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Gregoire signs bill to replace Alaskan Way Viaduct with tunnel

Post by News Tribune Staff on May 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm with No Comments »
May 12, 2009 3:13 pm

I thought Gov. Chris Gregoire might veto the provision in the bill that lays any cost overruns for the tunnel in the lap of downtown Seattle businesses that benefit from having the viaduct removed from the Seattle waterfront. But I’m told there was a deal to keep House Speaker Frank Chopp‘s language in the bill.

I’m also told that provision probably can’t be enforced anyway, so it might as well stay in. Senate Bill 5768 says others have to pay for cost overruns, but when push comes to shove, the state will be signing to contract with whatever company does the work. I think everyone is hoping — as DOT Secretary Paula Hammond promised — that there will be no cost overruns.

The amendment gave some promise that taxpayers statewide would not have to pay for any cost overruns beyond the $2.8 billion the state is sorta committing. (The state budget says $2.4 billion, and there MIGHT be another $400 million from tolls. But who do you think will pay that $400 million if DOT decides not to put tolls on the tunnel? State taxpayers.)

I’m not sure what Chopp’s motives are by putting the cost-overrun language in. Maybe he really is looking out for taxpayers across the state. Maybe he’s afraid the viaduct replacement will suck up so much state money that there won’t be enough left to pay for the Highway 520 project, which connects his Seattle district to King County’s Eastside.

Alaskan Way is a $4.24 billion project. Highway 520 is at least a $4.65 billion project. If they both cost that much, how much money is left for project in the rest of the state.

By signing the bill, The Guv clears the way for DOT go out out an order a drill bit about the size of a three-story house.

Oh yeah, tolls aren’t a done deal on the project. There’s still another study to see how much money could be raised from tolls. The report is due next year.

Gov. Gregoire Signs SR 99 Bored Tunnel Bill

SEATTLE – Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5768, which approves a deep bored tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct along the central waterfront. Today’s action is a major step toward replacing the aging Viaduct.

"The time for debate is over and now it is time for action," Gregoire said. "The new SR 99 tunnel will provide transportation capacity for the future, create a world-class waterfront on Seattle’s front door, and generate thousands of new family-wage jobs in the Puget Sound region."

Gov. Gregoire was joined by transportation committee chairs Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, Rep. Judy Clibborn, Senator Ed Murray, bill prime sponsor, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton, Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, and King County Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi.

“I’m very excited that we’re moving forward with a safe and reliable replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct,” said Haugen (D-Camano Island). “This is the result of the hard work of hundreds of people from across the state, and fulfills our commitment to replace a vital transportation corridor through downtown Seattle.”

A year-long study of solutions for replacing the central section of the viaduct led to agreement to proceed with the bored tunnel from a broad coalition of business, environmental, labor, and neighborhood groups. Thousands of hours of technical analysis, public meetings, and letters and emails from the public, interest groups, and local jurisdictions were considered.

"Today is the culmination of years of debate over how to best address this critical safety issue," said Clibborn (D-Mercer Island). "We’ve worked collaboratively with stakeholders, and we’re now ready to move forward with a firm plan."

"We are committed to building the viaduct replacement safely and efficiently," said Hammond. "We will maintain a strong oversight role before, during, and after construction."

Construction is under way on the south mile replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Utility relocation and building demolition will make room for the new section of SR 99 near the sport stadiums, which will improve access into downtown Seattle from south King County and West Seattle. The new south mile will be open to traffic in 2012 and will allow drivers to continue to use the viaduct during tunnel construction.

The two-mile long bored tunnel is part of a program of investments agreed to by Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Nickels in January. Other projects include enhanced bus service, improved east-west city streets, a new central waterfront seawall, relocated utilities, and a new waterfront promenade.

Construction of the bored tunnel will begin in 2011 and be open to drivers in 2015. The total cost for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, including the bored tunnel and the new south mile of SR 99 near the sport stadiums, is estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The legislation caps the state’s contribution at $2.8 billion, with the Port of Seattle expected to contribute up to $300 million.

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