MAKING IT WORK
Welcome to MAKING IT WORK, Councilmember Conlin's monthly email newsletter.
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT DECISION
On Friday, September 22, the Council adopted an ordinance that reaffirmed the Council's endorsement of a tunnel as the City's Preferred Alternative for the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Seawall project. The ordinance also explicitly rejected replacement with an overhead structure as contrary to the City's long-range plan for reconnecting downtown to the waterfront and in conflict with city policies for shoreline zones. This legislation was approved by a vote of 7 to 1 (Licata voting no).
The Council recognized, however, that there are significant financial challenges to constructing the tunnel. While there is a financial plan that could provide enough funding, this is by no means assured, and the fiscal realities must be faced directly. The Council therefore included a Plan B in the legislation, which calls for developing a plan to use transit and surface roads if funding cannot be ensured for the tunnel. In a Resolution adopted unanimously on Monday, September 25, the Council laid out a set of criteria for assuring funding that must be met by next summer when the project reaches the 15 to 20% engineering level. The Council also asked the Washington Department of Transportation to proceed immediately with projects that are common to all alternatives no matter what is constructed in the Central Waterfront, such as rebuilding the Viaduct south of Pioneer Square as a surface structure, rehabilitating the Battery Street tunnel, and constructing projects such as the remodel of the Spokane Street Viaduct that will ensure mobility when major construction is underway.
In approving these plans, the Council's vision is based on substantial public open space on a new waterfront that will include new parks, a restored shoreline that enhances critical habitat for salmon, and good pedestrian, bicycle, and transit connections. This goal must be balanced with maintaining adequate capacity for freight and automobile travel through the corridor while moving Seattle in the direction of our long-range vision for a transportation system that places less emphasis on the automobile and provides more choices for personal mobility.
It is important to note that the Council had already been through a long process of reviewing alternatives that culminated in January 2005 with adopting the tunnel as the Preferred Alternative by an identical 7 to 1 vote. However, the state is the ultimate decision maker on this project, and in 2006 the legislature decided on the last day of the session to ask the Council to go through an additional evaluation.
The Legislature gave the Council the choice of placing an advisory measure on the ballot or adopting an ordinance endorsing a preference. Until this time, there were no plans to take a public vote on the alternatives, and there was never any commitment or 'promise' made to take such a vote. Initially, a number of Councilmembers were leaning towards placing the issue on the ballot, but as we looked more carefully at the legislation we realized that the ordinance was a better path for four reasons. First, the legislation gave little choice about what could be placed on the ballot, and made it difficult if not impossible to provide more than two choices or to explain the content of each option. Second, the legislature clearly defined the ballot as advisory only, while an ordinance carries more legal weight. Third, we realized that it would be deceptive to tell Seattle voters that their vote really counted, when in fact the State has made no commitment to respect the preferences expressed in this 'advisory' vote.
Finally, we agreed that it is the responsibility of elected officials to make these kinds of decisions and not punt or dodge that responsibility. Since 2001, the Council has been hearing from citizens and conducting exhaustive public processes to give us insight on voter preferences -- that process of consultation and citizen engagement is an important part of democratic decision making. Placing something on the ballot should be reserved for specific real decisions, when it is necessary to have voters approve actual taxes to fund a well-defined project. Seattle was caught in the mess that the monorail ultimately became because it was easy for voters to say yes to advisory ballots and build momentum. It was not until the real financial situation became apparent that voters were presented with a concrete decision and chose not to proceed.
The Viaduct/Seawall project is complex and challenging, and this recommendation by the Mayor and Council is by no means the last word. The Governor will have to make a decision on a Preferred Alternative, and then the State and City will have to proceed with raising the funds and moving the engineering forward. The City has clearly expressed our intention to check progress on those issues when the engineering is far enough advanced to create a real budget, instead of the estimates that are currently used (which have huge contingency amounts which may or may not be real). At that time, probably next summer, we should have a better idea whether the tunnel project is financially viable or whether it will be necessary to move to Plan B.
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SR 520 BRIDGE REPLACEMENT UPDATE
The decision on the preferred alternative for the SR 520 Bridge Replacement will be made by Governor Gregoire later this fall, with advice from the Washington State Department of Transportation and the SR 520 Executive Committee, which represents the cities on both sides of Lake Washington. The City of Seattle is currently formulating its position, which I and the other three city representatives will advocate for as members of the SR 520 Executive Committee. The City Council expects to vote on our recommendations later in October.
The old idea that transportation corridors like SR 520 funnel people into the city in the morning and out in the evening is particularly not applicable in this case, where SR 520 is a two-way street connecting urban centers on both sides of the Lake. It is used for commuter purposes in both directions, and is a critical element in implementing the region's growth management plan, which requires effective transportation linkages connecting increasingly dense urban areas and that will result in protecting our farms, forests, and wilderness areas beyond the growth management boundary.
