This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Nearly a decade after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake rattled what little faith traffic engineers had in the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s structural integrity, a few Seattle politicians continue to debate how best to replace the 57-year-old structure.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she’s had enough. She plans to tell the viaduct oversight committee today that time’s up.
“We may have disagreements on some subjects, but we’ve got to move forward,” Gregoire told reporters by phone from Washington, D.C., where she was testifying on, of all things, disaster readiness. “We’ve processed this to death.”
Death by process is a Seattle specialty. But in this case, it’s not just a $4.2 billion transportation project at stake – it’s lives. State highway engineers say there is a 10 percent chance in the next 10 years that parts of the viaduct will collapse in an earthquake.
Those odds are too high for any highway span, much less one that carries 110,000 vehicles a day.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn opposes the state’s plan to replace the viaduct with a deep bored tunnel. He’s promised to veto a city-state agreement necessary for the project to proceed.
Fortunately, a veto-proof majority of the Seattle City Council supports the project. But McGinn’s opposition is just enough to keep the waters roiling.
State officials have been exceedingly patient with Seattle. Gregoire originally said the viaduct was coming down no later than 2012. Now the plan is for it to stay in place until the tunnel is finished in 2015.
That timeline depends on getting contracts approved this summer that will allow the project to move ahead. Further dithering won’t buy better options – just continued risk that the aging viaduct will make good on engineers’ warnings.