99 to S. Royal Brougham Way will be closed from 7 p.m. Friday, Feb 18th to 5 a.m. Monday, Feb 21 for ramp demolition work.
The northbound on-ramp from First Avenue S. to SR 99 will be closed at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 18. The ramp will reopen on or before Friday, April 1, and will be accessed from S. Royal Brougham Way.
Argo Bridge is Closing Soon
Airport Way South Viaduct over Argo Railroad Yard Rehabilitation Project is under way. Starting around April 1st the bridge will close for 12-14 months. All vehicles will detour to 4th Ave S. and bicycles to 1st Ave S in order to cross over the Railroad yard. For more info go to: www.seattle.gov/transportation/bridgerehab_airportargo.htm
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