Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Progress on Stopping the Big Dig West

Dateline: 3:42 pm April 15, 2011 Filed under:

The Big Dig West made it in to the New York Times this past Sunday, prominently on the National page in the print edition. Read the story here.

As well, check out this excellent short movie at Streetfilms, starring John Norquist of CNU and speaks broadly to the issue of urban freeway removal, and has a lot of takeaway value for Seattle.

The good news is the anti-tunnel folks in Seattle gathered thousands more signatures than the minimum required, and the proposed tunnel appears to be going up for public vote in August. We’ll see how a lawsuit by the city to stop the vote works out. Stay tuned.

I’ve spoken to friends, colleagues and even a guy in line at a rental car center in Los Angeles. All are from Seattle, and all agree that, while the proposed tunnel (Big Dig West) that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is expensive, not building it will make traffic on I-5 worse.

Let me take a swing at this issue. The tunnel will make congestion in the downtown worse by having just two exits, one at each end, which will dump traffic out on to concentrated areas of the downtown. And most current traffic on the viaduct is downtown traffic. So the tunnel is not helpful from that point of view.

As for the truck traffic serving the very important Port of Seattle, much of it uses the Alaskan Way presently, and presumably will use the waterfront boulevard if there is no tunnel built. Or they will further clog I-5 if there is no tunnel. That is a problem, but there are other solutions.

Perhaps what is needed is congestion pricing for the I-5. A toll is already proposed for the tunnel, and some fear there won’t be enough paying tolls to help pay for the tunnel. Why not save money, don’t build the tunnel, and charge to drive on I-5, which is already congested? Perhaps trucks serving the Port pay a reduced fee, thus encouraging local trips otherwise made by car to be made by transit, bike or on foot, and allowing trucks to move more freely. Or maybe there should be no exits at each end of the proposed tunnel, and only trucks can use it to get to and from the port.

Just thinking out loud, although unfortunately the debate has moved well beyond this already.

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