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WSDOT’s secrecy undercuts its own tunnel plans

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
August 5, 2011 3:33 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The state Department of Transportation really does want to build a deep-bore tunnel to replace the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct, right?

Why in the world, then, are transportation officials giving tunnel opponents campaign fodder by denying their request for public records?

Late last week, the group behind an Aug. 16 referendum on the tunnel went to court, supposedly to force the state to produce the latest version of the tunnel financing plan.

State officials had earlier denied the document request, invoking the “deliberative process” exemption to the public records law because the financing plan is currently being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration.

But no need for concern, the state insists. The plan hasn’t significantly changed from the details a DOT staffer emailed a reporter in 2009: a $4.2 billion tunnel with about $1.9 billion in interest on 25-year bonds at 5.8 percent.

As for the actual finance plan, the one submitted to the feds? The state says it will release that sometime later this month – after the election.

Good grief. Why didn’t they just go ahead and add, “Trust us, we’re from the government”?

Predictably, the anti-tunnel campaign is making hay over the denial, suggesting that the state won’t release the financing plan because a big hole has developed in its revenue projections.

And so rages the debate as Seattle voters continue to cast their ballots on Referendum 1, which asks whether the City of Seattle should give the state notice to proceed with the tunnel project.

Legally, the results of the election – another stall in Seattle’s protracted dithering over how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct damaged in the 2001 earthquake – mean little.

The referendum can’t stop the state from moving a state highway underground. But the political ramifications could be another matter. Gov. Chris Gregoire, a tunnel supporter, is concerned enough to email her Seattle supporters last week, urging them to vote yes on the referendum.

Transportation officials are playing games with the public records act. While the law permits an agency to refuse to release preliminary recommendations and memos, nothing requires an agency to withhold such documents.

And if there are portions that really can’t be made public for whatever reason? Well, that’s what Sharpies are for.

The Department of Transportation should quit feeding the anti-tunnel campaign its lines and release what it can – now, while on-the-fence voters are looking for reasons to trust the state’s assurances that the tunnel is their best bet.

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