Seattle tunnel project inked into reality



Posted on January 6, 2011 at 9:33 PM

SEATTLE -- With the stroke of a pen Thursday came the biggest construction contract in Washington state history.

Washington's Transportation Secretary signed the controversial $1.1 billion deep-bore tunnel project contract to replace the Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct.

There was no comment from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, the most outspoken tunnel critic.

Still, other critics insist it's not a done deal, though construction has already started on the first phase of the project -- building a new ramp to Highway 99.

Demolition of the Viaduct will begin at the south end of the structure, and be finished by 2016. It became unsafe ten years ago when the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earthquake struck.

In its place will be the world's widest tunnel ever built, drilled by a 58-foot wide boring machine through glacial soils. The four lanes will run from Sodo to South Lake Union under downtown Seattle. It is scheduled to open in December, 2015.

Several Seattle citizens say they oppose the tunnel idea.

"I'm not a tunnel person. We're going to loose a gorgeous view while your driving. Now we'll be driving in a hole," said one person.

Critics fear language in the tunnel bill will leave Seattle taxpayers on the hook for construction cost overruns. Activists, who have been gathering signatures for anti-tunnel initiatives, say this is not a done deal.

"Seattle voters have never said they want this project and never said they'd be willing to pay for cost overruns," said Drew Paxton, organizer for Move Seattle Smarter.

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire vowed Seattle will not be stuck with the leftover costs.

"In order to put anyone on the hook for a cost overrun the legislature would have to pass legislation," she said.

Tunnel critics noted the contract signing, held at the Port of Seattle, is ironic because the Port has not yet disclosed how it plans to pay for its $300 million share of the project.