Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dysfunction Junction

I can't say Joni Balter is my favorite Seattle Times columnist, but her column today perfectly summarizes why Eastern Washingtonians don't trust Seattle, Olympia, or the Washington Democratic Party:
After six years of talking, four legislative sessions aimed at raising the gas tax to pay for new roads, umpteen studies and meetings, we've come to a sad but logical stop in Washington transportation: Dysfunction Junction.

The dispute over how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is reminiscent of a high-school class that can't decide how to use a big pot of dance money. New gymnastics uniforms! Red Bull in the water fountains! La-Z-Boy recliners in the classrooms!

There is plenty of blame to go around, at least in part because the agenda is so mercurial. At first, the line was the viaduct had to be replaced for safety reasons because the roadway could come down in another earthquake. Then Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels changed the agenda to city beautification with rabid-dog insistence that a tunnel, any tunnel, must be built to reconnect the city with the waterfront.

More recently, the discussion turned to global warming. Somehow, cars inside a tunnel are more politically correct than cars on an elevated roadway. I don't get it.

A more astute group of Democrats — and these are all Democrats — coulda shoulda woulda had a meeting or two, reached agreement and presented one coherent idea to a leery public that isn't sure it wants any big spending project, let alone one no one agrees on.

This week, the fight reached absolute boiling point. The thing has dragged on so long because Nickels and the City Council at the last minute changed one option that would then go on the March 13 ballot, from a six-lane tunnel to something called Tunnel Lite.

This four-lane roadway would rely on shoulders at peak hours to accommodate traffic. But this option was unvetted. Even the price placed on the ballot, also at the last minute, $3.4 billion, was more of a guess-timate. The other option on the ballot is an elevated roadway replacement.

Tuesday, the state Department of Transportation, citing "serious safety and operational problems," announced Tunnel Lite would not work.

The city predictably yelled foul. But David Dye, urban corridors office administrator for the state Department of Transportation and the man in charge of vetting, is a serious professional. He talks about engineering and a highway system that works, not something politically contrived. Barney the Bureaucrat, as he jokingly refers to himself, is so sturdy and credible I would buy a vacuum cleaner from him.

In recent months, Gov. Christine Gregoire has appeared indecisive and caught between two strong-willed politicians. One is House Speaker Frank Chopp, an elevated-roadway advocate who can be so overbearing he gets really mad if you say so. The other is Nickels, who can accept only a tunnel, even if it stalls Seattle's agenda in Olympia and taints the city's regional reputation for decades. He's got to have the tunnel, got to have the legacy, got to have his way.

This week, the governor, the speaker and the state Senate got their collective act together enough to rally around the Department of Transportation report. The four-lane tunnel won't work. The elevated roadway is the only viable option.

The only other possibility is the so-called surface option — an idea not on the March 13 ballot.

The surface option involves tearing down the viaduct and expanding and enhancing the surface boulevard while boosting mass transit. This option is moving up in status simply because it is everybody's favorite Plan B. Both Chopp and Nickels say they could live with this plan.

But the surface option has plenty of flaws. It, too, will block the waterfront from the rest of the city with 70,000 cars and everything else whizzing by every day. Try "reconnecting to the waterfront" once this baby is up and running.

Also, relying on the surface road probably dumps too many cars onto downtown streets and onto Interstate 5. Instead of solving a transportation problem, it may end up creating one.

Short of issuing jet packs to all Seattle citizens who want to use the surface option, this proposal needs a ton of work. People idealize it because they don't know enough about it.

For now, here at Dysfunction Junction, there is plenty of blame to go around. But the most bruised politicians should be those in Seattle.

In Olympia, lawmakers from around the state often bristle at the audacity of Seattle. But the bad vibes are even stronger this year. Lawmakers worked for years to secure the gas-tax funds. Other cities and counties would love to have some of that money and would be most agreeable if it were offered. And all Seattle can do is yip and yowl that it must have an expensive tunnel or all bets are off.

Our region awaits one true traffic cop who can step in and steer us out of this multi-car pileup.
Remember, a majority of Whitman County voters bought that line about the "earthquake danger" in 2005 and voted against I-912 which would have preemptively stopped all this tunnel nonsense. And Balter is right. Road projects on our side of the state go begging while these moonbat blowhards debate about "global warming" and the tunnel.

Where are you Dino Rossi?

1 comment:

Satanic Mechanic said...

No Tunnel! This is a huge money pit! Need I cite the example of the billion dollar tunnel under Boston that had to be shut down due to construction errors. That project was WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY over budget. The only reason why that project got federal money to fund to complete it was Ted Kennedy promised not to drive anymore!