Seattle’s unbelievable transportation megaproject fustercluck
December 16, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Seattle's unbelievable transportation megaproject fustercluck — "In short: There is no plan to resolve the dispute over cost overruns, which are ubiquitous on projects like this; at $4.2 billion, it's the most expensive transportation project in state history. The tunnel will have no exits - no ingress or egress - throughout the entire downtown core (which makes the support of downtown businesses all the more mystifying). It won't allow transit, only cars. It will be tolled, highly enough, by the state's own estimates, to drive nearly half its traffic onto the aforementioned side streets. It will be a precarious engineering feat, the widest deep-bore tunnel in history, digging right between a) Puget Sound and b) the oldest part of Seattle, with vulnerable buildings and God-knows-what buried infrastructure. Also: Pollution. Climate change. It's the 21st f'ing century. On and on. People said all this and more, in real time, to no avail."

Seattle, Pull the Plug on the Tunnel Unless You Can Answer These Seven Questions
But to answer the question-should we juice this lemon?-depends on whether Seattle can figure out if the project is still viable. (Moon has an excellent op-ed you should read about this.) So, if I have any magical predictive powers left, my advice is to answer these seven questions. If you can't get the answers, or if the answers suck, kill the tunnel.

1. What is the timeline to finish this project?

2. What is the plan if the tunnel-boring machine breaks down again?

3. How many more setbacks can Seattle Tunneling Partners (STP), the private contractor digging the tunnel, afford before it abandons the project?

4. If the contractor does pull out, what's the state's backup plan?

5. If the tunnel boring machine fails and the state decides it needs more money, where will that money come from?

6. How much more can the ground settle before we close the viaduct?

7. When the viaduct closes-not if, when-what is the city's plan for traffic around downtown, Ballard, and West Seattle?

Ask all of these questions, Seattle. And if you feel the answers you're given are inadequate, press harder. When it comes to megaprojects, obfuscation is par for the course.
posted by tonycpsu (166 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
I heard they plan on finishing the tunnel to coincide with the eruption of Mount Rainier and the destruction of all we know and love.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


I dispute the premise that this is unbelievable. This is totally fucking believable.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:37 PM on December 16, 2014 [40 favorites]


It really seems that money would be better spent digging a tunnel to Alaska.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2014


Well, it's nice depressing to know that Toronto isn't the only city that can't plan its way in or out of a paper bag.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Having commuted through Boston's "Big Dig" project for years, I wish all of you good luck.

Ours took twenty-plus years and twenty billion dollars and eventually finished (other than the odd death of a tunnel-goer from inadequate construction glue on the ceiling panels), but it looks like yours may not have such a certain fate.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:39 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the tunnel will have no exits - no ingress or egress.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2014 [25 favorites]


Cities work best when designed for the people who live in them, not the people trying to get through them as quickly as possible.

Oh God, yes.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2014 [56 favorites]


The viaduct (the double-decker highway situated atop the tunnel construction) is sinking. Possibly due to drainage issues with the tunnel. Washington's DOT doesn't want to talk about it, and because of the feet-dragging, the city is talking about bringing in a third-party contractor to evaluate if it may collapse. Hopefully it will remain safe to drive — not only is it packed during rush hour, it is situated very near high-traffic tourism destinations along the waterfront. A collapse would be disastrous.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


From the first article:

Seattle didn’t want to replace the viaduct with a tunnel. Voters rejected both a tunnel and a new elevated highway by wide margins in March 2007.

This can't be repeated enough. Ballot initiatives shot this down. The last mayor got elected on a platform that was basically nothing but "I think the tunnel is stupid." And yet it's happening anyway.

And then people try to tell me that my vote counts for something.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2014 [34 favorites]


I've got a bad feeling about this.
posted by General Tonic at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2014


This is the same WDOT that kept responding to complaints about a bridge with "It's totally safe" right up to the day it collapsed. I don't have a lot of hope that this will end well.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Boston's Big Dig, which was also a massive scale underground tunnel project that went off the rails at times and got horrendous press, was also a relative success in how it turned otherwise wasted above ground highway space that divided the city into nice parkland.

Not to say that this is a good project, but the article seems to only have negative points.
posted by destro at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Every city should have its own Port of Dallas.
posted by maxsparber at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


You know, the Big Dig was a giant fuckup from start to finish and we're still paying for it in the form of crippling debt piled on to our public transportation system, but. BUT.

Hey, look, the North End is actually connected to the rest of the city. Tourists don't have to go under a dodgy underpass to get overpriced cannoli! (OK, technically now they don't even have to leave Harvard Square). You can see the ocean from Quincy Market! Which reminds, they built an island! It's a nice place for a picnic. I can take the subway to the airport in one transfer instead of two plus a bus! The Zakim Bridge has become an iconic part of the sky line!

Traffic on I-93 is still pretty awful, but the city is so much more beautiful and liveable. I hope Seattle has better luck going forward with this project, because in my short visit there I remember thinking how weird it was that it seemed impossible to get to the ocean. And it kind of blows my mind that I lived in Boston when it was like that. It feels so long ago.
posted by maryr at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2014 [30 favorites]


Cancel that shit, reinforce it and turn it into a shelter or museum or something, then give us our cut and cover, 4 lanes on top for local access, 6 lanes below for toll-paying express lanes. Traffic will be terrible for a couple years but it's better than having downtown sink into a hole or waiting for the viaduct to collapse over the next 5 years of clusterfuckery.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


I also felt completely powerless in preventing this stupid idea from happening, and it always felt that this was a Thing That Was Going To Happen, public opinion and voters be damned.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


It won't allow transit, only cars.

Isn't there already a transit tunnel under Seattle?
posted by smackfu at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2014


So the thing with the viaduct, IMHO is that unless it's taken down, it will fall. Seattle is an earthquake prone city, and a biggish quake will just take the thing down.

And everyone on it will die, or nearly so, it would be a shock otherwise. And many people below it when it falls (after the inevitable earthquake) will also die.

I've been in vehicles a few times on the viaduct, and each time I prayed that I wasn't going to die.

I never thought it might collapse on its own, but it sounds like smarter people than me are concerned about this happening.

Also, did they seriously think drilling through pioneer square was a good idea? The neighborhood was literally built on top of rubble.
posted by el io at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


smackfu: there is, but it's exclusively used for bus transit (and it would be foolish to try to use that tunnel for cars).
posted by el io at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's rare that I say this... But this article seems a little unfair to Seattle's gigantic moneyhole.

(My biggest fear at the moment is the damn thing will never be finished and we'll actually get to find out how well the stupid "run all the traffic through city streets" plan that people keep proposing for mystifying reasons actually works. )
posted by Artw at 12:59 PM on December 16, 2014


Not just city council members, but voters themselves should be educated just a little bit more about urban planning and the difficulties of engineering.

Voters, so they know how much the city council people need to know, and what questions to demand answers to.

When I say voters, I mean even people who don't graduate high school, or who do but only barely. Surely we can find a way to get the important concepts out to everyone -- I'm not saying it will be easy, but there are enough smart people out there that a way can be found.

City council people need a bit of training -- maybe a crash course of some kind -- when they are first elected, long before stuff like this comes up for debate and voting. While the issue is being deliberated, they need to focus on the issues at hand, and communicate with all the different parties involved (giving and receiving information) without trying to educate themselves at the same time.
posted by amtho at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just keep thinking...I moved up here in 2004 and found out that I'd be paying an extra $125 on my car tabs (that year and the next) for a monorail that would never actually be built. As in, "It's already off the table. Now pony up for this thing that we all accept we will never see." And nobody went to jail over that mess.

