MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
VIADUCT? WHAT VIADUCT?
On the Wednesday after the advisory election on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, city, county, and state leaders came together to take sensible steps forward on this important project. The agreement essentially moves forward with implementation of my recommendations, which were unanimously agreed to by the City Council on January 19 (Resolution 30959), and signed by the Mayor.
In approving this resolution, the Council noted that the advisory election was unlikely to settle the issue, and pointed out that there was general agreement on almost everything about the project except the configuration on the Central Waterfront. We called for implementation of expanded transit and street improvements that will be needed no matter what project moves ahead. We also asked that work commence on the areas to the north and south of downtown, which includes the area of greatest earthquake vulnerability, the elevated section south of King Street, which all parties agree should be replaced with a surface design.
The agreement announced on March 14 approved expending $915 million over the next two years. This will cover renovations to the Battery Street Tunnel, relocating electric lines from the Viaduct to Western and First Avenues, improving arterials, bus lanes, signals, and transit to help manage traffic during early construction work, constructing the new SR 99 from Holgate to Royal Brougham (including grade separated freight access roads at Atlantic and Royal Brougham), and stabilizing two areas of the existing viaduct.
All of these projects are exactly what would have been undertaken if a final design for the Central Waterfront had been chosen. Thus, regardless of editorial opining and public concern about delay and decision-making, there will in fact be no delay in the project. Everything will proceed on the schedule contemplated when the project began preliminary design and development in 2002. Major projects like this are complex and difficult design, engineering, and construction challenges. That work has proceeded in parallel with the decision making process.
The decision on the Central Waterfront will not be made for about two years, which gives enough time to work through the issues, consider new approaches, and make the kind of deliberative and thoughtful choices that will actually be able to be implemented. The rejection by the voters of both the aerial and tunnel replacement proposals means that a surface/transit plan emerges as the most likely prospect for the Central Waterfront, and the added time will allow for this to be fully designed and examined to see if it can be made to work, both as a transportation solution and to realize the opening up of the waterfront and new park opportunity that the tunnel could have allowed for.
While attention will now shift to the surface alternative, other alternatives will also have the opportunity to be examined, from the possibility of a major retrofit that would essentially postpone the decision for a couple of decades to the idea of a privately funded, tolled, bored tunnel. Several companies have expressed an interest in this concept, although SR 99 by itself is unlikely to generate enough revenue to be financially viable. One alternative might be to develop a single contract for the SR 99 tunnel and I-5 renovation and repaving, with both roadways then operating as a single tolled project. Dynamic variable tolling could be used to balance traffic and minimize congestion.
The process of moving forward on the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been frustrating to both the public and elected officials involved in decision making. However, this painful gestation may result in a much better project that will create a better waterfront and an effective transportation system for the next century. While I still believe we could have done a much better job of structuring the decision making process, we may look back on the twists and turns and conclude that the result was better than we deserve.
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ZERO WASTE STRATEGY UPDATE
On April 10, the consultants who have been studying Seattle’s waste management practices will present the first part of their final report to the Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee. A second presentation is scheduled for April 24. The Committee will work on this issue through May and June. There will be opportunities for public comment throughout the process, with a specific public meeting to discuss the proposed plan on Thursday, June 7, at 5:30 PM. Following that public meeting, the Committee plans to recommend a specific set of waste reduction/recycling policies to the Council for implementation, along with a decision on what to do about the city’s two transfer stations and the proposed intermodal station.
The goal of this project is to dramatically reshape the City’s approach. While Seattle has an innovative waste reduction/recycling strategy, we have not reached the 60% goal we set twenty years ago, and every week a mile-long train hauls 1500 tons of garbage to be disposed of east of the mountains. That’s not the highest and best use of resources, and it’s not sustainability.
The Zero Waste strategy begins by defining waste as a resource out of place. Starting from that conceptual base, we can design a plan that captures the maximum amount of waste for reuse and recycling, and also look upstream to reduce waste at its origin. The strategy will include revisions to our collection strategy, steps to develop markets, product stewardship, regulatory efforts such as bans on certain products, and creative approaches that will stimulate recycling and waste reduction.
