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Grab your wallets: McGinn’s got plans

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on April 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
April 20, 2010 8:32 am

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

As expected, Seattle’s new mayor, Michael McGinn, is giving non-Seattleites reason to change the PINs on their debit cards.

McGinn, like many environmentalists, doesn’t much like cars. No problem there: Just about anyone might get sick of cars after living in congested Seattle long enough. But McGinn’s Seattlecentric approach to transportation keeps threatening to run up the state’s bill on the planned Alaskan Way tunnel and Highway 520 bridge.

We will, however, give the mayor half-credit for trying to keep light rail in the design for the new bridge across Lake Washington.

The tunnel is supposed to replace the old concrete double-deck viaduct that runs like the Berlin Wall’s ugly cousin along the Seattle waterfront. McGinn doesn’t like the tunnel idea, never did like it; he’d have preferred a surface-street replacement that would carry fewer cars on the assumption that Seattle drivers are aching to take the bus.
That option having been discarded, McGinn is now trying to undo the 2009 legislative deal under which Seattle was required to accept the risk of any cost overruns on the tunnel.

It’s clear now that Seattle’s going to need a lot of reminding about that deal. It went like this: Seattle leaders, including then-Mayor Greg Nickels, demanded the tunnel instead of a new viaduct or the car-hostile surface option.
OK, said lawmakers: You can order the high-priced entrée, but you’ve got to pay the difference. We’ll commit $2.8 billion in state money, but the overruns will be on your tab – especially since your downtown property values will explode after the viaduct comes down and the waterfront is opened.

Earlier this month, McGinn wrote Gov. Chris Gregoire, saying, in effect, that he’s willing to work with the state on the tunnel as long as the negotiations include getting Seattle off the hook for those potential overruns. That issue is “unresolved,” he said.

Actually, the Legislature resolved it. The relevant law – cited by McGinn himself – says: “Any costs in excess of two billion eight hundred million dollars shall be borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit from replacement of the existing viaduct with the deep bore tunnel.”

That language could not be clearer, though we suspect it will have to be revisited ad nauseam before McGinn and other Seattleites understand that lawmakers meant exactly what they said.

As for Highway 520, McGinn is rightly pushing the state Department of Transportation – which is making final design choices – to not preclude the possibility of creating a light rail link across the new bridge. The DOT absolutely should keep open the option of running rail between Bellevue and the already-planned light rail station at the University of Washington.

McGinn’s wrong, though, in wanting to stop the $4.6 billion project so that light rail can be fast-tracked, if that’s the right word for a project that would take many years to deliver.

Again, there’s an anti-car agenda lurking here somewhere. Some Seattleites begrudge every inch of roadway reserved for automobiles on that bridge. They’ve succeeded in narrowing the planned replacement bridge to six lanes (three each way) and would like to two of those lanes restricted to mass transit only – buses and light rail.

Any delay will run up the bill by hundreds of millions of dollars and leave open the possibility of making that bridge even less hospitable to the autos (including carpools) most people in the real world need to get to and from work.

We don’t know if that’s McGinn’s intent, but some Seattleites who share his instincts will try to nibble those lanes to death, given half a chance.

Get on with those designs, DOT.

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