How anyone could hear of this tunnel project and not realize that exactly the same fucking thing was about to happen is completely beyond me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


So the thing with the viaduct, IMHO is that unless it's taken down, it will fall. Seattle is an earthquake prone city, and a biggish quake will just take the thing down. And everyone on it will die, or nearly so, it would be a shock otherwise. And many people below it when it falls (after the inevitable earthquake) will also die.

This.

The viaduct has beautiful views of Puget Sound, but the thing is a deathtrap. It's basically the same design as the Cypress Street Viaduct that collapsed in the Loma Prieta quake, killing 42 people. Here's the official simulation of what is likely to happen to the Alaskan Way Viaduct in an earthquake. That thing is bad news, and I'm honestly hoping that the current tunnel issues have made it unstable enough that they have to close the damn thing and tear it down ASAP before it comes down on its own.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2014 [21 favorites]


Ballot initiatives shot this down. The last mayor got elected on a platform that was basically nothing but "I think the tunnel is stupid." And yet it's happening anyway.

And then people try to tell me that my vote counts for something.


I assume the reason this is still happening is something to do with this. All votes are equal, but some votes are more equal than others!

Cancel that shit, reinforce it and turn it into a shelter or museum or something

Slog has some ideas.
posted by duffell at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I often envy bigger cities (like Seattle) that have lots of money for streets and transit and whatnot.

This project reminds me to be careful what I wish for.
posted by Monochrome at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2014


I have to take the viaduct to and from work every day. Besides the lovely view each evening, every day I think 'hm, hope there's no earthquake.'

Besides this tunnel though the city seems to be completely incapable of dealing with moving people from one end/side of the city to another. Going one neighborhood over is fine but if you want to travel anywhere between 7 am and 6pm without going bonkers from wait times you are just out of luck.

I've lived here eight wonderful years but this is the year I've considered whether or not the pain to just get anywhere is going to be worth it for very much longer.
posted by Tevin at 1:09 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


amtho: "When I say voters, I mean even people who don't graduate high school, or who do but only barely. Surely we can find a way to get the important concepts out to everyone -- I'm not saying it will be easy, but there are enough smart people out there that a way can be found."

Oh ye of so much faith.
posted by symbioid at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


the city is so much more beautiful and liveable

I don't disagree that a tunnel might improve Seattle's traffic situation, but the real problem is that city residents are on the hook for all cost overruns — which will be substantial, thanks to these latest engineering fuck-ups. Suburbanites driving into and out of the city, who will benefit more than people who live here, they won't have to feel that pain.

Once the viaduct comes down (whether by way of tunnel or earthquake), the opened-up waterfront will be a cash and real estate grab that I would be unsurprised to see become almost as ugly as the viaduct is now.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2014


Also: am I incorrect in remembering that the final ballot measure to "approve" the tunnel was shaped along the lines of, "Heads I win, tails you lose?" 'cause I remember the one that shot it down.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:13 PM on December 16, 2014


Metafilter: the tunnel will have no exits - no ingress or egress.

Yeah. That's not a tunnel. That's a bubble.
posted by notyou at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Most of the time I curse the gods that I live in a state that would never think to spend even a dime more than it takes to just keep the potholes filled. This isn't one of those times.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:24 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've lived here eight wonderful years but this is the year I've considered whether or not the pain to just get anywhere is going to be worth it for very much longer.

I live north of Seattle and switching to taking my bike to the train (gorgeous views of the sound, regular shutdowns in winter for mudslides), to the park and ride to get the bus, and more and more biking often all the way into the city via the Interurban and more bike friendly streets, is saving my sanity.

I think the tunnel is a slow motion disaster. We absolutely have to address the viaduct given our seismic risk here, but this, unlike the bus tunnel, seems to be a hugely expensive exercise in bad contracting and engineering. Which, given that I like many of those affected don't live in Seattle, is something I never got to vote on.
posted by bearwife at 1:25 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seattle has a history of voting against stupid shit and then having the state override their vote. This half a billion dollar corporate welfare, for example.
posted by el io at 1:29 PM on December 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Most of the time I curse the gods that I live in a state that would never think to spend even a dime more than it takes to just keep the potholes filled. This isn't one of those times.

You live in a state where potholes are filled? Tell us more of this Utopian paradise!

/bitter
posted by trunk muffins at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Also is there a thread somewhere to kvetch about Seattle's Emerson bridge closure? Because it is a microcosm of the tunnel's clusterfuckery and just the pits.
posted by Tevin at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2014


Potholes? Tell me about 'em. The UK's roads are riddled with the damn things, and there is no way to fix them all.
posted by marienbad at 1:34 PM on December 16, 2014


There's a vote on some transit issue or other every other week here in Seattle, who knows what the hell we voted for.
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also is there a thread somewhere to kvetch about Seattle's Emerson bridge closure?

That should be reopening soon. This week, in fact.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:37 PM on December 16, 2014


Also is there a thread somewhere to kvetch about Seattle's Emerson bridge closure? Because it is a microcosm of the tunnel's clusterfuckery and just the pits.

Yes! I just moved here in June, and I live on W Dravus Street and the goddamn spillover traffic is a nightmare. Screws up all the buses and makes it nearly impossible to get home from 15th. Now I usually head down to Gilman and backtrack.

I really enjoy living in Seattle, but I live in terror of the day I get a new job and have to commute somewhere more than 4 miles away.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2014


>That should be reopening soon.

The thread or the bridge?

Either way, I will be extremely surprised if it opens on time. Pleased - but surprised.
posted by Tevin at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2014


Also they closed the bridge because trucks kept running into it and knocking chunks off. So they're not building a better bridge or, God forbid, getting rid of that horrible, confusing, snarling intersection.

No. They're just patching over the holes and waiting for more trucks. Just. GAH.
posted by Tevin at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2014


Getting out of the city to Eastside, from Queen Anne / Mercer street has been awful. They are just now finishing up the project, but for a time they would block off eastbound traffic to just one lane, for seemingly no reason, during morning rush hour. One time this happened while they shut down the Aurora street bridge over Mercer, so all that spillover traffic ended up at the bottom of my neighborhood.

Thankfully now I work downtown, and I can take the bus, or walk. And there's a dive bar between me and work so I can grab whisky-gingers for breakfast.
posted by hellojed at 1:48 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ah well, at least we're not San Francisco.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


'Em comuniss are jest try'n ta git me ta ride on the BUS with the HOMELESS. Keep diggin'.
posted by telstar at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


The longer I live, the more evidence I see that the Peter Principle is generalizable to just about everything humans do. We have promoted ourselves to a level of technical complexity that we aren't actually qualified to manage.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:56 PM on December 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


I would heartily recommend to anyone considering moving to seattle (or within seattle) to move near a major busline. Not only can traffic be completely utterly awful, but parking can be impossible and impossibly expensive.

Even if you have a longer commute, you can get stuff done (or read or whatever) during your commute.

Great on those that love biking, but consider it's raining about 400 days out of the year and the city is nearly as hilly as SF.
posted by el io at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


One would think that adults would step in at some point and deny Seattle and the WA state gov. from ever making a transit related decision again after their experiment with their subway system that goes from nowhere, to nowhere, and has never been used by anyone ever.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:06 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


there is, but it's exclusively used for bus transit

It's a combination bus & train tunnel. I've heard that the long term plan is to make it subway-only, but I can't find confirmation of that right now.

their experiment with their subway system that goes from nowhere, to nowhere, and has never been used by anyone ever.

