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After remaining neutral until now, Cascade comes out against the tunnel

The Cascade Bicycle Club has remained neutral on the proposed deep bore tunnel, saying they want a solution that makes the city better for cycling. Today, the club announced on its blog that it endorses voting “no” on Referendum 1:

The Club has taken the position that any chosen alternative should improve bicycle access to and around the Seattle waterfront. Either a surface/transit/I-5 or tunnel alternative could have achieved this goal. However, when WSDOT changed the purpose of the project from moving “people and goods[i]” in a variety of ways, to providing “essential vehicle capacity[ii]”, we saw a move away from improving bicycle, pedestrian and transit access in favor of improving car capacity.

Since elected officials chose the deep-bore tunnel as the preferred choice, study of how improvements to surface streets, transit and I-5 can accommodate transportation demands has been inadequate. The state’s own traffic model shows that the project would divert thousands of additional vehicles per day directly onto adjacent streets. This produces significant new traffic from SODO, downtown and the waterfront to South Lake Union and does not create bicycle-friendly streets. If the deep-bore tunnel moves forward under the current plan, we question whether there will be funding available to make critical complementary investments that make the areas impacted by the project safe for bicycling and walking.

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This is pretty big news. This very large organization has somehow made it this far without really weighing in on the debate. But in light of the state’s environmental impact statement and the state’s change of focus from moving “people and goods” to “vehicles,” the bicycle club has determined the deep bore tunnel would make the city worse for biking.

I have argued several times on this site against building the tunnel. It is a massive investment against our goals as a city, and the state’s own studies show that the tunnel will actually make traffic worse than the more reasonable and flexible streets/transit/I-5 option. In fact, the tunnel would result in similar traffic compared to simply tearing the viaduct down and doing nothing to replace it.

It is still worth it to fight the tunnel, no matter how sick you are of hearing about it. The scale of the mistake is enormous. To put the cost in perspective, you could buy every resident in the state of Washington a $300 bicycle for the cost of this tunnel. You could buy every resident of King County an Orca pass for a year and still have money left over. The state estimates a measly 47,000 vehicles per day will use the tunnel. That’s $42,000 per daily tunnel user.

So the arguments about mobility for those people who need to get from the south to the north without going downtown (or using I-5, a huge north-south freeway not that far away) don’t hold water. Is it worth $42,000 to move one motor vehicle (likely one person) per day on this route? That is subsidizing transportation on an astronomical scale and it simply does not make sense.

Politicians are doing mental gymnastics trying to justify this thing. The Seattle Times’ argument for the tunnel is basically: “The mayor lied once and also there is bureaucracy in state funding.” Those are not good reasons to build a $2 billion tunnel (in fact, one is not even a valid argument).

I was particularly disturbed by what project manager Ron Paananen told the Seattle Times in a recent story:

Anti-tunnel campaigners have gone so far as to argue, “The tunnel is no better for traffic than letting the viaduct fall down and doing nothing to replace it.”

Highway 99 project Administrator Ron Paananen says that sound bite defies logic. A tunnel that can move 90,000 cars a day would be better for overall traffic than simply losing a highway, he said.

Defies logic? It is more than clear that building more highways to improve traffic is an exercise in futility. It does not work and will not work. Here’s a video from StreetFilms about it. Even Car & Driver Magazine sees this to be the case. This is backwards thinking left over from the 1960s and has no place in the efficient, liveable and responsible city Seattle could be.

The experiment of urban highway construction was tried in every city in our county and failed miserably every time. We have hindsight to see that it has not worked so far, we have foresight in the state’s study to see that it will not work in the future. In the meantime, we have examples like the removal of San Fransisco’s Embarcadero to show us that removing an urban highway can be successful in our city.

In some ways, this debate boils down to whether you have confidence in Seattle or not. To say that we must invest $42,000 to move a car from sodo to northwest Seattle because we cannot possible find another way to make that trip happen efficiently is to admit defeat in our principles. We want to reduce carbon emissions, we want to be innovative and we want our city to be livable, but not if it means a bunch of people will have to take the bus or drive on I-5 or a street with stoplights.

We can make smart choices that would, for at least $1 billion less, make those 47,000 vehicle trips (or more!) per day simply disappear. We can invest in transportation diversity and choice instead of a personal vehicle monoculture that is already on the decline in our city. We are smart people with an opportunity to invest in the future instead of the past.

Vote No on Referendum 1.

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14 responses to “After remaining neutral until now, Cascade comes out against the tunnel”

  1. Todd Holman

    We don’t need a tunnel. It’s bloated waste.

  2. Chris

    The most frustrating thing about Seattle is this city’s complete inability to make a decision and do anything in a timely manner.

    We had 3 yes votes before having a no vote and scrapping the monorail. We’re still arguing about how to get light rail to the east side and we’re still arguing about replacing the viaduct that was damaged in the 2001 earthquake. The contracts are signed, some of the work is already being done, and there have been what 2 votes on this project already?, it’s time to build the tunnel.

    Can’t wait to see how long it takes to actually start construction on the 520 bridge.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      If you want the debate to move on faster, then sure, vote for the tunnel. But the tunnel option keeps the viaduct up the longest (until at least 2016!). If you want the viaduct down faster and a solution in place sooner, then vote against the tunnel.

