Replace the aerial structure with a surface boulevard and rebuild the rest of the
system. This would take 6 to 7 years, at an estimated cost of $2.5 to $2.8 billion.
This is an extraordinarily expensive project. While it is necessary to do it for
safety reasons, it would be a lost opportunity to spend this much money and not
accomplish other public goals at the same time. Many people concerned about Seattle’s
future have asked that the boldest options be given serious consideration. This would
mean integrating the planning for Route 99 in Seattle’s transportation system with
creating a fresh vision for the future of Seattle’s waterfront.
Prior to the construction of the viaduct, Route 99 ran through downtown Seattle on
4th Avenue. The viaduct was the first of two freeways to bypass and bisect downtown.
While I-5 still separates downtown from First Hill, Freeway Park, the Convention Center,
and street crossings have greatly reduced the impact. Proponents believe that either
the tunnel, bypass tunnel, or surface options would reduce the isolation of the Seattle
waterfront and allow it to become a new kind of ‘front porch’ for the City.
Vancouver, BC, has developed a thriving economy and encouraged greater numbers of
people to live close to downtown, with creative and reasonably affordable housing options.
One of the core decisions Vancouver made decades ago was the choice not to permit any
freeway access into the city. While it is too late for Seattle to emulate that, it is
worth seriously considering whether two freeways traveling through downtown Seattle are
the best way to shape our future. More than half of the travel on route 99 is not
through downtown, but from nearby neighborhoods into downtown. Many of these trips
could be effectively replaced by alternatives such as busses and the monorail.
The tunnel option offers the most flexibility for the waterfront. A tunnel would
essentially create a blank slate on the waterfront, allowing the maximum opportunity
for change. However, it will require careful planning to ensure that this new
opportunity is actually developed in the public interest. Since defining the public
interest will likely be controversial, and private interests will lobby heavily,
strong, effective, and continual community engagement will be essential. The tunnel
will provide such great capacity for automobile travel that it will discourage mass
transit and could encourage more air pollution and congestion as the traffic enters
and exits other parts of the street grid. The tunnel is also the most expensive,
and probably the most vulnerable to cost increases.
Many cities have successfully developed surface boulevards on their waterfront
(Portland and San Francisco are examples). The surface boulevard presents opportunities
for change that might encourage public access and lower scale development. The surface
boulevard is also the least expensive and probably the least vulnerable to cost increases.
However, it would also require very careful planning in order to become an asset to the
waterfront and not a barrier. The surface plan is the only option that significantly
reduces future automobile travel into and through downtown. It also leads to longer
travel times on Route 99, which is a concern, especially for access from Ballard and
northwest Seattle and through freight travel. However, it may also be an opportunity
to encourage mass transit and reconfigure travel patterns.
Citizens and stakeholders have the right to be consulted and listened to
on a potential transformation of this scope and magnitude. The ideas and preferences
of a wide range of people will better inform the decision-making. It is also unlikely
that people will support the level of funding required to complete the replacement of
the Viaduct unless there is a broad consensus on the necessity for action and the
opportunity for a better future.
I believe that the size of the potential investment in this project and the
importance of this decision for Seattle’s future requires a major effort to engage
Seattle citizens – and citizens around the region – in choosing the appropriate
For that reason, I am advocating a major investment in public involvement
opportunities on the Waterfront/Viaduct process. I suggest that Seattle and
the State consider the model for public participation developed by the national
organization America Speaks, the group that led the very large public meetings,
carefully designed and organized to accurately express public judgment, that helped
shape the future reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in New York. Such a
project might cost as much as $500,000, a large sum by some standards, but miniscule
in comparison to the investments at stake (and to the $20 million planned for
developing the Environmental Impact Statement). I will continue to work to get a
process like this in place over the coming year.