You're joking, right?
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Sigh. I've lived in Seattle for the past 15 years and I'm just now finally beginning to understand my friends that have left for Portland, Astoria, and other assorted smaller towns. Politically it is frustrating to fight these battles over and over (sports venues voted down, public will over-ridden by the interests of the moneyed owners, the monorail argh-don't-get-me-started-I-live-in-West-Seattle, etc.) so I understand the certain amount of apathy that some have - the Seattle Process (of trying to achieve 100% consensus instead of actual leadership) basically ensures that the worst possible solution is chosen no matter what the original question was. Also, big business - meaning commercial real estate owners and developers in West Edge / downtown along 1st Ave and west to the waterfront - were the $$ behind the campaign for the tunnel. They stand to make substantial profit once they can sell more high dollar waterfront view residences, and they have no concern about ingress / egress from neighborhoods north or south into downtown which is why the tunnel was designed the way it was.
posted by WacoKid at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Isn't the earthquake prone-ness that makes the viaduct dangerous just as much of a problem for a tunnel?
posted by dnash at 2:09 PM on December 16, 2014


FWIW from the point of view of someone who uses the Bus Tunnel daily that one seems to have worked out very well.

In fact the buses in Seattle are generally pretty good, assuming they don't get their funding cut. But they are never really the ficus as there's always some weird pie-in-the-sky monorail scheme or similar in the offing.

Does the light rail get you all the way to the airport terminals without a shuttle bus yet?
posted by Artw at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Does the light rail get you all the way to the airport terminals without a shuttle bus yet?

Yes.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Phew. Because that was truly idiotic.
posted by Artw at 2:22 PM on December 16, 2014


My office looks out on the U-District station for the light rail. They started construction before I got here. They expect to be operational in.....drumroll......2021.

They're going to use a smaller version of Bertha, called Brenda. I'm wondering how far they'll get before it breaks.

The buses, on the other hand, are great.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't understand. The tunnels they built in Ogdenville, Brockway, and North Haverbrook turned out great for them.
posted by dry white toast at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2014 [17 favorites]


I was on the verge of seeing why a tunnel would be useful until I remembered that the 5 goes right through downtown, so there's none of that SF-like "the city is in the way of the 101" business. This does seem ridiculous.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2014


Phew. Because that was truly idiotic.

I talked to a guy who was involved in the construction and he claimed the plan with the shuttles was actually the FAA's fault. They didn't want the train too close to the airport because terrorism. Thankfully, it ended up being built to drop you off on the far side of the parking structure.

They have a pretty good plan for the rail going forward too. The extension up to Capitol Hill and the U District is opening in 2016. The extension from there to Northgate should be done in 2021, and then on to Lynnwood in 2023. They're also planning to have service to the Eastside in 2023, which should really help things.

Here's a cross-section of the tunnel they bored through Capitol Hill!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a perfect example of why I absolutely abhor the referendum/initiative system we have in washington.
The political cycle is not just shorter than the construction cycle, it's also shorter than the feasibility study cycle. so folks vote in favor of a measure, then the numbers come back and half the folks have moved out and new folks have moved in and wonder why they have to pay for things they didn't vote for, or for things they won't be around long enough to use (never mind the shortsightedness of that worldview), so the measure gets tossed and on and on until the city or state is painted into a corner and then it's pick the least of the evils and use 15 yr old numbers and grar this and grar that ad infinitum.
Seattle is positioned, as few other cities in the world are, to simply make itself the
"city of the future". All of the planning should be in this direction. make the city pedestrian/bike/transport friendly, make the inner core virtually car free (at least on the surface), allow for density let the corporations like amazon that stand to benefit the most from downtown development help to pay for it. 25 yrs from now when every other city is scrambling to catch up we will be the envy of the world...but...no.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:31 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm a lot more optimistic/tolerant of the tunnels being built for light rail as they are (1) specifically for mass transit; (2) not being dug through the engineering nightmare that is the Pioneer Square/waterfront area; (3) are on/ahead of schedule so far; and (4) aren't being done in lieu of seemingly obvious cheaper and simpler alternatives
posted by MoonOrb at 2:33 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yes, I was kind of shocked (a couple of years ago) when I realized the light rail went all the way to the airport now, because when I moved away from the Seattle area there was no plan at the time for it to do so and in fact any proposals for it to do so were actively being blocked by taxi and limo companies that were benefiting from the lack of mass transit access to the airport. How on earth did the star-crossed Seattle transit planners manage to inadvertently (eventually) do the right thing?
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:34 PM on December 16, 2014


The tunnel will have no exits — no ingress or egress — throughout the entire downtown core

This was where my brain broke. I expect there to be municipal infrastructure boondoggles to buy votes and disproportionately benefit a city's business interests. T'was ever thus. But that is a whole other galaxy of short-sightedness.
posted by dry white toast at 2:35 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Now that I've RTFA I'm terrified that my city's council will also read it, not as a cautionary example but as an opportunity.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


People said all this and more, in real time, to no avail

I don't know much about this particular tunnel, but the article has the exact same tone that the people in Hawaii take when they talk about the incredibly stupid plans for light rail / a ferry / bike lanes / any type of civic improvement whatsoever. And so I am predisposed to think that the above mentioned "people who said this" are in fact the dumbfucks in this situation.
posted by kanewai at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely sure people think the tunnel needs to drop people off downtown. North/South travel avoiding downtown is the entire point of it.
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


They're going to use a smaller version of Bertha, called Brenda. I'm wondering how far they'll get before it breaks.

Sound Transit's tunnel projects use standard-sized drilling machines like those that have been successfully used for many other rail projects all over the world. Unlike the one-of-a-kind, largest-ever-built Bertha, there is nothing weird or experimental about Sound Transit's TBMs, and ST has so far finished five tunnels on budget and slightly ahead of schedule. I have no doubt they will finish the next two tunnels up to Northgate with similar competence.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:09 PM on December 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


I mean, yes, this project is a complete clusterfuck. But the idea that it's totally fine to let Seattle traffic stay a clusterfuck - and actually reduce road space - because, you know, commuters don't deserve to have nice things or whatever - is kind of shitty. Seattle traffic is horrible. It is worse than NYC. It took me an hour last week to travel 6 blocks. ​I have literally burned half a tank of gas just getting out of Seattle. ​

Also, a desire to have things suck for commuters is thinly disguised snobbery. People are getting priced out of Seattle, so they move to elsewhere in King County. The commute is like the mouth of hell - yes, even for buses. And then we get to look down at them as people "just driving through"? Not okay.
posted by corb at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


The other thing to remember about Washington is that though Seattle subsidizes the rest of the state, and the rest of the state depends on us economically , given any opportunity whatsoever to fuck us over on a vote they absolutely will.
posted by Artw at 3:21 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I can say this because I live on the other coast, and I can start with a disclaimer of "don't do it for real, bad idea."

But if someone did this, it would solve the problem:

Pick one of the supports for the Alaska Way viaduct. Go there at 2AM, and apply a large amount of thermite to it.

Call 9/11 on a burner phone to announce what you just did.

The police will have no choice but to shut down the Alaska Way indefinitely. Drivers will have no choice but to seek alternate routes or transit.

When the ensuing traffic apocalypse fails to materialize, the reusult will prove the best alternative to the viaduct: \

Nothing.
posted by ocschwar at 3:27 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reading this article makes me wish I hated Seattle and everyone in it with a white-hot passion, because this is absolutely the kind of thing you hope your worst enemy will do to themselves.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:28 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


ocshwar: Also, if someone goes through with this brilliant plan of yours, I'd call a lawyer immediately (and a good one) before the FBI comes to your house.

:)
posted by el io at 3:29 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


But the idea that it's totally fine to let Seattle traffic stay a clusterfuck - and actually reduce road space - because, you know, commuters don't deserve to have nice things or whatever - is kind of shitty. Seattle traffic is horrible.

