Seattle City Council overrides mayor’s tunnel veto, groups push for public vote

Feb 28, 2011

If you’re waiting for the final chapter in the saga of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, don’t hold your breath. The latest action by the city council has triggered an effort to put the question to the voters again.

In an often-raucous council chamber packed with both supporters and opponents of the planned deep-bore tunnel project, the City Council decisively overturned Mayor Mike McGinn’s veto of a set of agreements between the city and the state that would facilitate the tunnel.

The agreements would essentially make sure city utility and traffic planners are at the table when the state designs and builds the tunnel. Council President Richard Conlin says the measure protects the citizens of Seattle.

“It provides for the method in which our utilities will be relocated, it provides for the designs in which our streets will be redone, it protects us from liability. These contracts are in the best interests of the people of Seattle, whether or not you are a supporter of the tunnel.”

The lone dissenter on the council, Mike O’Brien, made an impassioned plea for reconsidering the tunnel. He said it would increase  greenhouse gas emissions, threaten city finances and create fewer jobs than alternative projects.

“Looking back on the stimulus money that’s been spent over the past two years, investments in transit created 70% more jobs per dollar spent than investments in new roads.”

Immediately after the 8-1 vote, the two groups that have been pushing for a public vote on the tunnel announced they’d joined forces on a ballot measure that would repeal those agreements the council made with the state for the tunnel construction.

Even if voters passed the referendum, the state could proceed with the project anyway.  It’s a state highway and state lawmakers have approved it and appropriated money for it.

But referendum campaign organizer Drew Paxton says passing the measure would send a message to state leaders.

“What it does is, it says, ‘We want you to do more. We believe there is more than you can do to protect Seattle citizens. And that’s what this vote is about.”

The group will need to gather 16,000 votes in 29 days to put the measure on the August 16th primary ballot.