Mood: being an engaged citizen
This afternoon, I finally filled in my absentee ballot on the Viaduct Rebuild. The voters of Seattle are being asked to, in a non-binding election, whether they prefer to replace an elevated highway that runs along the waterfront called the Viaduct with a larger elevated structure or a surface-tunnel hybrid. The existing structure was damaged in a 2001 earthquake and needs to be replaced. For more information on this issue, I recommend the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Page On The Viaduct Issue.
I voted against the surface-tunnel hybrid and for the new elevated structure. The first, and most important, reason for this is that the Viaduct needs to be replaced immediately in the interests of public safety and commerce. The Viaduct one of only two north-south highways in Seattle, and while it may not be attractive, it works, and is my preferred north-south route. The new elevated structure has been planned out and the costs will be funded by the state and federal governments. The surface-tunnel hybrid is an 11th-hour idea slapped together by Mayor Nickels after Governor Gregoire shot down his original idea for a six-lane tunnel. It would not only take time to design the surface-tunnel hybrid, time which Seattle does not have, but the existing Viaduct would be closed for 3 years while the new, less than a mile long tunnel would be built. Any cost overruns would be borne by Seattle taxpayers in the form of higher utilities and user taxes.
Many commentators on the issue have brought up comparisions with Boston's Big Dig. Having grown up and lived in Boston while the Big Dig was being built, I have a perspective that other Seattleites might not on this issue. The Expressway, which was the elevated structure that was partially replaced by the Big Dig network of tunnels, cut through the middle of the city. The Viaduct is on the waterfront. While it would be nice to "open up the waterfront" as the surface-tunnel hybrid supporters prefer, you can still "get to the waterfront," and once you are there, it is mostly port operations. The Big Dig was billions over-budget, poorly built, and turned Boston into a laughingstock, but in the end, it made sense to connect the various peninsulas that make up Boston together with a tunnel system. Boston officials also had the luxury of time as the Expressway and the Callahan & Sumner tunnels were fine structurally and they did not have to be closed in order to build the tunnels.
Seattle does not have the luxury of time in this instance. If the Viaduct is damaged or destroyed in an earthquake, Seattle would grind to a halt. The Viaduct plan is ready to go, the funds are in place, and the construction can be implemented shortly. While it is not the most attractive option, it is the one that makes the most sense. All this debate about "opening up the waterfront" clouds the very serious public safety issue at stake. Action has to be taken immediately and delay would be fatal. We can worry about public transportation and open space later.