Reducing road space and replacing it with transit is more likely to fix traffic than the other options. Anyone who votes for increasing road space actually does deserve a clusterfuck of traffic, because that's what they asked for.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:38 PM on December 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


When the ensuing traffic apocalypse fails to materialize

Seattle traffic goes to shit if there's so much as a blocked lane or a flake of snow, so I wouldn't be so sure of that.
posted by Artw at 3:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


I mean, I love The Stranger like all good Seattlites do, but the surface/transit plan they've latched onto for some reason is complete dreamland idiocy and it's difficult to believe any of it's proponents have speant any length of time observing how traffic works in Seattle, what the effects of traffic disruption are on transit or basically anything that would require a connection with the real world at all.
posted by Artw at 4:00 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


But the idea that it's totally fine to let Seattle traffic stay a clusterfuck - and actually reduce road space - because, you know, commuters don't deserve to have nice things or whatever - is kind of shitty. Seattle traffic is horrible.

That's odd... When I lived in downtown seattle and commuted to redmond every day, my commute was like 20 minutes.

Oh yeah, that was taking the bus.
posted by el io at 4:02 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


You must have had impeccable timing. Which route were you taking?
posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine was involved with a group that made this site:
tunnelfacts.com
I parodied it here.
They were none too impressed, though I did try to help them with their SEO since they had completely delisted themselves from google.

Of course, they were right. Seattle's history is nothing if not a bucket of terrible half-assed transit projects.
posted by lkc at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2014


Since all somewhat notable inanimate objects must tweet now, and Bertha doesn't have anything better to do, she's been tweeting . Gotta love the "uh-oh" moment.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2014


When I lived in downtown seattle and commuted to redmond every day, my commute was like 20 minutes.

I also am curious of the details of said commute - I just tried Google Maps with a random downtown location - Westlake Center - leaving at 5PM for Redmond, and am pulling up 1 hour 7 minute commutes via bus.
posted by corb at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2014


I have literally burned half a tank of gas just getting out of Seattle. ​

That's why I take the bus.
posted by palomar at 4:14 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


"their subway system that goes from nowhere, to nowhere, and has never been used by anyone ever"

Nowhere? You might be afraid to set foot south of Downtown, but the rest of us who are not, who live, work and play in Southeast Seattle, find this comment to be remarkably clueless at best. Also, you might want to go look at the trains one of these days. Particularly during rush hour. Unless those are all mannequins or something, people do seem to be using the trains a lot.

Also, everyone being surprised that the trains get to the airport now? Yeah, the airport station opened five years ago. Only 6 months after the rest of the line. I spend 2.50 to get to the airport in 20 minutes from my house, while traffic sits on I-5 making the rest of you late. Works pretty damned well as far as I'm concerned.
posted by litlnemo at 4:15 PM on December 16, 2014 [21 favorites]


Oh, and I had the 20 minute bus commute from Capitol Hill to Redmond as well. Starting my work day at 7am and leaving the office at 4pm had a lot to do with that. Sort of stands to reason that if everyone gets in their single-commuter vehicle and gets on the road at the same time, there are going to be traffic problems. Come on now.
posted by palomar at 4:17 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought the plan called for zip lines until SuperTrain was ready? What gives, Seattle?
posted by SafetyPirate at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Cap Hill is not downtown, and is going to be the last stop before the bus hits 5 and is off on it's way to Redmond. And travel times when there is no traffic are largely irrelevant - the distances are all quite short so when there's no traffic you can just zip around.

Even given that I'd guess the trip would be more like 45mins.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


To be fair, Artw, 7am and 4pm cannot be considered "no traffic" times.
posted by palomar at 4:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Unless those are all mannequins or something, people do seem to be using the trains a lot.

Not really. Ridership on Central Link is around 30,000 on weekdays.

To be frank, that's terrible. Vancouver's Canada Line was built around the same time for a similar capital cost and it has ridership of 120,000 on weekdays.
posted by ripley_ at 4:33 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Man, I bet Marvel are kicking themselves for passing on my gritty Mole Man reboot now.
posted by No-sword at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Canada Line runs a lot more trains (it's driverless and doesn't have a surface segment AFAIK). The system there is also larger, and with the shorter headways and larger network, it's more useful to more people at this time. As Link expands you'll see it expand the ridership massively as well. At any rate, I never said it was perfect. (The surface segment and tunnel sharing have prevented that by limiting the trains' headways so much.) I said there are a lot of riders, and there are. Ridership has been going up substantially in year-to-year stats.

By the way, I do want to apologize to Keith Talent for my "you might be afraid to set foot south of Downtown" above. I shouldn't have framed it that way. It just gets old hearing people call my neighborhood "nowhere." But it is the comment that I dislike, not the person, and I shouldn't have replied with something that made it that fighty and personal.
posted by litlnemo at 4:48 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


We visited Seattle a couple of years ago, and it's striking how deserted the downtown is, and how crappy the area around Pike Place Market is.

We wanted to take the train, but it was a fair hike from our hotel next to Safeco Field. The waterfront is amazing, more vibrant in many ways than Vancouver's waterfront along Burrard Inlet, but it's totally cut off by the elevated highway.

The cool thing that Seattle has going for it is the free bus service in the downtown core, but downtown Seattle, including Pioneer Square, is noplace I ever want to go again.
posted by Nevin at 4:49 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


If your hotel was next to Safeco Field, the Stadium Link station was just a couple of blocks away. Admittedly a really stupid pedestrian bridge was put in that makes the walk longer, but it's not far.

The free bus service is gone now, incidentally.
posted by litlnemo at 4:53 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


RIP Free Bus Service.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


We could see it from our hotel room. Taking the hotel shuttle bus was more convenient.

One of the weird things about being in the US was the need to tip everyone.
posted by Nevin at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2014


Canada Line runs a lot more trains (it's driverless and doesn't have a surface segment AFAIK)

Yes, and Central Link really should have been driverless and fully grade separated as well.
posted by ripley_ at 4:56 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


(To anyone considering visiting Seatyle getting the hell out of downtown ASAP would be my main advice. Seattle's life is in it's neighborhoods, spend your time wandering around the financial district at the weekend and you're going to see nothing.)
posted by Artw at 4:57 PM on December 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


I absolutely agree that Link should have been grade-separated and driverless. Would have had to get the buses out of the tunnel from the beginning to make that work, but a train with SkyTrain headways... I can dream...
posted by litlnemo at 5:00 PM on December 16, 2014


The real problem with Seattle's mass transit is that it travels the same streets as the non mass transit. If Seattle's mass transit were underground, or even elevated, you'd see a lot of the traffic clear up pronto. But instead you have non-bus-lanes that turn into bus lanes that turn into non-bus-lanes. And you have traffic lights that don't alter at high traffic points.
posted by corb at 5:03 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


You must have had impeccable timing. Which route were you taking?

I did have good timing (when I missed it the commute ended up being like 45 minutes).

I'm not sure the route I was taking exists anymore. It was an express route that had very few stops, and was only running for a short period of time each morning. It was also the mid-90's.

Just googled it, I'm pretty sure the route doesn't exist anymore. The 545 is the closest thing, but the route I took didn't stop on university. I have the feeling the route existed because Microsoft begged/demanded it.
posted by el io at 5:04 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


As noted above the bus tunnels actually work pretty well, but only extend so far. That said, the area they let the bus skip is a pretty much as dense and probe to gridlock as it gets excepting chokepoints like bridges and construction, so really worth skipping.

(It is of course the area the surface plan would dump all the Portland to Vancouver traffic into.)
posted by Artw at 5:07 PM on December 16, 2014


I'm not entirely sure people think the tunnel needs to drop people off downtown. North/South travel avoiding downtown is the entire point of it.