      1. Chris

        That’s simply not the case. WSDOT’s FEIS has the timelines for the three alternatives studies on page 13


        Replacing the viaduct with another elevated structure would leave part of the existing structure up from S. King to Pike until 2019. A bored tunnel has the shortest construction timeline and gets the existing structure down faster than any of the 3 studied.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Thanks for the link. I did not see that page. However it only looks at a cut and cover tunnel and a new elevated, not the streets/transit/I-5 option I am arguing for. But you are right about it not being the most delayed option.

      3. Chris

        Tom, I love your blog, but I work in environmental planning. The three alternatives studied in the EIS are the three options available at this point. If we scrap the tunnel option the only other 2 options are cut and cover or another elevated structure.

        If we were to advocate for your solution it would have to go back through the NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act) a public process that takes even more time to complete well before the project can be implemented. The key words here are “public process” something that Seattle seems to think means, “everyone gets to talk for 10 years”. Hell, it took 20 years for the first floating bridge to get built.

        Anyway, keep up the good work. We’ll just disagree on this one.

  3. Keith

    I fear:

    a) Seattle proceeds with the tunnel project.
    b) Project costs vastly exceed estimates.
    c) Seattle goes bankrupt trying to pay for it.
    d) Washington state goes bankrupt trying to bail out Seattle.
    e) Washington ends up with its first state income tax.

    1. An income tax for Washington would be better than what would come before it: local spending cuts and increases in sales taxes and license fees. All these things have very regressive income effects, making it harder than it is for the non-rich to live in Seattle. Also, regressive taxation dampens economic activity more than progressive taxation, since consumption does not scale up with income. I can’t support any more regressive taxation unless it serves an important social goal (i.e. pollution reduction) and is accompanied by some measure to correct its income effects.

      Without an income tax the tunnel funding scheme is totally insane. It’s a state project, but Seattle, which is lukewarm about the project in the first place, is responsible for cost overruns. Meanwhile Seattle’s ability to raise revenue is limited — by state regulation. The only options remaining to the city at this point are license fees and maybe head taxes or something.

  4. Andres

    Tunnels (especially ones at or below sea level!) are hard:


    I have a hard time imagining this actually coming in or under budget.

  5. I’m really impressed with Cascade taking a position, and one that most politicians in this state were afraid to take as well.

    Yes, the tunnel is a enormous waste of public resources with very little benefit to all the other users, but since money talks it’s no surprise we any number of knuckleheads purporting the BS of this monstrosity….

  6. Matt Hayes

    I think the tunnel is a bad idea. I agree with one commentor that there’s no way this is going to make the budget, and I can also see this putting Seattle deep into debt.
    On the issue of income tax, I live in Everett, and I don’t drive into that area of Seattle. I don’t want to be paying for something I may use once or twice a year. If the City and SDOT want to go in and blow money (amongst whatever else) on this project, then hit the city residents with an income tax (especially those who have plenty while the rest of us have little) and pay for it that way.
    C’mon, is it really fair for Bellingham, Spokane, Olympia, or Tri-Cities residents, to pay for something they’ll never use?
    I’d be more than happy to leave my SUV in the garage, and take Light Rail to work.. if we had one to Everett. Or ride the bus, if the express lanes went that far north.
    KCMetro seems to be dropping routes and stops aswell. Why not take this $2B and reinforce the mass transit system?
    My point is, they need to do something else. This tunnel is a bad idea. Has anyone addressed how screwed anyone in that tunnel would be if we had an incident similar to Japan, especially if it did actually manage to carry the traffic they’re expecting? I saw the plans and made up my mind immediately.. there is no way I will be using that {vulgar term for intercourse}ing thing.

  7. Doug Bostrom

    “On the issue of income tax, I live in Everett, and I don’t drive into that area of Seattle. I don’t want to be paying for something I may use once or twice a year.”

    Not to pick on anybody in particular, but follow that path of thinking to its conclusion and you find you’ve arrived in the dim past, before we figured out the efficiencies of scale and virtues of opportunity afforded by collective effort in the form of city, county and higher echelons of government.

    “I’ve never called the fire department, don’t plan on having my house burn down, so why should I pay taxes for a fire department?” Etc, ad absurdum.

  8. Toby Thaler

    Doug Bostrom–I agree we can’t start complaining about local payment for infrastructure important to the entire state. However, this particular project is idiotic and no one should be paying for it. Matt Hayes’ basic point is correct: The resource could be better spent on other solutions.

    Reread the first indented paragraph in the article: WashDOT’s changing of the purpose shows how blatantly this project violates “Seattle’s process.” The tunnel does not solve problems; it creates more.

  9. Doug Bostrom

    I’m afraid the tunnel/not tunnel project is going to leave a significant number of unhappy people no matter how it turns out, for all sorts of reasons.

    Personally, I’m happy to see motor transport buried underground where we don’t have to wrap ourselves around its peculiar needs. In a perfect world we’d drop a lid on I-5 and regain a contiguous city instead of leaving Seattle thoughtless sliced in half. Why the Mayor would want to further amplify this man-made obstacle to good living is beyond me.

    Looking at this situation from a slightly different perspective, I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of public policy choices being made on the basis of different camps struggling over a pool of money that is too small to meet our various expectations. We’ve been trained into this vicious circus of false choice dilemma by such as “Americans for Tax Reform,” “The Club For Growth,” etc. In point of fact our overall tax “burden” is smaller than it has been in 50 years, yet our expectations of what we’d collectively like to achieve as a society are higher than ever. Delusions such as those promoted by ATR and CFG are fundamentally incompatible with our stated wishes. Think hard before falling back on “we don’t have enough money” as a justification for public policy outcomes.

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