The Voice for Industry
|January 7, 2009|
Better Bang for Bigger Buck?
More time to study the Alaskan Way Viaduct? More research to see if the viaduct should be replaced by what may be the most expensive alternative, a deep bore tunnel?
If you'd posed such questions a couple of months ago, you would have been laughed right out of the Seattle Industry ebulletin. But while the region experienced the blizzards and bliss of the 2008 holiday season, the deep bore tunnel emerged to receive new consideration from Governor Gregoire and the other powers-that-be.
Further study of the deep bore option is a wise choice. Here are four reasons why.
First, there is potential a deep bore tunnel could be built while the existing viaduct remains operational, with the viaduct coming down as the tunnel opens for traffic. If this bears out, it could spare us a half decade of traffic snarls in the SR 99 and Interstate 5 corridor that would result from disrupting the existing viaduct while a new one is built. This is a key difference between a deep bore tunnel and the cut-and-cover tunnel proposed a while back. During construction, the cut-and-cover would have been one of the most disruptive viaduct options for traffic congestion while the deep bore tunnel might prove to be the least disruptive.
Second, the deep bore tunnel may be able to finally end the argument over whether the viaduct is about urban beautification or transportation. If the tunnel works, it might be able to handle enough through traffic to meet regional economic needs while clearing the central waterfront for the kind of urban amenities desired by those who want to tear down the old viaduct.
Third, the deep bore tunnel might actually get built.
City officials say they'll never issue permits to replace the viaduct with another elevated structure. We believe them. Anti-elevated sentiment is more deeply rooted in city government than the blue-eyed grass and tufted saxifrage that are growing in the green roof at City Hall. The state might be able to someday force the city's hand, but it may take years for the legal drama to play out while we would shovel public resources to lawyers that could have gone for boring machines.
This brings us to the fourth reason – cost. The tunnel may well prove to be the most expensive option, but it may provide the greatest value for the reasons already described and the final price tag should be considered within the following context.
According to state and city tax records, in 2006 commercial aircraft production in this region and the industrial base of Seattle generated combined sales revenues of about $65 billion. That was more than half the $122 billion produced by the state's entire manufacturing output for 2006 and the export-laced regional revenue was generated almost entirely by workers and companies that depend every day on the transportation through capacity provided by the SR 99 and I5 corridor.
The visionaries say the viaduct requires a decision based on 50-year or even 100-year time frames. We agree. Multiply $65 billion by 50 or 100 times and it might justify the cost of a deep bore tunnel pretty darned fast.
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Forecasts indicate that portions of Interstate 5 in Lewis County could be underwater as early as this afternoon. WSDOT crews are monitoring the entire corridor and will immediately take the necessary measures to close the road if it becomes unsafe for vehicles.
All three major east-west mountain pass highways through the Cascade Mountains are closed at this hour due to avalanche danger and mudslides. Motorists should anticipate additional travel delays and road closures.
Route information is available at the WSDOT web site, www.wsdot.wa.gov and drivers are encouraged to check conditions along their entire route. WSDOT has established a county-by-county list of road closures at: www.wsdot.wa.gov/news/update/.
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