But this traffic basically doesn't exist in any substantial number. 80-90% of Alaskan Way traffic [PDF] is entering or exiting the downtown, because it's the downtown and it's a place people want to go, and there exist alternatives (I-5) for through traffic already, and there's just not that much long-distance through traffic to begin with.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


After living in Japan for a long time, I have a hard time believing Vancouver's public transit is superior to anything. Vancouvers transit system is to public transit as the Pre-Cambrian is to life on planet Earth.
posted by Nevin at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2014


80-90% of Alaskan Way traffic [PDF] is entering or exiting the downtown,

Frankly I find that highly unlikely.
posted by Artw at 5:32 PM on December 16, 2014


If Seattle's mass transit were underground, or even elevated, you'd see a lot of the traffic clear up pronto.

Maybe they could build a monorail?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Maybe they could build a monorail?

Ha! Yeah, elevated is one of those things that's good in theory until you walk down 5th avenue south of the Space Needle and realize how much sunlight the monorail blocks out. We already don't have enough sunlight to go around!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:54 PM on December 16, 2014


Artw: "Frankly I find that highly unlikely."

As someone who takes the Viaduct every day, I find this (at the very least) plausible. It looks to me like nearly all the northbound morning traffic exits at either Seneca or Bell/Western. If you're not in the right-hand, exiting lane once you climb up the ramp, you can pretty much floor it.
posted by mhum at 6:11 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


the thing about the surface streets proposal is that, according to the studies they're using (which I also find credible, or rather my civic engineering wonk husband finds credible and I find HIM credible), the viaducts on and offramp backups fuck up traffic MORE than just routing the traffic through the city streets would. I drive in downtown a lot, I know how much it sucks, but every time I get on the viaduct i pray for my life and every time I have to drive on Elliott or Denny at rush hour I fantasize about blowing that thing up. It took me just north of two hours to get from southern Queen Anne to I-5 once, and the viaduct backup had a big part in that.
posted by KathrynT at 6:15 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


And the tunnel boring clusterfuck is so unbelievably ridiculous that I laugh myself sick every time I think about it. I knew this would happen from the moment they announced it, and it's glibly depressingly hilarious to see it play out JUST LIKE THAT.
posted by KathrynT at 6:16 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


"There is no plan to resolve the dispute over cost overruns, which are ubiquitous on projects like this"

Actually, municipal projects of this size often come in on time and under budget. This story has legs because it is a news. That is, it is newsworthy because it is not like other such projects.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2014


Am I a bad person for reading this article about a city with terrifyingly crumbling infrastructure, screwed up mass transit and corrupt government and thinking, "at least we aren't the only ones"?
posted by octothorpe at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Speaking of the surface streets proposal, I think the proponents of that kind of thing were using the San Francisco's Embarcadero as an example of a pretty similar situation that worked out pretty well, as far as I can tell. The key is you don't just trash the old highway and live with the remaining infrastructure. You actually have to make improvements to public transit and the surface streets to make it work.
posted by mhum at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ha! Yeah, elevated is one of those things that's good in theory until you walk down 5th avenue south of the Space Needle and realize how much sunlight the monorail blocks out.

But the daily commuters in an elevated system, like Vancouver's Skytrain, benefit from having a view.

A subway is vastly more efficient than at-grade transit but I find riding underground for extended periods to be soul sucking.

Vancouver wants to build a subway to UBC but I wish we would build a Skytrain line down the middle of Broadway. It's a long ride from the campus to the Broadway station at Commercial Drive, and the glimpses of the city life and North Shore mountains in an elevated train would go a long way to combat the tedious commute.
posted by praiseb at 6:29 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Speaking of soul sucking, the area under the viaduct is totally a rape alley. Whether or not it's actually a hotbed of sexual assault, I have never walked under there when I didn't feel deeply creeped out and afraid for my safety. just what you want next to a major tourist destination!
posted by KathrynT at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't have any idea who wants to use the tunnel to bypass downtown. Like mhum, the Viaduct is a part of my daily downtown commute, and I'd guess at least 50% of the traffic exits or enters from downtown. The inevitable closure of the viaduct is probably going to leave me with bicycling 11 miles as the hands-down best commute option... which might not be so bad, except I hate biking in the rain. Unless they add some dedicated bus lanes that can cut through cross street traffic in SODO, that is.

That is, it is newsworthy because it is not like other such projects.

It's more like certain other projects than we might like. Tutor-Perini, the firm responsible for the Big Dig fiasco, makes up one half of the Seattle Tunnel Partners venture.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:33 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


clvrmnky: "Actually, municipal projects of this size often come in on time and under budget."

I'm not sure if the projects covered in the report (pdf) linked in the Stranger article count as "municipal projects of this size". But, out of 258 projects they studied, 9 out of 10 came in over budget with the 33 fixed-link (i.e.: tunnels and bridges) projects coming in an average of 45% over budget. And, they claim that this is one of the most extensive such studies. So, there's that.
posted by mhum at 6:52 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Once the viaduct comes down (whether by way of tunnel or earthquake), the opened-up waterfront will be a cash and real estate grab that I would be unsurprised to see become almost as ugly as the viaduct is now.

I have a long standing conspiracy theory that the primary reason pioneer square is basically intentionally abandoned, and that the cops actively drive homeless people there to make it "scary" is so that they can sidestep the fact that a lot of it is historic and sell people on redeveloping a lot of it in to $$$ condo towers and stuff the instant the viaduct comes down.

It really is going to become one of the wealthiest areas in the entire city overnight. Mark my words. The entire thing is a setup to keep property values relatively low until the iron is hot.
posted by emptythought at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


Tutor-Perini, the firm responsible for the Big Dig fiasco, makes up one half of the Seattle Tunnel Partners venture.

To be fair, there aren't exactly dozens of companies capable of doing jobs this size.
posted by Slothrup at 7:04 PM on December 16, 2014


the thing about the surface streets proposal is that, according to the studies they're using (which I also find credible, or rather my civic engineering wonk husband finds credible and I find HIM credible), the viaducts on and offramp backups fuck up traffic MORE than just routing the traffic through the city streets would.

All of Aurora is like this. It's all a traffic nightmare in its "highway" portions where it mostly doesn't connect with regular surface streets. It's just horribly outdated and not suited to the amount and type of traffic we have now. The cars that back up at the raye Street exit onto queen Anne, in the regular traffic lane always feel INCREDIBLY dangerous. And the traffic surrounding all the entrances and exists basically between the stadiums and 46th street(which for those not familiar, includes all of downtown and a big chunk of Seattle. Like freaking almost a third of it North to south as the Crow flies) cause dangerous seeming or just sucky traffic nightmares.

It makes i5 look reasonable, which is ridiculous. At least there isn't sudden stopped traffic in one lane, not on a ramp, next to full speed moving traffic. It's a destroyed in seconds episode waiting to happen if someone misjudges how hard and quickly they need to completely stop or is even a bit distracted.

And don't even get me started on the on ramps that expect you to accelerate to 40+mph and merge in like 5 feet. Basically every on ramp feels dangerous. A few mitigated it by closing one lane before the ramp, but thats a totally asinine congesting "fixed it!" solution in and of itself.

