The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront is a grassroots coalition to remove Lakeshore Drive from Grant Park, and eventually the entire Chicago shoreline.

Seattle Voters Say "No!" to Rebuilding Waterfront Highway

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Seattle leaders look for new ideas after viaduct vote
Non-Highway Option Shows Greatest Promise

DAVID AMMONS
March 15, 2007
The Associated Press

A day after Seattle voters trounced both options for replacing the quake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Seattle leaders Wednesday announced a new two-year attempt to negotiate a compromise.

A tunnel option passionately sought by city leaders apparently is off the table, although the governor said it's premature to definitively rule anything out. A surface option - a street-level road combined with dramatically heavier use of transit - is expected to gain new traction.

While talks are under way, time and money won't be lost, the governor said, because the state will press ahead with $900 million worth of work on the waterfront that any of the replacement ideas will need.

Construction should start this summer, although the main double-decker mile of freeway won't be pulled down for five more years, the governor said.

Seattle voters on Tuesday strongly rejected a proposal to rebuild the aging viaduct and were even more adamantly opposed to the tunnel option pushed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

The rebuild option, with a pricetag of $2.8 billion, was failing 56 percent to 44 percent and the $3.4 billion tunnel was getting buried 70 percent to 30 percent after new vote totals were released Wednesday.

Gregoire, Nickels, King County Executive Ron Sims and key legislators huddled at the Capitol after the "no-no" vote - and came out smiling and pledging to work together on a "collaborative effort" on a new approach. Such a deal has eluded the city and state ever since the Nisqually Quake damaged the viaduct in 2001.

Sims said later that the three leaders had been quietly working on their fallback position for the past three weeks, presuming that the Seattle vote would either be inconclusive or in strong opposition to both alternatives.

Sims, Nickels and Gregoire all said the election results had one clear message: back to the drawing board.

"It doesn't create an impasse," the mayor told a joint news conference that drew scores of lawmakers and Seattle elected officials. "It creates an opportunity for us to find a better solution. We start by finding common ground."

Added Gregoire: "With no further ado, let the problem-solving begin and let it begin now."

Legislative leaders and transportation chairwomen were quick to add their blessings to this approach, rather than stick with the already approved rebuild or force a new design quickly.

Nickels said negotiators will have a blank slate, but he seemed to rule out his longtime favorite option, a tunnel, and said a non-highway option, such as dramatic improvement in transit, shows greatest promise. That also has been Sims' favorite approach.

Gregoire, the state Department of Transportation and key lawmakers, including House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and transportation chairwomen in both chambers have favored a simple rebuild of the viaduct. That isn't off the table, but neither is it the slam dunk it once seemed, especially with the mayor saying Seattle voters want a non-highway answer.

Noting previous Seattle votes against expressways, Nickels said, "The voters have again told us loud and clear that a new freeway through the heart and soul of the city is not the answer. I couldn't agree more."

He appeared to rule out the viaduct rebuild and said he will not pursue a tunnel.

"They've sent a very clear message - whether it is above ground or below, they don't want to build another freeway on our waterfront," the mayor said. "The three of us have heard the voters. This is the 21st Century and what the people of Seattle have said is we must put aside the 1950s mind-set about transportation and find new and better alternatives. ...

"We don't know what that solution looks like, but we do know it will include transit, light rail, street cars, buses, biking, walking."

Although the vote was a big setback for the mayor, he was upbeat.

"We've come here today to begin a new chapter in our quest to remove the dangerous Alaskan Way Viaduct from our future," he said, adding, "The voters said no to the two options which were put before them, which were both highway options, and it is up to us to take a harder look at other alternatives."

Sims said King County is enthusiastic about joining the talks. Gregoire, who called it "the Washington way," said the negotiations won't start until after the legislative session ends next month.

The governor said the next real deadline will be in two years, when lawmakers write a new transportation budget. That's when they'll need a firm decision on the project's design, she said.

While the transportation departments are trying to forge consensus, Gregoire said it makes sense for the Legislature to proceed with financing for the parts of the project that are common to all plans - the south end of the viaduct that will come down and improvements north of the main viaduct, including the Battery Street Tunnel.

That will cost $900 million, money that lawmakers already have set aside.

Gregoire said the state will step up inspections of the viaduct and will encourage the region to increase transit service.

Legislative transportation leaders quickly endorsed the idea of starting the agreed-upon part of the viaduct replacement and letting the state and local governments continue negotiating on the main one-mile replacement.

In Seattle, City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said he would ask his colleagues to spend $500,000 developing the surface option.

Steinbrueck, who is foregoing another council term to focus on the viaduct issue, also wants to block about $7.8 million in city money from being spent on the rejected tunnel and rebuild options.

"We don't want the funds being misspent or misused on any plan that's been rejected," Steinbrueck said.