[nfbwatlk] Fw: [Urban Politics] Urban Politics #272 1/15/09 DIG THAT TUNNEL

Jacob Struiksma lawnmower84 at hotmail.com
Fri Jan 16 08:20:55 UTC 2009

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Nick Licata" <Nick.Licata at Seattle.Gov>
To: <urbanpolitics at speakeasy.net>
Sent: Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:48 PM
Subject: [Urban Politics] Urban Politics #272 1/15/09 DIG THAT TUNNEL

Urban Politics #272, 1/15/09 DIG THAT TUNNEL

By City Councilmember Nick Licata
and assistance from my L.A. Newell Aldrich


Chants of  “drill, baby, drill” from this past fall echo in my
mind, as the near unanimous political and editorial constellations line
up to support the deep bore tunnel option for replacing the Alaska Way
Viaduct. Although technically I suppose it would be “bore, baby,

In any case, unlike Governor Palin, the clear winners in this billion
dollar poker game are Mayor Nickels, Governor Gregoire and King County
Executive Ron Sims. Kudos should also be given to Seattle Councilmember
Jan Drago who, as I recall, was one of the first to promote the deep
bore tunnel after the prior tunnel/surface solution was rejected by
almost 70% of Seattle voters.

No need to mention who the losers are, other than identifying myself as
one who had sided with the general public in rejecting the tunnel as too
expensive an option for local tax payers to be burdened with. The latest
tunnel financing option adroitly sidestepped that obstacle by having the
State pick up the tunnel construction costs and any cost overruns as
well. If that truly is the case, then Seattle has gained a significant
victory. Considering that more than 99% of the design work has yet to be
done on the project, the current cost estimates being accurate are as
likely as a crowded race for Seattle Mayor this fall. I note that the
Mercer Project’s cost doubled from the original estimated costs based
on a similar level of design work.

The ball really is in the State Legislature’s court, but if media
reports are accurate in saying that the chairs of the transportation
committees in both the Senate and the House are supporting this option,
then even the party leaders in those chambers will have their work cut
out for them to forestall any vote of support for the tunnel option. I
suspect the debate will center around who picks up cost overruns, so
Seattle should expect that the State guarantee might be whittled away.

Keeping your eye on this ball however does distract you from the other
one that is whizzing toward your head; which is about a billion dollar
ball. So what is that all about? Well here’s how it is rolling out as
best I can tell, some of it will be incomplete, as full details are
still emerging.


The $4.2 million Bored Tunnel Hybrid Alternative includes a $1.9
billion, 4-lane bored tunnel  that will handle 85,000 of the current
110,000 daily trips, and travel from north of the Battery Street Tunnel
to the area around the stadiums. Also included is ongoing work to
replace SR 99 south of the current Viaduct, a reconfigured Alaskan Way
with a promenade, seawall replacement, utility relocation, work on city
streets to improve transit, additional bus service, and a streetcar on
1st Avenue from Mercer to Jackson. John, Thomas and Harrison streets
would be re-connected in South Lake Union over Aurora.


The complete package includes the following elements, to be funded by
the governments as listed:

* $1.9 billion for a 54’ diameter bored tunnel (down from the $2.1
billion estimate in December, 2008): funded by the State. It has been
suggested by critics that the configuration may not be wide enough to
support transit.

* $900 million in current “Moving Forward” work to replace SR 99
south of the Viaduct: $600 million from State, $300 million from Port of
Seattle. The previous Port of Seattle Commission had rejected a $200
million contribution to this project, but with the new deep tunnel they
may agree to this higher amount.

* $390 million for an Alaskan Way surface street and promenade: $290
million from the State for the street; $100 million from Seattle for the

* $255 million for a seawall replacement: Seattle

* $250 million utility relocation: Seattle

* $215 million city streets and transit pathways: $25 million King
County, $190 million Seattle for Spokane widening project, 2-way Mercer
from I-5 to Elliott, plus widening Mercer under Aurora from 4 to 6

* $250 million transit infrastructure and services: $115 million King
County, $135 million Seattle for a streetcar on 1st Avenue from Mercer
to Jackson; operations costs are unclear

* $80 million construction transit service: $30 million State, $50
million King County

* $15 million annual transit operations cost: King County

The state would fund $2.8 billion total, the City of Seattle $930
million, King County $190 million, and the Port of Seattle $300 million
for construction. The funding package information packet notes that it
depends on action by the US Congress, the Port Commission, state
legislature, City Council, and King County Council.


The state legislature originally set aside $2.8 million for Viaduct
replacement; they later moved $400 million to the 520 project, leaving a
$400 gap. This is likely to come through a tolling proposal the state
legislature would need to approve. Tolling studies indicate that tolls
need to be low enough that drivers won’t seek other free options.

The legislature would also need to act to approve a 1% MVET for King
County, and act to authorize LIFT for Seattle (see below).


The proposal lists $957 million in potential City funding source.
It’s not yet clear what the connections are between funding sources
and individual projects.

* $200 million parking tax: this would require the City Council to
approve doubling the commercial parking tax. The tax is now 7.5%, and
will be 10% in July. I’m not yet clear if doubling refers to the
current rate or the July rate.