We want to set a new, realistic goal, based on these strategies, a goal that is both environmentally sound and economically feasible. We can then design the waste transfer system to best fit this new goal, rather than assuming that the mile-long train represents our only foreseeable future.
Stay tuned for a summary of the consultant presentation and more details on the Council process and public involvement in the next issue of Making It Work.
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NEW DRAINAGE RATE POLICY
On Monday, March 7, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved Resolution 30886, giving policy guidance for the drainage rate structure to ensure that drainage rates will be fairer and will more accurately reflect the impact on the environment of each property. The new rate design will result in customers being charged based on their impact on the City’s drainage system. This new approach to drainage is fairer because it rewards property owners who replace concrete with pervious surfaces like native plant species. It is better for the environment because it structures drainage rates based on the City’s requirements to protect against flooding, while providing this credit for more natural landscapes.
The new rate offers customers the opportunity to reduce their drainage bills, or receive other incentives, for investing in technologies that reduce Seattle Public Utilities’ costs by reducing rainwater run-off from their properties.
The new rate design principles are based on recommendations of a stakeholder advisory group that was convened by Seattle Public Utilities to examine how to redesign drainage rates to be fairer and to promote environmental stewardship.
For general purpose or commercial customers, the new rate maintains the existing tiered rate structure but creates low-impact sub-tiers and establishes incentives to motivate commercial property owners to install more absorptive land cover. Commercial property owners will have the opportunity to reduce their current bills by implementing better landscaping, more trees, and other measures to prevent water runoff.
Under the existing system of drainage rate billing, all residential customers are charged $136.42 per year, which appears on homeowners’ annual property tax bill. The new rate design creates a four-tiered residential rate structure based on lot size. Homes on smaller lots will likely see rate reductions while homes on larger lots will face significantly larger bills. On the Council’s initiative, however, these larger lot owners will have access to the same kinds of credits and incentives as commercial property owners, and thus will be able to reduce their rates by implementing more natural landscapes or managing drainage on their property to prevent flooding impacts downstream.
For some residential customers, the short run impact of these drainage rates may be counter-intuitive. The data shows that lot size is the most important predictive factor for runoff, and structuring the rates by size of lots leads to rate increases for many residential property owners. Owners of medium-sized and large lots, even if they have little impervious surface, will pay more for their drainage to reflect their impact on the overall system.
In the long run, owners of larger lots will have the opportunity to reduce their bill by planting and maintaining native vegetation and trees, which will bring their rates down while also decreasing total runoff and thus benefiting the entire drainage system and the City’s natural systems.
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CRITICAL AREAS UPDATE
On Monday, April 2, the Council adopted an ordinance modifying the City’s Critical Areas Ordinance by incorporating maps of geological hazards of low expected frequency and high expected impact, such as tsunamis (large waves, generally the result of off-shore earthquakes), lahars (mudflows that result from volcanic action), and seiches (oscillating wave actions within smaller bodies of water, such as Lake Washington, that can result from seismic activity). The ordinance also maps the Seattle Fault, which underlies a large area in the southern part of the City.
This revision was required by an order the Growth Management Board, in response to an appeal brought by several environmental organizations of last year’s revisions to the Critical Areas Ordinance. The Board affirmed the City’s actions, with the exception of the order to map these geological hazard areas. The Board did not require the City to adopt any regulations in relation to these hazards.
The Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee moved this legislation forward without considering additional amendments to the Critical Areas Ordinance at this time, because this amendment would bring closure to the process undertaken in 2005-2006. However, I proposed that we not wait until the required five-year update of the Critical Areas Ordinance to consider other possible amendments, but open up a more comprehensive amendment process at an earlier date.
The Committee also agreed that implementation of measures to respond to these infrequent but serious natural disasters would be most appropriately done through the building code and emergency management planning, rather than through the Critical Areas Ordinance. Our building code probably does not require amendment, but the Committee authorized a resolution asking the City’s Office of Emergency Management to report back on how they propose to provide information to the public and plan appropriate responses in the event of one of these disasters.
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Rarely is there a simple truth… What is presented as reality by one set of experts is often a social construct that can be deconstructed and reconstructed by other experts."
-- Bent Flyvbjerg
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-- attributed to Winston Churchill
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