Not just the viaduct needs to go, almost all of Aurora needs help.
posted by emptythought at 7:05 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I thought the tunnel was a great idea, but that was assuming it was going to work. I'm not sure why I thought that. The bus tunnel is fantastic and so is the light rail but it's hardly enough. And yeah it kind of sucks they did away with the free rides through downtown. I'm sure they figured they could make a ton more money by charging but I also heard they wanted to stem the tide of indigents freely moving about town. The bus/rail tunnel runs under 4th and the express lanes run under 6th. Was there a better option than running it along the waterfront? Probably under 1st hill. 2nd is now a clusterfuck because of the bike lanes. 3rd is shut down during rush hour except for the buses, but is actually pretty great to drive on during midday. As long as you can dodge the buses randomly weaving back and forth between lanes because apparently they own that road. 1st should just be turned into a giant sidewalk. 4th is okay but can be really iffy. 5th has all those extra damn lights and can get kinked up by idiots. The neighborhoods generally blow because they're full of parked cars effectively making them one lane most of the time and blocking any real view of the busy streets you're entering. Driving through or around downtown is a huge shitshow. I swear there is more construction going on around town than ever. Is South Lake Union even done? I don't even think many people realize how much the Yesler Terrace Redevelopment is going to change Seattle. More condos! Less parking! More traffic! The viaduct is a peice of shit and should have come down at least five years ago. All those buildings by the waterfront are now "settling" and a bunch of people are pissed about that? What about that giant concrete highway with those giant cracks running down the supports? I honestly feel bad for people who don't have another way to get around.
As far as bussing, I took the 545 from 4th & Jackson out to Redmond off and on over the past dozen years and it was always a solid hour or so.
Also, The Stranger has always kind of given shit reporting on transit matters. Usually overhyped, hysterical, and generally slanted in one way or another, but that's The Stranger.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:07 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


"It was also the mid-90's" - ah, the pre-Eyman era of transit. (fuck that guy. no seriously. everything he proposes is a disaster and also evil.)
posted by epersonae at 7:13 PM on December 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


If anybody is really curious what the hell this is all about just google up 'Seattle viaduct cracks'. I say with all honesty it is a death trap waiting to be sprung.

I just remembered when I was coming into Seattle on a Saturday evening on I-90 about a month ago. They've been shutting the 520 toll bridge down regularly. From Bellevue, over Mercer Island, all the way into Seattle I averaged about 20mph. All it took to severely cripple Seattle traffic was one asshole to abandon their shitty pickup in the west side tunnel.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:33 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seattle public transit user here. One of the reasons the Light Rail/subway (Sound Transit intercity regional project) is getting modest funding and is modern, clean, rapid and efficient is it primarily for use by white professional people. Metro King County has deliberately been financially starved by suburban voters of all ethnicities so as to reduce services, including transit, to urban brown people.
It's easy to see during all hours in my neighborhood; the Metro buses (5 lines worth!) are primarily near capacity and majority non-white, disabled, young, and very poor (if not actually homeless) folks. The buses often run late due to the length of time it takes to board/accomodate/deboard wheelchair/walker/stroller users with the ramps and lifts needed to access regular curbs and unimproved streets.
Most of the Sound Transit Light Rail riders are white and able-bodied, and anyway, the trains are level roll-aboard with no retention straps for wheelchairs. So rarely a wait for slow boarding. I was told just the other day by a 30ish tech-worker type male to get off the train, it wasn't for people like me who took up too much room. Even though I fit in a regular width seat and can even get in the raised seating section if necessary. (I'm currently on forearm crutches and two lower leg casts, after being hit by a car while using regular crutches and an ankle cast).
The tunnel, then, is for the same ppl who want to avoid or rapidly enter/exit the city without engaging with city people.
Nonetheless, the SR99 waterfront viaduct is mass murder waiting to happen - in addition to the vehicles on it and under it, there are historic brick buildings as close as 6 feet away from some of the repaired piers. No matter what way it goes down, people are going to die in large numbers and we'll lose access to the Colman Dock Ferry Terminal.
posted by Dreidl at 7:37 PM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


.(It is of course the area the surface plan would dump all the Portland to Vancouver traffic into.)

What does this mean? Nothing you do to the viaduct should affect any traffic going between Portland and Vancouver ever, they're on i5.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:07 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seven or eight years ago I was driving on the viaduct when my Ma called me on the phone, (slightly panicked voice) "Whatever you do DON'T drive on the viaduct! You're not driving on it are you?" "Uh...no, of course not." She was a muckity muck at WSDOT and had become a bit alarmed at the content of the emails that engineering types had been sending around.

I'll miss it when it's gone, riding my motorcycle along the top deck at sunset on a warm summer evening is one of my favorite things in the world. But yeah, it's a fucking death trap.
posted by calamari kid at 8:44 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Touring Seattle via ducks.
posted by 445supermag at 8:52 PM on December 16, 2014


Seattle public transit user here. One of the reasons the Light Rail/subway (Sound Transit intercity regional project) is getting modest funding and is modern, clean, rapid and efficient is it primarily for use by white professional people.

Light rail runs to Columbia City and other parts of South Seattle that are way, way more ethnically diverse than anything found north of the stadiums. If any of what you said was true, we'd have a couple subways running to Magnolia and Queen Anne 24/7.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:06 PM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


the pre-Eyman era of transit. (fuck that guy.

As a newcomer, someday I want to figure out what everyone has with this guy.
posted by corb at 9:08 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The entire thing is a setup to keep property values relatively low until the iron is hot.

To the extent of how dangerous and grimy Pioneer Square is, there's already development there, whether the tunnel project succeeds or fails. It just seems like a spot the police have given up on, frankly, conspiracy theories aside.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:12 PM on December 16, 2014


As a newcomer, someday I want to figure out what everyone has with this guy.

He's the guy who co-opted the ballot initiative process for his own gain, basically, by sponsoring measure after measure of tax-reduction plans that have a surface appeal but ultimately help cripple state government. He's made a living--like, literally, has made money--from this.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:18 PM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Eyman is a rabble-rouser with no particular political beliefs, who collects money from the NRA and other corporate groups to corrupt the democratic system. It happens to be that the state leans libertarian-left so he's become the go-to guy to organize campaigns on behalf of moneyed interests from outside the state, who want to buy legislation or propositions so that they can break existing laws or take advantage of a regulatory vacuum. It's been a profitable arrangement for him, although his success rate has faltered somewhat these last few elections.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:25 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


This whole thread is bringing back a flood of memories..

I no longer live in the Seattle area, but I was there in the early 2000s. On Ash Wednesday, 2001, I was returning from Mardi Gras (in New Orleans) via a connection in Minneapolis when the Nisqually quake struck while I was in the air for the first leg of my return.

We landed at MSP but couldn't get any further, as the quake had blown out a bunch of windows in the main Air Traffic Control center for SeaTac and flights were halted while operations were moved to the backup ATC center. And so I found myself waiting at an airport departure gate with several hundred other stranded Seattle-bound travelers very slightly before the dawn of the modern age of ubiquitous connectivity. We could tell from the cable monitors at the airport that there'd been a major quake but the national reporting was very slim on details and rumors spread around the room like wildfire.

By a very large margin the destruction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was the most widely repeated and widely believed of the rumors. (Destruction of the approaches to the 520 floating bridge came in a distant second, and after that the rumors got a lot less specific.)

After several hours of wild speculation we were allowed to board a rescheduled flight, which turned out to be one of the very first allowed to land at SeaTac after they resumed flight operations. Our arrival experience was pretty trippy -- we found ourselves returning to a completely empty terminal with all of the support businesses and gates closed and hallways filled with chunks of broken ceiling tiles and other crap that had been shaken up by the quake -- I have a recollection that a number of the floor-to-ceiling window pains in the Pacific Marketplace atrium area (which was under construction in those days and hadn't even yet opened for business) were shattered and there was glass on the floors, but it's possible that I'm imagining that part. In any case the vibe was very science-fictiony in a post-apocalyptic kind of way.