* $300 million LIFT and/or LID: this would either be a Local
Improvement District (LID), or a Local Infrastructure Financial Tool
(LIFT). A LID is a taxing zone within a designated area, within which
property owners pay an additional tax. Current LIDs in Seattle fund the
South Lake Union Streetcar and business associations.

A LIFT would presumably be tax-increment financing, which would need
state legislature approval to be legal. The theory behind this is that
because of a government’s action, property values and/or business tax
revenue will increase enough to justify general government expenditures
in that area. In practice, it means City general tax revenues-perhaps
general fund-could be used.

A LID requires 60% of property owners to come into existence (with
weighted votes according to the percentage of property within the
district that one owns), and then Council approval. A LIFT could be
created, if authorized by the state legislature, by City Council action

* $65 million transportation benefits district: under state law
approved in 2007, the City Council could approve up to $20 in car tab
fees within Seattle (see UP # 271).

* $252 million utilities: this would be paid for by City of Seattle
City Light and Seattle Public Utility ratepayers, upon approval by the
City Council in a capital budget.

* $55 million federal grants, $80 million economic recovery funds: this
depends on action by the US Congress; the $80 million would be from a
federal stimulus package.


King County’s portion of funding depends on the state legislature
granting the King County Council the authority to levy a 1% motor
vehicle excise tax (MVET). The MVET would fund $190 million in capital
projects and $15 million annually for operations, with increased service
to West Seattle, Delridge, Ballard, and expansion of the Burien park and

I’m not clear if the $15 million represents Seattle-only funding.
King County currently distributes new additional bus service by the
40/40/20 formula: 40% to the eastside, 40% to the south end, and 20% to
Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park.


One important clarification regarding the Bridging the Gap Levy ballot
measure passed by voters in 2006: the authorizing legislation, Ordinance
122232, included an amendment I proposed that stated “No Levy Proceeds
shall be used to fund the major repair or replacement, including but not
limited to replacement with a waterfront tunnel, of the Alaskan Way
Viaduct or the seawall located to the west of Alaskan Way.”

This section applies to the property tax portion of the Bridging the
Gap program passed by voters. It does not apply to the commercial
parking tax, which was passed separately by the Council, and contains no
such limitations. While dedicating $200 million in parking tax revenue
to the City’s portion of the Bored Tunnel Hybrid Alternative, rather
than to existing City responsibilities such as the unfunded $200 million
Magnolia Bridge replacement, or to other projects throughout the city
would represent a policy choice regarding where to spend city tax
dollars, it would not violate the terms of the ballot measure.


It had been generally assumed that the state would likely fund the cost
of repairing the seawall as part of the Viaduct project. This was the
stated intention with either the cut and cover tunnel or the new
elevated viaduct. It was not as clear with a surface street plan. Under
this proposed plan, Seattle is solely responsible for the $255 million

Utilities would need to be replaced in any Viaduct option. The City’s
2009 capital budget lists $100 million in Viaduct replacement utility
work. The new proposal adds an additional $150 million in utility costs
not yet accounted for in approved City budgets. It’s unclear yet what
impact this will have on rates. To be fair, a good deal of this cost
would have been the responsibility of the City in any case. Right now
the first stage of the state’s Viaduct project, which is about $900
million and consists of work south of the central waterfront, is picking
up the city’s utility costs, which come out to around $40 million.

Finally it’s unclear what role bonding will play in funding the
City’s portion. For example, parking tax revenues could be used to
issue bonds, which would require interest payments. If this is the case,
the actual cost and funding figures would be higher. Including the
interest cost in describing the cost of a project dramatically increases
the public’s perception of that project’s tax burden; I believe it
was this kind of dramatic, front page headline that drove public
sentiment to vote against the monorail project. In the case of the bored
tunnel there will be no public vote.


I think the public is exhausted. They are tired of discussing
alternatives to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I think a plurality of the
public would have been satisfied with fixing the current viaduct or
replacing it with an elevated. But that was not the majority opinion. I
don’t think there is a majority on any single solution. And as they
say, that’s why you elect leaders. They lead, for better or worse. The
leadership from the Mayor and the City Council has been clearly
committed to removing “the blight” and “freeing up” our
waterfront by demolishing the Viaduct.

They have recognized, as have many citizens, that this is a hundred
year decision about the physical character of our downtown. And one
would certainly hope that unlike the Kingdome and the Viaduct, the
tunnel lasts at least that long. The funding however will not be spread
out that long. It will be paid off in probably twenty some years.

It is difficult to judge what the financial impact will be on the
populace. The city is becoming less affordable for many middle income
families and it already has for those on limited incomes. Will this
extra tax burden make a significant difference?

So one has to ask, is this generation willing to pick up the tab and
make an open space waterfront their legacy for the next couple of
generations? It is a fair question. And it should be asked in a way that
an informed decision can be made by those concerned. I hope this Urban
Politics has contributed to that ability.


Tim.Burgess at seattle.gov
Sally.Clark at seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin at seattle.gov
Jan.Drago at seattle.gov
Jean.Godden at seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell at seattle.gov
Nick.Licata at seattle.gov
Richard.McIver at seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen at seattle.gov

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