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Last stand for the Alaskan Way Viaduct

As the process to replace or remove Seattle's elevated waterfront freeway grinds on, a last-ditch pitch is being made to keep it standing.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct elevated freeway in Seattle. (Chuck Taylor)

The Alaskan Way Viaduct elevated freeway in Seattle. (Chuck Taylor) None

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is creeping back onto the radar screen. It has been largely out of public view, a decision on what do about it put off until after the November election. The process is grinding forward. The state has settled on eight options, detailed last month, which will be vetted and winnowed this summer by a stakeholders group assembled by the Washington Department of Transportation.

Those alternatives include three surface options, two tunnel options, two elevated replacement options, and a lidded roadway in a pear tree. Seattleites have already rejected elevated and tunnel options in the infamous 2007 no-no vote, but those are back on the table with different variations, such as a mini-viaduct and one with a park on top.

One option not on the table is the retrofit — fixing and stabilizing existing structure. Enter controversial preservation activist Art Skolnik, who wants to have the current viaduct added to the National Register of Historic Places. A listing would not ensure that the viaduct would be preserved, but Skolnik wants to use the issue to force the retrofit back into the discussion.

Skonik also wants retrofit advocates to have a seat at the stakeholders table, and he's asked that the National Register process be revisited. Skonik, the city's first preservation officer, has been shaking the state and federal preservation bureaucracies to voice his objections to the fact that officials both stopped the original nomination and have shunted aside the retrofit, which he argues would save an historic structure, cost less than other options, and be finished sooner, thus being the best choice from a public safety standpoint.

A nomination for the National Register was prepared earlier this decade by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) as part of a group nominations of significant historic bridges in the state. The nomination was stymied, I've been told, by the city of Seattle, which didn't want the viaduct listed, and Portland, which didn't want a bridge over the Columbia River saved. It never went forward. The viaduct was, however, found to be eligible for the National Register, but to get on the list officially, someone would have to resubmit a new nomination from scratch. Skolnik says he will submit his own nomination of the viaduct to the state Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation on Friday, July 11. That's the first step in seeking National Register status.

It's also important to point out that when we're talking about the viaduct, we're not simply talking about the "riddle in the middle," the controversial downtown waterfront portion of the structure. And that's another reason Skolnik is pushing for a public airing of the retrofit's virtues and the viaduct's historical importance now.

This month, public comment and testimony are part of the review process of the environmental impact study of the the planned demolition and replacement of the southern section of the viaduct in SoDo up to Pioneer Square (South Holgate Street to South King Street). According to the state's own impact study issued in June, which has to take into account the project's negative impacts on historic "resources":

An adverse effect will occur with the demolition of the southern portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which has been determined to be eligible for listing in the NRHP [National Register of Historic Places]. This demolition would compromise the structure's integrity of design, workmanship, and feeling, and may affect its eligibility for listing in the National Register."

In other words, the southern replacement could doom the rest of the viaduct in terms of the National Register. But Skolnik could use the project's public process to raise a stink about the shelving of the retrofit option, an option that would render the damage to heritage unnecessary.

Many in the preservation community believe this is a fool's errand — that the viaduct has to come down and that the process of fully documenting it as an historic structure — one of the benefits of National Register listing — is already under way. Since being on the register doesn't provide any real protection, why bother?


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Saving the Viaduct Would Set Preservation Back 100 Years: The ironies of this situation are legion. A former historic preservation officer, once a respected member of the HP tribe, wants to save the viaduct, ostensibly because it's historic, but really because he and his luddite friends don't want to spend the money on a safe alternative. This plays perfectly into the hands of HP critics who claim the HP process is really just a cover for nimbys who don't like change. What do HP groupies think of this? I don't see the support comments pouring in.

People! The viaduct is a man-made disaster waiting to happen! I cringe every time I drive over it or under it, imagining that the Big One is seconds away, and I'm going to be crushed like a Greg Nickels opponent by a million tons of concrete. Tear the thing down and replace it with a nice, safe, 35-mph-speed-limit, well-landscaped (i.e. "green") surface street.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

The assumption that we will "do something" is illusory: Dream on, folks.
A repaired Viaduct will stand and be used in ten years.

It is implausible that we can gain a civic consensus. much less the money, to do anything except repairs, which in fact are being done right now.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Backwards.: The Viaduct is not a symbol of conservation. It is a symbol of consumption.

PMcGrath

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

The Workingman's Waterfront View: .
The viaduct is one of the most beautiful drives in the world - and it is affordable to average working people, unlike so much of Seattle, which is becoming more and more the playground of the wealthy. The viaduct is functional. It helps move large masses of commuters efficiently, and it has knock-out views.

I know. I know - all the elitists with their million-dollar downtown condos say "get rid of your cars and walk or bicycle," but for the vast majority of working folks, automobiles will continue to be the major form of transportation into the forseeable future. Repairing the viaduct, and repairing it well, is much cheaper than tearing it down and all the other proposed more-costly alternatives (which would all snarl up traffic for years). Let's get real folks.