Back to Contents
DUWAMISH TOXICS DISPOSAL SITE
On Monday, August 19, 2003, I joined with Councilmember Heidi Wills to present
testimony to the US Environmental Protection Agency on a proposal to allow 70,000
cubic yards of sediment containing toxic substances from the Lower Duwamish Waterway
Superfund Site, located in the City of Seattle, to be disposed of at an underwater
site located in Commencement Bay. Representatives of the Seattle environmental
community have raised concerns about this proposal, and the Tacoma City Council has
expressed its opposition to the plan.
We asked EPA to study this issue more carefully, noting that Tacoma City officials
have expressed concern that the capacity of the underwater disposal site may be needed
for the contaminated sediments generated by the Commencement Bay Superfund, which should
have the first priority for the local site. We agreed with Tacoma City officials that
local jurisdictions should have primary say in determining whether a local site should
become a regional disposal facility.
More broadly, we are concerned that underwater disposal of contaminated sediments
may be a questionable way of cleaning up Superfund sites, perhaps only leading to further
expensive cleanups in the future if something goes wrong with the capping and containment
of the site. We are also working with the environmental organizations to seek consistent
and clear processes for public involvement in Duwamish Superfund activities, as well as
to ensure that the cleanup is moved forward as swiftly as is consonant with careful
and thorough attention to these toxic sediment issues.
I serve as the City’s representative on the regional body that is working on a
salmon recovery strategy for the Green-Duwamish Watershed. Our research has shown
that the water in the Duwamish is relatively clean, as evidenced by its ability to
support more than a dozen runs of salmon, most of which are in generally good condition.
The primary threats to salmon are the loss of upstream habitat and possible future
problems caused by the toxic contamination of the sediments in the riverbed in the
Duwamish industrial area. The stretch of the Duwamish that has been declared a
Superfund site will be cleaned up in stages over the next few years, and the key to
the cleanup will be finding the way to contain or remove the contaminated sediments
without causing the release of the contaminants into the river itself.
Back to Contents
SAND POINT/MAGNUSON PARK MASTER PLAN
The Council is currently awaiting a recommendation from the Mayor on a major parks
and open space project, the Sand Point Magnuson Park Drainage, Wetland/Habitat Complex
& Sports Fields/Courts Project. In all likelihood, the Council will not begin
consideration until January or February of 2004, and that date may be further extended
if litigation continues or if the Mayor does not make a recommendation until a later
Planning for the former Sand Point Naval Air Station includes reuse of residential
buildings for low-income housing and of the administrative buildings for community
facilities. There has been agreement on an off-leash area, a community garden, and
several other elements for the open space, much of which is covered with pavement or
degraded with toxic chemicals. However, there is a continuing controversy over the
size, distribution, and lighting plans for the athletic fields included in the overall
The proposed plan includes 11 new sports fields with all-weather surfaces and lights,
up to 4 additional full-size sports fields with natural grass surfaces and no lights, a
wetland/habitat complex of approximately 65 acres, with an open water lagoon connection
to Lake Washington between the existing swimming beach and the boat launch, and numerous
other activity areas, roads and parking areas, and restrooms and other facilities.
Preliminary estimates are that this project will cost approximately $60 million,
although only about $9 million has been clearly identified as available for the project.
The Council will have to balance the need for more playing fields and playing field
time with the restoration of parts of the park environment, all in the context of a
difficult budget situation. We are hearing from many neighbors with concerns, especially
about the level of lighting, and from many advocates of the sports fields who support
the increased sports field lighting. I hope that we can find a way to appropriately
balance these interests and approve a plan that would be affordable and a responsible
and inclusive vision for this wonderful new park space.
Back to Contents
“…frequently I like to tell city leaders that finding ways to help support a
local music scene can be just as important as investing in high-tech business
and far more effective than building a downtown mall.”
-- Richard Florida, author of “Rise of the Creative Class”
"By the side of the everlasting Why, there is a YES..."
-- E.M. Forster
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
Your Seattle City Councilmember
Back to Contents
Back to MAKING IT WORK Newsletters