The Stranger - WSDOT Ignores Economic, Environmental Benefits of Viaduct Teardown

The debate over what to do with Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct continues. Groups such as the Congress for the New Urbanism and Center for Neighborhood Technology has completed studies showing errors in the WSDOT estimates of traffic projections. These projections are vital to deciding whether to replace the viaduct or to simply tear it down. Will the citizens of Seattle change their transportation ways if given realistic alternatives?

The Stranger - Seattles Only Newspaper
Monday, September 18, 2006
By Erica Barnett

As Nancy Drew reported, the Congress for the New Urbanism and Center for Neighborhood Technology released a study last week finding that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in studying alternatives for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, had overestimated downtown traffic projections, overstated the extent to which the viaduct is needed for freight mobility, and mischaracterized the car capacity of downtown streets, among other flaws. In a few weeks, the groups will release part 2 of their report, which addresses the economic impacts of the three viaduct-replacement alternatives. (The three choices are: Replace the viaduct with another aerial structure; replace it with an aerial structure and cut-and-cover tunnel; or tear it down and don’t replace it, supplementing the lost capacity by adding transit and re-routing viaduct trips through the street grid.) In a letter to Mayor Nickels, the presidents of the two organizations, John Norquist and Scott Bernstein, note that WSDOT’s analysis “did not analyze the potential benefits of more balanced traffic distribution” downtown and limited its economic considerations “solely to near term availability” of funds.

In other cities that have torn down waterfront freeways and not replaced them, Norquist and Bernstein write, the new waterfront boulevards “sparked the areas revitalization.” In Milwaukee, for example, as property values citywide went up 18 percent, property values on the reclaimed waterfront increased an astonishing 155%.

Norquist and Bernstein also criticize WSDOT and the city’s presumption that people won’t change their auto dependent habits if given real alternatives. Between 2000and 2030, they note, the region’s residents will spend $1 trillion on out-of-pocket auto-related expenses: $10,000 per household per year. “If making the most of your existing assets... can save as much as 30 percent of that amount per household, then moving toward the direction of increasing traffic flow and inducing automobile use and dependence is an expensive mistake.” Moreover, “accommodating increased traffic and reducing [greenhouse-gas] emissions by 80 percent,” the city’s stated goal,“ are not compatible goals.”

The letter concludes:

We ask that you not plan for the Viaduct replacement in isolation from the other commitments in which you are engaged, such as greenhouse gas reduction and increasing transit. We believe there are better choices to be made. The city council votes Friday on what viaduct replacement options it will send to the ballot in November. At the moment, it appears the council plans to ignore the progressive groups’ advice, giving voters only two options: the ugly aerial rebuild and the costly, environmentally short-sighted tunnel.


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