Instead of pushing for "pie-in-the-sky" utopian visions that the average person will not benefit from and which will place a tax burden on yet unborn generations, let's discuss how to make the most of what we have: repair/reinforce/retrofit the viaduct - and pave it with rubberized asphalt to bring down the obnoxious noise level of the current roadway and make the waterfront a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: The Workingman's Waterfront View: If it's the same rubberized asphalt they're using on 520 between Medina and Bellevue Way, I'm all for it (assuming they haven't found any negative side effects). Can't speak to how much quieter it is from the roadside, though that Times article says "'tire slap' — the sound produced when rubber meets the road — accounts for about 70 percent of all noise on roads where speeds exceed 30 miles per hour" — but it's a lot more pleasant from inside the car.

Wavetheflaginfrontofthebull, your suggestion to "tear the thing down and replace it with a nice, safe, 35-mph-speed-limit, well-landscaped (i.e. "green") surface street" would be fine if it included a plan to accommodate those 100,000 vehicles a day elsewhere....

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 11:04 a.m. Inappropriate

How to interpret double-no vote: Could it be that the people of Seattle voted no for both replacement options because they realize that retrofitting the existing structure makes the most sense? I know that for this theory to be plausible you must postulate that Seattle citizens vote sensibly, but it could happen. There is absolutely no reason why the damaged section cannot be replaced, the rest retrofitted, and the final structure end up as safe as new construction. One option that would be insane would be to reduce the carrying capacity of that stretch of highway. Seattle is already a bottleneck, and making it more of one won't benefit anyone.

dbreneman

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

The time has come-: The time has come to get rid of the Viaduct. While it was an improvement over the rather grotty waterfront when it was built, it now impedes making our ugly bayside into something attractive like Portland and even Chicago now have.
Jerry Gropp Architect AIA- (a Seattle native who saw the Viaduct built).

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Preserve a danger to working women?: I worked in Pioneer Square as a young woman. Some of us did not have public transportation to where we lived. We had to take our cars.

In the winter when it got dark early, we women took our lives in our hands by getting our cars under or near the viaduct. It is poorly lit. Vagrants hang out there and a woman walking under or near it is easy prey. It was terrifying for us. Every night. But we had to work.

Why would we want to preserve something like that? To memorialize something that poses a threat of assault or worse to multiple women?
I doubt Art S. has had this experience with the viaduct.

To be fair, not all women agree with my position. At the Ballard public meeting, a stately, elegant and beautifully dressed Ballard woman countered "You could get raped in your home."

I doubt that her Ballard home presents the same likelihood of a stranger's assault that the viaduct does on a dark night. Such a comment shows a lack of concern for the safety of working women who don't get to choose the neighborhoods we work in. Her argument could apply to Diane Balliasotes who was murdered in a parking garage on her way home from work a few blocks from the viaduct at the time I worked in that neighborhood.

I hope the City of Seattle will tear down this safety hazard or will another Diane Bailliasotes have to be murdered or sexually assaulted first? So far, we have dodged this bullet, but I wouldn't push our luck.
elyette

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Preserve a danger to working women?: The danger doesn't come from the viaduct. There are all kinds of places in a city for predators to hide. The danger is endemic to Seattle culture. When a culture succumbs to the "Tyranny of the Dispossessed" and vagrants have more rights than productive members of society, the people who keep that society running have to give ground to those who prey as parasites on it. You can flatten Seattle into a giant grassy field and the danger won't disappear. Get rid of the predators and it will.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Ask San Francisco: Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco had to demolish the Embarcadero Freeway, a viaduct that led from near the Bay Bridge to Broadway in North Beach. Before the quake, the area below the Embarcadero was a mostly deserted line of waterfront warehouses. After the Embarcadero was taken down, the waterfront became a lively, economically viable, highly desirable area and remains so today. People who wax sentimental about the Alaskan Way Viaduct should ask San Franciscans what they think!
If the AW Viaduct is allowed to stand, it will pose an earthquake danger to all who are near, on, or under it when the next big one hits. We will have to sink zillions of dollars into upkeep, with no guarantees that it won't fall or pancake anyway.
Finally, just because a structure is old, doesn't mean it's worth putting on a historical register. The viaduct is dangerous, ugly, expensive to maintain, and forms an artificial barrier between downtown and Elliott Bay. Tear it down and watch the waterfront bloom!
Raymondo

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 4:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes--Save the Viaduct: Engineers will tell you that it can be saved and made safe. When you consider the cost of down-time for any other fix--a retrofit is much less expensive; and many businesses could not afford the down-time. This is one of the big issues that I am concerned about in my campaign for State House Rep. in the 36th Legislative District.

Leslie Bloss: www.blossforthe36th.com
lbloss

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 9:16 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Preserve a danger to working women?: Diane Bailliasotes was kidnapped and murdered by an Department of Corrections work-release escapee, as I recall, not some random vagrant. Using Diane's murder as an argument against the Viaduct is weak, at best. Recently, a woman was murdered in the parking lot of the nursing home where her husband lived. Using this argument, all parking lots are hazardous to women and should be demolished? The "stately" woman's point, I believe, is that danger is everywhere, day or night, even in places you assume would be safe.

