Sunday, August 23, 2009

"McGinn's victory means viaduct debate will continue"

kery murakami (Seattle PostGlobe):
For better or for worse, Mayor Greg Nickels’ decision to concede the primary on Friday ensures that Seattle will again debate what to do about the dilapidating Alaskan Way Viaduct. Mike McGinn will continue to argue that the tunnel option – agreed upon by Seattle, under Nickels, the county, the Port of Seattle and the state – is a waste of money that will not reduce cars and the emission of greenhouse gases.
A Nickels vs. Mallahan duel would have essentially finally settled the matter because both back the tunnel.

That McGinn will continue to the general election is disconcerting to state leaders and proponents of the tunnel who don’t want to again revisit a tunnel decision that was reached as a compromise after an arduous debate.

So much so that on Friday, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and chairwoman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, said the state’s tunnel decision is irreversible and won’t change based on the mayoral election.

“We need to work with Seattle but the decision has been made. We can’t reverse it at this point. We’re not going to change our mind. We’re moving forward. We’re spending money on boring and we’re moving ahead.”

“It is a state highway. I think that’s important to remember. It is not a city street."

Her remarks echoed those of the chairwoman of the state House transportation committee, Judy Clibborn, who told the PostGlobe last week, “It would be very hard to go back (and revisit the tunnel decision,” she said. “Basically that is not a city project, it is a state project. We have the ability to go ahead and build the tunnel.

However, she acknowledged, “That doesn’t mean Seattle can’t make it difficult.”

That’s exactly what McGinn has vowed, saying he could put up obstacles to the permits the state would need to bring the parties back to the table to find a different solution.

Mallahan hasn’t really jumped into the debate over whether the viaduct should be replaced with a tunnel or through more transit, a widened I-5, and putting traffic now on the viaduct on to city streets. Instead, he’s answered questions about the viaduct as he did at a press conference yesterday, saying he considers the tunnel a done deal and he’d use his managerial experience to try to make sure the state builds the tunnel on time and on budget.

Clibborn, though, said fights with the city would lead to delays and drive up the cost of the viaduct.

Asked how the Downtown Seattle Association is feeling about McGinn advancing to the general election, he pointed to a letter to DSA sent to its members on Aug. 14. It says in part that the tunnel deal “was a historic agreement that brought state and local officials together -- Republicans and Democrats, business and environmental interests and Eastern and Western Washington legislators. Never before have we had such broad and extensive agreement on a project of this significance. Now, two candidates (McGinn and City Council candidate Mike O’Brien) want to revisit this agreement and all the work and compromise that took placeover eight years. Their proposal to undo this decision would lead to years of delay,additional costs and could risk the state deciding to simply move forward and construct aMcGinn, though, argues those are scare tactics and that he’ll be able to cut another deal.

He and Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, representing businesses that rely on moving freight on the viaduct, engaged in dueling readings of what voters want.

McGinn has pointed to a 2007 advisory vote, in which only 30 percent of voters supported the tunnel. The problem, he said, is that no solution really seems to have widespread support in the city and hatching another deal with the state over any option will be bound to have its detractors.

He argued that even with McGinn’s support for the so-called surface option, he received only about a quarter of the vote.

Dave Freiboth, executive secretary of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, said, "It's possible that we could get another embarassing electoral vote over infrastructure needs like we did with the monorail." But he said he believes voters will see the surface plan as a recipe for transportation and political gridlock.

Still, Gering acknowledged that Seattle residents should ultimately support whatever option that goes forward and while tunnel proponents have sold the idea to elected officials, haven’t done a good job of making the case for the tunnel to the public.
Meanwhile, McGinn on Friday questioned what real impact Mallahan’s self-proclaimed management chops would have when it is the state that will be doing the project.

Mallahan spokeswoman Charla Neuman said: "He's going to have to be very aggressive to insert yourself to make sure all the contractors and agencies are working together."

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