Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Viaduct Plans Perpetuate Wasteful Attitude of State and Local Officials

As someone who has decades of memories wrapped up in the crumbling concrete Alaskan Way Viaduct that spans the length of Seattle's downtown waterfront district, awaiting the momentous decision about the roadway's fate has left a thin residue of anxiety over my mood about regional politics during the years leading up to what happened yesterday.

Despite having a clear favorite among the three options that have been widely-reported as having been on the table, I was prepared for a tunnel. I was not prepared for a four-lane tunnel, because the majority of the current viaduct's length is a six-lane roadway, already the lesser of two traffic jams for West Seattle commuters and those trying to get from the SODO to I-5 northbound.

(Is it rude to mention also that there won't actually be a downtown exit in the proposed tunnel thereby making it useless for most commuters?)

During the projected nine-year timeline for completion, the diversion of traffic to Interstate 5 will create congestion unlike anything this city has seen except during the Summer 2007 Carpocalypse (the fitting name coined by the West Seattle Blog) that occurred because of during expansion joint replacement on I-5 south of downtown. After the completion the downtown grid will handle less cars than now.

Why would we expect anything else than the most illogical option for solving Seattle's traffic needs from Gregoire, Sims and Nickels, the Three Stooges of King County politics? It continues to prove my inverse theory of bureaucratic deliberation: The longer a group of bureaucrats deliberate the worse will their decision be at the end of said deliberation.

There is a scandal within the handling of this project that should be laid at the feet our elected officials. While the decision was put off, delayed and avoided, projects relating to the viaduct - specifically to replacing the existing structure - were spending taxpayers dollars at a pace with which only the Seattle Monorail Project could compete.

As reported by the Susan Gilmore of the Seattle Times on July 30, 2008:

The state Legislature budgeted $2.8 billion last year to replace Seattle's deteriorating Alaskan Way Viaduct with another elevated roadway.

But a large chunk of that money already has been spent. About $1.1 billion has been either spent on or committed to several viaduct projects, with still no decision about how to replace the viaduct in downtown Seattle. And it's not clear that the remaining $1.7 billion will be enough to finish the viaduct replacement...

The biggest chunk has been committed to rebuilding the south end of the 2.2-mile viaduct, from South Holgate to South King streets, at an estimated cost of $540 million, according to Ron Paananen, viaduct project manager for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

The reporting done to date does not make it clear exactly how much money has been already spent on viaduct-related projects by the Washington State Department of Transportation and other government agencies.

Who will be made accountable to voters for the millions of dollars that have been wasted on projects already underway, projects that in some cases assumed the viaduct would be replaced by a similar above-ground structure?

The trio of politicians involved have better spin control than an Olympic figure skater, so don't expect a voluntary mea culpa from Sims, Gregoire or Nickels.

Gregoire escapes facing an angry mob of voters at the polls, but when the disaster of her management comes to roost the door may be opened for a Republican to take the governor's race in 2012.

For Sims and Nickels it comes down to one key question: How many union bosses can a busy public official meet with between now and Election Day?

We may be witnessing the events leading up to the second contraction of the Greater Seattle region since the great Boeing collapse of the late 1960s. Nickels, Sims and Gregoire have crossed the Rubicon, setting in motion the predictable consequence of more businesses opting to leave the sociological Petri dish that Seattle has become. The coup de grĂ¢ce will come after the initial white collar exodus when the Port of Seattle shipping facilities watch the annual tonnage decline even more rapidly than is currently projected.

In any economic climate, this proposal would be worth opposing. In the midst of a recession, compounded by the negative effect a major tunnel project will have on Seattle's already business-averse climate, this seems to be more than just bad regional planning. It affirms the predominantly liberal mind set of Western Washington that values symbolism over making things better, and putting smart people in charge of ridiculously misguided projects. It is an outmoded way of thinking that should serve as an invitation for real problem-solvers to become involved in government in every way possible and it is in the best interest of everyone to prevent this kind of wasteful spending in the future. What could be done with these dollars that are currently accepted as just part of the governmental inefficacy if they weren't wasted.

Those in opposition to the tunnel project should begin calling it what it is, not the Seattle's edition of the "Big Dig" - a reference to Boston's huge public works mess - but the "Big Pig," a massive counterproductive waste of our resources.


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