Aurora886

Posted Sat, Jul 12, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Response on the hazard to working women: I am the person who spoke of the unsafe conditions under the viaduct at night when I worked in the Pioneer Square district.

True, Diane Balliasotes was murdered by a work release inmate. I do apologize that I did not interview men lurking under the viaduct on dark nights. One may have been a work release inmate. It just didn't seem like a good idea at the time. Perhaps you might like to try. Feel free.

Diane Balliasotes was murdered in a parking garage with similar lighting and structural visibility issues to those of the Viaduct. These conditions make it more likely that a predator will attack a woman in such a structure than a grassy field or parking lot. We are talking probabilities here. True, one can't eliminate every assault and murder. But, if one can reduce the likelihood of even one woman's murder or assault in a more predictably dangerous situation, isn't it worth it? Isn't it worth your the view from your car?
elyette

Posted Tue, Jul 15, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Response on the hazard to working women: Take that to the extreme and we should remove the viaduct sections of I-5 as well, and clearcut the greenbelts. There are also a few neighborhoods that we should then take the wrecking ball to. Safety is definitely a concern, but this is a transportation issue first and foremost. If an elevated structure makes the most sense, build one and I'd gladly pay for a greater police presence underneath.

Posted Tue, Jul 15, 8:36 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: esponse on the hazard to working women: I-5 is not in areas where we park. Everyone says they will pay for more police protection until they have to. How callous others are when it comes to someone else's safety, until it is their own.

elyette

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: The Workingman's Waterfront View: You people really crack me up!

All this talk about the "Beautiful Workingman's Waterfront View", an arguement that seems to persist for those who have nothing else to say, or can't form an intellegent arguement on the issue.

No one has indicated that the view is nothing less than spectacular. It is a great view, granted, but I have a real problem with people who use this as an arguement, their sole arguement for saving the viaduct.

Firstly, Why should one neighborhood have to martyr itself for the benefit of those who are passing through. You don't have to live there, so why in the heck do you think you have the right to tell those people that they have to put up with the noise, polution, falling objects, and just plain dirt from this thing, so you can zip along on the viaduct, in your climate controlled, hermetically sealed, one person automobile, on "quiet pavement" and enjoy the view? I'd really like it if they had a piece of junk in your neighborhood that I could drive on and force you to keep it, just because I think it's a pretty drive.

Secondly, It not just a "workingman's waterfront view", and am insulted that people are trying to make this into an arguement between the rich and the poor. While it makes for good headlines, you know darn well that people of all incomes drive the viaduct, and we all have nothing bad to say about the view. Again, it is a great view, already!

Thirdly, and possibly finally,
Driving on the viaduct is a white knuckle drive as it is. The fact that the lanes are so thin, there are no shoulders, and that every one is exceeding the spped limit, makes it a hair raising experience alone. Now, I'm a good driver, and I try to sneek a peek at the view just like every one else, but it really bothers me that people would advocate saving this structure for the view from a vehicle driving in unsafe conditions in the first place! More than once I have had to evade some one else who was "enjoying the view" at my expense!

Ok, Lastly, Is this "workingman's view" worth some one's life? Either because some one runs off, or is run off the elevated portion, or the fact that it falls down? Is it worth it?

If you answered yes to this question, I never want to be in your car as you are driving on the viaduct, as you may end up killing someone for your own selfish existance!

Cheers!
:D
Webster

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: How to interpret double-no vote: Could it be that they simply didn't like either option, hmm?

Could it be that had the retrofit would have gotten a no vote had it been on the ballot as well?

Just because it is there doesn't mean we have to keep it.

Just because it is there, doesn't justify it's existance in the first place.

The reason it's there in the first place, was because we had written off the waterfront as a dirty, non-desireable place to be. And, it was decided then that the city should turn it's back on the waterfront and concentrate itself inland.

It was also built on the cheap, in order to save money and get it approved by the voters at that time as well.

Times have changed, and we want our waterfront back!

I give you the biggest reason why the dammaged section should not be replaced, and the rest of the viaduct "retrofitted", and that is that it shouldn't have been built there in the first place!

The viaduct was a mistake to build period. It was a mistake to keep fixing it, and it is a mistake to retrofit it.

If you like it so much, why don't you come on down from your home in either Ballard or West Seattle and live next to it for a year? Tell me then how much you like it, how great it is, and how lovely the view is.

Bet you won't, but you will surely advocate for a mistake, no matter how misguided it is!

Cheers!
:D
Webster

Posted Wed, Jul 16, 1:56 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: esponse on the hazard to working women: Plenty of people park under I-5 in the carpool lots at Cherry and James, the ID lots at Jackson and King, the Ravenna park and ride. But, again — why the emphasis on where people park? What about where people walk? And work? How do you not extend your argument to the demolition of whole sections of the city?

PS As, to the best of my knowledge, I have never voted against any public-safety funding measure, I assume your accusation of callousness does not apply to me personally.

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