Alaskan Way Viaduct
10:10 am
Tue February 1, 2011

Battle over Seattle tunnel heats up

Seattle city council members are pushing ahead with efforts to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bored tunnel – just as a group of citizens hands in petitions for a public vote on the project. 

Proponents of the tunnel say people have had long enough to deliberate the project.  (City officials have been debating how to replace the viaduct since 2001 when the Nisqually earthquake damaged it.) At a packed city council meeting, representatives from the Port of Seattle and several business groups pressed for action. Mike Sotelo, chairman of the King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says communities of color are in desperate need of work.

“I understand these things take time, but right now I think it’s pretty crucial that we get started on something as soon as possible, put people back to work, and show the citizens of Seattle that you guys are willing to make a stance and to make this job go forward,” he said.

Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw says that’s why she wants the council to approve legislation that commits city property and other resources to the project.

But more than 27,000 people have signed a petition to decide the tunnel’s fate with a measure on the ballot, according to Elizabeth Campbell, chair of Initiative 101. She says supporters of the tunnel have avoided a public vote.

“They always have to resort to strategic things such as ‘oh, well, we’re going ahead with it anyway.’" she says. "That’s why I think it’s important for the citizens to take control of the process and either go up or down on the tunnel.”

The biggest factor in whether the tunnel moves forward could be timing. The measure might not appear on the ballot until this fall, around the same time tunnel supporters hope construction starts.