13 years later I'm surprised there's still traffic allowed on the viaduct, as although it wasn't destroyed in the 2001 quake it was substantially damaged. I'm sorry (but not surprised -- I left the area just as the monorail project really started going pear-shaped) to hear that the tunnel has turned out to be such a fiasco.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:30 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I thought for a second there you were going to end that story with you and the other passengers finding out you were somehow stuck in the past but finally manage to catch up to the present before the Langoliers ate all of you.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:47 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Anyone who is using 99 to "avoid Seattle" is doing it wrong. Aurora north of the ship canal is one of the slowest, shabbiest, least appealing roads in the state, and I've been on a lot of them. From Seattle to Everett, 99 is at least twice as slow as I-5, even during rush hour.

I've also never understood the "wonderful view" thing about the viaduct. I've been over it in my cars, my bikes, my trucks...and, yes, if you were a senseless daydreamer clogging the left lane of the top deck while idly staring out to the sound while the rest of us are trying to get somewhere, I guess it might have a nice view. Wouldn't know, I'm the guy trying to drive across the damn thing. Or I was, when I lived down there.

It's an urban planning nightmare, and an eyesore. The tunnel, if anything, is worse, which is totally in keeping with Seattle civic projects.

Crazy thing, just like a bunch of other cities, we had great light rail...in 1930.
posted by maxwelton at 10:47 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]




Here's an article about the tunnel mishap and how they are fixing it.

The article hints that the Big Bertha manufacturer may shoulder at least some of the rescue/repair costs (though that doesn't help the schedule any).
posted by eye of newt at 12:21 AM on December 17, 2014


My office looks out on the U-District station for the light rail. They started construction before I got here. They expect to be operational in.....drumroll......2021.

I moved here in 1990. That year, or the year after, I voted in and for the first funding vote to build light rail. I now live near the projected (presumably interim, if loooong interim) northern terminus at Northgate, also slated for a 2021 opening. That's 31 years of waiting, more than half my likely working life. Americans move every seven years. At some point, it just stops making sense to vote for this stuff if it won't be built within your expected period of residence.
posted by mwhybark at 12:59 AM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


The first funding vote for light rail (in the 1990s, anyway) was in 1995. It failed. 1996 was the one that passed. So you can shave a few years off that total, anyway. But it's still taking ridiculously long.
posted by litlnemo at 1:55 AM on December 17, 2014


(It is of course the area the surface plan would dump all the Portland to Vancouver traffic into.)

Whaaaat? Who takes 99 from Vancouver to Portland? Vancouver to Portland traffic is on I-5. That is really not an argument against the surface streets proposal.

Really the shame about the surface streets proposal is that, even though it's backed by legitimate research and modeling, it just sort of sounds wrong when we're so used to highways being the solution to traffic problems.

I moved to Seattle in 2009 when the debate was raging and the proposal seemed like a really bad idea to me, but clearly I lacked imagination because it's actually been so much worse than I thought!
posted by lunasol at 3:24 AM on December 17, 2014


Really the shame about the surface streets proposal is that, even though it's backed by legitimate research and modeling, it just sort of sounds wrong when we're so used to highways being the solution to traffic problems.

I think there's the fear that the modeling fails to account for the fact that at least 40% of Seattle drivers drive like NPCs whose AI was coded by the intern!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:25 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


It will be tolled, highly enough, by the state's own estimates, to drive nearly half its traffic onto the aforementioned side streets.

I am an eye witness and a perpetrator of this type of behaviour. My daily commute offers three tolled roads and one free road, The free road requires a winding trip through neighborhoods etc. I am not alone using this alternative route, and the actual time commuting is about the same compared to the crowded toll roads during rush hours, but I save between $2.50 and $3.50 each day. OTOH these are one-way tolls, so my homeward commute uses one of the (now free) toll bridges because it is slightly less frustrating, and free. So yes, people will do anything to beat the system and avoid a toll.
posted by Gungho at 7:23 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


> It was also the mid-90's.

Seattle metro area's population in 1990 was 2,559,164.
Seattle's metro area's population in 2010 was 3,439,809.

It's not the same city as when you had that 20-minute commute.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:16 AM on December 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


At some point, it just stops making sense to vote for this stuff if it won't be built within your expected period of residence.

Unless you're voting because you think there must be good transit everywhere, rather than just good transit to your house or your job or whatever, and because you think that even transit that you don't personally ride improves neighborhoods/cities/countries/the world.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:23 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I grew up in California's Bay Area and moved to Seattle about 14 years ago. As a California resident, I learned both a disdain and respect for CalTrans. Disdain because, hey, they're closing down the roads and respect because, hey, they're getting shit done.

It's just disdain up here, and it really seems to go both ways. Projects are horrendously over budget, take way longer than expected, and cause way more hassle than planned. Rarely does a single thing in any project happen according to plan, and I'm becoming more convinced that it's entirely intentional and that the people of Seattle are having their tax dollars siphoned off at a rate that would make hedge fund managers sit up and take notice.
posted by Revvy at 9:52 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


2. What is the plan if the tunnel-boring machine breaks down again?

Man, I hope it's the sand worms from the new Hobbit film. Or at least something involving an elf on an elk.
posted by maxsparber at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Artw: "(It is of course the area the surface plan would dump all the Portland to Vancouver traffic into.)"

99 isn't even a reasonable route to get from Federal Way into Seattle, much less from Portland. And, by sheer coincidence, I actually just went from Vancouver to Seattle last week with a detour onto 99 just north of Shoreline (for unrelated reasons) and I can fairly confidently assert that this is not a route anyone has to take. Don't forget that that aside from a few stretches (e.g.: from Sodo to Greenlake), 99 is riddled with stoplights. Why would anyone making the 7+ hour trip between Portland and Vancouver dump off of I-5 onto what, for the most part, amounts to a 4-lane surface street?
posted by mhum at 10:08 AM on December 17, 2014


Unless you're voting because you think there must be good transit everywhere

I do! I did! Where is it?
posted by mwhybark at 10:55 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


.Americans move every seven years.

But two thirds of those moves are to a new house in the same county, so for most people they stay in the same transit area they voted on before.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:28 PM on December 17, 2014


As a newcomer, someday I want to figure out what everyone has with this guy.

As the person who mentioned him, this seems pretty apt: He's the guy who co-opted the ballot initiative process for his own gain, basically, by sponsoring measure after measure of tax-reduction plans that have a surface appeal but ultimately help cripple state government. He's made a living--like, literally, has made money--from this.

But also in the context of this specifically, his $30 car tab initiative(s)* cut the legs out of lots of transit systems around here. (IIRC the one in my county had to cut off all the rural routes, and even the urban/suburban ones are only just getting back to service levels from 15 years ago.) I have some personal bitterness about that, too...we had an old car, and so our tab fees went UP. :\

* I went to look up some stuff about that, because the details were vague in my memory. The first one passed in 1999 but was declared unconstitutional at the state supreme court. Looks like the state legislature ended up passing the tab change, and then there was a second related initiative in 2002, and...ah, screw that guy.
posted by epersonae at 3:30 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am an eye witness and a perpetrator of this type of behaviour.

As is anyone who lives in seattle and commutes east. They turned 520 in to a toll bridge, which caused everyone to just take the i-90 bridge then cut down 405. This fucked up traffic on 405 and i90.

It also made 520, which is currently being rehabbed but is generally open with the exception of a few weekends, essentially a luxury express bridge to the rich east side neighborhoods.

In addition to traffic crappiness, i'd love to know what the impact carbon footprint wise is on causing everyone to drive those extra miles to avoid that toll, in addition to idling and nudging along in shitty traffic. Hell, it even fucked over the buses that have to grind through that newfound traffic as well.

The situation, as mentioned above, is so precarious that one stalled car in one lane or an accident only blocking one lane will cripple traffic almost completely on both highways.