The Council's draft resolution endorses the six-lane, Pacific Interchange alternative with a package of appropriate mitigations for Seattle neighborhoods and parks. This alternative retains the existing four lanes for general purpose traffic, and adds a lane in each direction for transit and High Occupancy Vehicles only. The Pacific Interchange proposal was initiated by community members, and has been endorsed by the Montlake and North Capitol Hill Community Councils as well as the vast majority of the initial set of comments to the state on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. It is the only option that offers a fast and reliable link from buses to light rail at the University of Washington, connecting two multi-billion dollar transportation projects and providing significant transit benefits to students and staff at the UW. It is also the only option that fixes the Montlake Bridge and Montlake Boulevard bottlenecks, saving up to 20 minutes in travel time on Montlake Blvd between NE 45th Street and SR 520. It is the only option that allows the restoration of a continuous greenbelt with trails from Portage Bay to the Arboretum, including a complete lid over SR 520 in Montlake.
The six-lane Pacific Interchange alternative does not increase Single Occupancy Vehicle traffic. By dramatically increasing transit reliability and decreasing travel time between the Eastside and the University area and downtown Seattle, this alternative would result in significant increases in the number of people who would choose transit. The addition of tolls will further reduce the attractiveness of the Single Occupancy Vehicle trip, and traffic projections show a major increase in the number of people going across the Lake with virtually no increase in the number of vehicles. By 2030, 54% of trips are projected to be by transit or HOV, up from 29% today. King County Metro has submitted comments indicating that the Pacific Interchange will have numerous transit benefits, including potentially allowing the return of bus service to Montlake Boulevard (which Metro removed due to the congestion and lack of reliability). By stimulating this mode shift to transit, this alternative reduces pollution and greenhouse emissions, and supports growth management by connecting urban centers efficiently.
All of the alternatives have impacts on the natural environment that must be fully mitigated. The area in and around the Arboretum is of special concern. The good news is that all alternatives reduce the number of columns in the Arboretum area, with the Pacific Interchange having the lowest number. All alternatives are significantly higher than the current highway, allowing more light and air under the highway and improving the environment. All alternatives will also enhance water quality be capturing and treating the runoff from the highway, which is now discharged into Lake Washington. While the amount of wetlands lost is relatively low (1/5 of an acre under all alternatives), there will be significant shading and the loss of almost 4 acres of park space. The Council will make its support of this alternative contingent on full replacement of the wetlands and parks spaces, and will require any losses to the Arboretum to be replaced in the same area. The Council will also call for traffic calming, considering a separate toll on Lake Washington Blvd, and other measures that will reduce the attractiveness of travel through the Arboretum.
The Pacific Interchange has a number of other benefits, including reducing the number of severely congested intersections in Seattle from 5 today and 4 under the 4-lane alternative to 2. It will also require the lowest number of property acquisitions, only 9 compared to the 13 required for the 4-lane alternative. It also has the lowest number of residences with noise impacts, and 50% fewer lanes over Portage Bay than the other six-lane alternatives.
The Council draft Resolution calls for a number of other measures to improve the SR 520 corridor, including reducing lane widths, accepting neighborhood recommendations for noise reduction and the design of lids, and emphasizing excellence in design, following recommendations of the Seattle Design Commission and the "Corridor Aesthetic handbook".
We continue to look for additional comments that will improve the design of the SR 520 Replacement Project, as well as concerns that need to be addressed. However, the Council is strongly leaning towards endorsing the Pacific Interchange as the design that offers the greatest mobility of all the project alternatives in a way that will improve livability in Seattle neighborhoods.
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TRANSPORTATION LEVY CHANGES
On Friday, September 22, the Council, by a unanimous vote, submitted a revised transportation funding package to voters ("Bridging the Gap"). The revisions changed the proposal to a nine-year levy, with the amount of the levy increasing by 1% per year. This change was made in response to concerns raised that the initial proposal left the end of the levy open-ended, which was a requirement of the provision of state law under which it was proposed. While Council had passed a resolution committing the City to end the levy upon completion of the twenty-year package of transportation maintenance and improvements, there would be no legal guarantee that the Council twenty years from now would honor that promise.
The proposal that will be on the ballot relies on a different provision of the state law regarding levies, reduces the amount of the levy by about 18%, and will complete about 40% of the proposed twenty-year package of improvements. A Citizen's Oversight Committee would review the levy, and make recommendations about changes or improvements prior to the levy being placed on the ballot for renewal.
The 'Bridging the Gap' levy (Proposition 1) will pave 360 lane miles of deteriorated arterials, invest $100 million in maintaining and seismically retrofitting bridges, allocate about $9 million a year to support transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements, and improve several key corridors. Many of the actions will implement neighborhood plan recommendations, and the package includes $1.5 million annually for the Neighborhood Street Fund, with the specific projects to be determined by the City's Neighborhood District Councils.
In addition to receiving unanimous support on the Council, the revised levy has been received favorably by a number of organizations that had expressed doubts about the earlier proposal. It has now been endorsed by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the King County Labor Council, the Sierra Club, Transportation Choices Coalition, and several Democratic district organizations, among others.
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"Hope is born of participating in hopeful solutions."
-- Marianne Williamson
"A mass of metal is laboriously transported from one place to another. Then it is abandoned for the day, obstructing pedestrians who are attempting a less selfish mode of locomotion."
-- AJP Taylor
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Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected
officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together
we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting,
and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me
feedback through the City Council website at http://seattle.gov/council/.
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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