And yea, they're building east link, but it was nearly fucked over by this asshole who demonstrates the exact express-lane-for-the-1% attitude i was thinking of.
posted by emptythought at 3:53 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


It also made 520, which is currently being rehabbed but is generally open with the exception of a few weekends, essentially a luxury express bridge to the rich east side neighborhoods.

On the one hand, it fucking sucks that my drive from Bothell to Benaroya Hall got longer by 30 minutes (from 45 to 75, not a small quantity) exactly because people are driving over the top of the lake to get home instead of taking 520. On the other, it sure is nice that for the reasonably low price of $3.00, I can get my daughter from her local elementary school at 3:25 and make it to her choir rehearsal on Capitol Hill by 4:10. A big part of the problem is that our metropolitan area is just broken up by a lot of lakes and hills and bays and rivers and things, it constrains traffic and creates bottlenecks in unfortunate ways. But some decent transit would sure help.
posted by KathrynT at 4:21 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


But that is sort of the issue that emptythought is getting at, right? For those of us with the means to do it, it's actually really awesome to zip across the 520 bridge in exchange for paying a toll, when we previously paid no toll but sat in traffic. I probably benefit personally from the situation as I live in the U-District and can afford paying tolls, but there are a relatively small number of people like you and me (who find the 520 toll bridge and its reduced amount of traffic convenient and affordable), and an enormous number of people for whom it's not either convenient or affordable. We all collectively suffer the stresses the erratic shutdown schedule + tolling places on traffic everywhere else, but only a minority of us take advantage of the upside.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:41 PM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


As is anyone who lives in seattle and commutes east. They turned 520 in to a toll bridge, which caused everyone to just take the i-90 bridge then cut down 405. This fucked up traffic on 405 and i90.

eh, not exactly. Figures from the DOT study show that seattle->eastside commuters changed their behaviour the least, with eastbound AM peak traffic and westbound PM peak traffic substantially similar in 2011 and 2012 (which certainly fits my anecdotal experience - two months of no traffic, then most people said fuck it and went back to normal) [Fig 2-2 and 2-3 in the linked study]. Traffic going the other way certainly did drop significantly though. Lots of nice graphs and data here (giant pdf).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:43 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's kind of what I was trying to say. I'm not inherently opposed to toll routes that duplicate slower, untolled routes, and I'm particularly OK with tolling 520 because they couldn't raise the money to fix it any other way because of pigheaded doofuses like Eyman. But in the absence of good transit options or enough capacity in the other routes, it just fucks everything.
posted by KathrynT at 4:45 PM on December 17, 2014


I screamed with murderous monkey rage when that shit got snuck through that no tolls could ever support transit or east link.

It's hard for some people to believe or understand who haven't watched it go down right in front of them and been here, but there's a fairly large got mine/fuck yours, pull the ladder up behind them sort of nimby-ish group here that isn't just pro cars and road improvements, but anti transit. It's a shockingly red state kind of viewpoint to have reared its ugly head here.

It extends beyond just "i don't want to pay for those poors who ride transit" to this sort of stuff where even if the money is being collected anyways, they don't want it to go to that basically out of spite.

When you look at the tunnel through that lens, a lot of the people opposed to the surface/transit option were either anti transit anyways, or had a vested interest in the waterfront area getting turned in to a green belt with a tiny low traffic street right along the outside of it(which if you look at the plans for the tunnel+viaduct removal, is what i remember seeing repeatedly).

A vast majority of infrastructure plans that have been screwed or intentionally steered in to the iceberg here are a food pyramid of poop. It's all about hating those freeloading poor brown people, not wanting to pay for transit, and not wanting an ugly street ruining their property values. The tunnel is just an excuse to say "solved it!" and turn the waterfront in to a park they can put condos behind.* And not even just in pioneer square, but throughout downtown. And people who live in some of the newer buildings that are already right behind the viaduct are going to see some big gains in value.

Everyone knew the tunnel was crap, is what i believe. It was just the easiest route to placate people who knew something had to be done so they could get rid of that viaduct and replace it with something that wasn't a big six lane congested road.

Anyone who can look at the "no tolls for transit" thing and not see the face of this beast isn't looking hard enough.

*i know i'm restating myself a bit here, but seriously
posted by emptythought at 5:54 PM on December 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


I live in rural Washington, on a theoretically crunchy granola-ish island, and let me tell you, Washington is a red state which happens to have a couple of large metropolitan areas, which tend to be blue and can cancel out the red at the national level. But locally? Red, red, red, red.
posted by maxwelton at 12:25 AM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


It extends beyond just "i don't want to pay for those poors who ride transit" to this sort of stuff where even if the money is being collected anyways, they don't want it to go to that basically out of spite.

I don't think it's this. I have kind of a weird perspective, having lived in NYC and watched the tolls on the Verrazano Bridge start and go up and up and seen essentially this same complaining about tolls funding transit, and then come to WA and heard everyone complaining about tolls here.

It's more, in both cases, that people think that their taxes should fund roads and bridges in the first place and there should be no tolls. Then, in order to get people's support for tolls, people tell them "oh, well, it's just because we have no other way to fund the (bridge/tunnel/road), that's the only reason we're charging for this toll." In some cases they say, "And when it's paid for, it'll stop." But governments never give up free revenue, so the tolls don't stop, and in many cases go up, even when the original thing is paid for - and then people feel betrayed. In their minds, they were paying specifically for this promised service and nothing else, because it was often sold to them that way.
posted by corb at 3:23 PM on December 18, 2014


You neglected to mention the part where those people objected to the tax increases that would have covered what it actually costs to build and maintain the infrastructure.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:26 PM on December 18, 2014


Are you speaking of a specific infrastructure-only tax increase/tax protest that I'm not aware of, or are you just making assumptions?
posted by corb at 3:35 PM on December 18, 2014


You're not trying to be part of this conversation without knowing about Prop 1, are you?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:47 PM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Prop 1 tied infrastructure improvements to Metro transit and wanted car tabs and sales tax to pay for them both. It's hardly a infrastructure only tax, and its rejection is not a refusal to pay for roads and bridges. And far from being a "screw the poors" motion, a lot of people argued against it because they thought sales tax is too regressive.
posted by corb at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2014


Transit is infrastructure. Of course the plans cover both roads and transit. If you want to look at protests against literally just road funding, there was Initiative 912 in 2005, which wanted to repeal gas taxes and failed 55-45, a pretty significant protest movement I'd say.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:23 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


And this happens around the country - there was Question 1 in Massachusetts just this year. To actually be skeptical that there is a significant group who are against paying taxes for roads is almost unbelievably disconnected from reality.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:24 PM on December 18, 2014


Not only is transit obviously infrastructure, but money also happens to be fungible, so the source of the tax is completely irrelevant to this discussion.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:43 PM on December 18, 2014




Seattle's atrocious traffic and transit systems were a major reason for my move away from the city, though as a native Washingtonian, that's where my heart resides. And I still don't understand how anything gets proposed or decided on over there when it comes to this stuff. WTF Seattle?
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:45 AM on December 19, 2014


the source of the tax is completely irrelevant to this discussion

Not in Washington, which lacks an income tax and therefore has to make up the difference through other means (property, sales, etc.). Where money comes from for city and state government to do things (including this tunnel) is a topic that pretty much comes up on every ballot in the form of one proposition or another.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:21 PM on December 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's precisely WA's lack of an income tax that makes the notion that it would have been funded with increases in more regressive taxes irrelevant. There's no magic funding pony that people were waiting for -- they simply didn't like where the money would have gone.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:46 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by tonycpsu at 2:55 PM on January 3, 2015




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