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Article on the Mercer Mess created a lot of false alarms

A Vulcan spokesperson pleads: no more ill-informed pieces on South Lake Union by John Fox.
David Postman: more fact-checking, please!

David Postman: more fact-checking, please! PBS

Crosscut should have done at least a modicum of fact-checking before publishing an article by John Fox designed to create false alarm about out-of-control public works projects. The assertion that there has been an increase in the estimated cost for the fix to the Mercer Mess is demonstrably false. The record is clear, and your readers deserved better than what Crosscut delivered. (Disclosure: I am a spokesperson for Vulcan, the major real estate developer in South Lake Union.)

What author Fox claims is a cost increase is, in plain fact, a long-standing plan to build the project in two phases. The Mercer project that is designed and ready to go to bid is Phase 1. That remains at an estimated cost of $190 million. There is also a Phase 2. That work was never included in the $190 million estimate. Anyone who has paid attention to the project has known that for at least three years.

A memo dated September 28, 2006 from the Mercer Corridor Stakeholders Committee makes it clear that the project has always been envisioned to include improvements from I-5 to Elliott Ave:

The Mercer Corridor improvements must address the full corridor from Interstate 5 (I-5) to Elliott Avenue W. ...

Two key elements in the Mercer Corridor plan are reconnecting the east-west street grid across Aurora Avenue and the establishment of a two-way Mercer Street corridor from I-5 to Elliott Avenue.

This has also been clear from the website of the Seattle Department of Transportation. Information there shows it has long been the city's intention to: "Create an efficient and direct east/west transportation corridor between Elliott Avenue West, Aurora Avenue and I-5."

It was clearly spelled out that, "The Mercer Corridor Program is divided into two segments funded by a balanced mix of sources:

  • "Phase I - Fairview to Dexter Avenue
  • "Phase II - Dexter Avenue to Elliott Avenue West"

You could have also checked on the Washington State Department of Transportation website. In February of 2008, a two-way Mercer Street from I-5 to Elliott was a key piece of what was called the "Surface Street Building Blocks" to the Viaduct replacement plan. In August 2008, it was clear that the full Mercer corridor from the I-5 freeway to the waterfront was part of every single option for replacing the Viaduct. All of this was reviewed by an advisory group.

None of this was a secret. All of it could have been easily checked. Crosscut readers deserve better.

As I completed this note, I see that Crosscut has published yet another ill-informed piece from the same author, John Fox, a well-known gadfly. I don't have time to dismantle the latest missive, headlined, "The failed promise of biotech in South Lake Union." But the number of errors in both pieces should be alarming to Crosscut because the work so clearly does not meet your published standards.

Anyone who follows city news knows that the writer holds animus toward Vulcan. Your standards say, "Conflicts of interest that call for disclosure include" writers with an "'Axe-to-grind' history, such as animosity between the contributor and the subject of the content." This is certainly the case. As one easily checked example, your contributor dedicates a page on his website to attacking development in South Lake Union. Your guidelines say, "In any case, Crosscut discloses conflicts or potential conflicts to serve the site's mission to clarify and inform." That wasn't done in this case.

You say: "As an institution Crosscut takes no stand except to encourage and strive for accuracy, fairness, civility, transparency, and creative solutions to important problems." These stories fail on all five counts.

David Postman, for many years a political writer for The Seattle Times, now works as the spokesperson for Vulcan Inc., a leading Seattle real estate developer.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Now that's a well reasoned response.
Thanks for calling out Mr. Fox's rant for what it is.

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

This must be a Jon Stewart set-up, right? The original plan to "fix"
Mercer appeared to many as an aesthetic makeover and a favor for real estate developers at a cost of 190M dollars. It does not improve the purpose of the street which is to most efficiently move traffic. It reduces capacity for traffic/people who must move through the area to do whatever it is that they must do. Phase two and its costs appears to be a way to adjust elevations between South Lake Union and Seattle Center which is arguably just another favor for real estate developers considering that Mercer at 80K cars a day is one of the most successful arterials in the city.

So what is your point? I don't know how productive it is to attack Fox or question Crosscut. You recall how this dismissive manner in handling critics worked for the mayor. There are plenty of people out here who don't like the idea of paying for huge capital projects on behalf of some of the richest people in the world. (Disclosure: I'm talking about Vulcan.) I think most people would agree that the spin cycle for news and information about everything that is going on in South Lake Union has been stuck on "11" for the last ten years and has caused some of us to question a certain amount of whatever is claimed whether posted or easily checked or not. Bad ideas do not get better over time.

Just out of curiosity. why wouldn't there be time to dismantle the latest missive about biotech in South Lake Union? As long as the first amendment is still intact, I'd skip the pie and coffee this afternoon and scratch something out. Seems like you're getting behind.

jmrolls

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

It is rather ironic that I'm defending John Fox, but, Mr. Postman, you are off base.

I'll take your assertion as correct that Mr. Fox's allegations of inflating costs is based on a misread of the project documents. That is a single mistake by an unpaid critic - the project itself, as well as Paul Allen's control freak land use professionals, is an ongoing series of mistakes by private professionals at the public expense, that started with the original South Lake Union project, the Seattle Commons nearly 20 years ago.

This project is nothing but another example of the 'business' practices which are destroying this country with Fraud and we should be ashamed of our local participation in the development of these practices.

Oh, BTW Mr. Postman, there is still plenty of time for there to be cost overruns, promises to the contrary at this point are laughable as evidence - as is the legal professional who handed you these talking points.

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Geez, given that the City has desperately tried to avoid discussing the costs of Phase 2 of this boondoggle over the last few years in order to try and lowball the overall project cost, it is beyond ironic that Postman shrieks with horror when people rightly point out that the project costs keep increasing (and considering that Phase 1 has gone from about $59 million to $190 million rational people have every reason to believe that Phase 2 is going to experience similar cost escalations).

There might be something sadder than watching a once-respected journalist turn into a shameless turd-polisher for Hallivulcan, but I'm not sure exactly what that could be off the top of my head.

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Judging from the bulk of Mr. Tooley's comment, I don't see his defense of Fox as ironic, but as inevitable.

Let's get back to reality here for a moment. For years South Lake Union was an economic and ecological wreck- literally. Anyone who ever shopped at Burke's Surplus or Jerry Lewis Paints will know what I mean.

In spite of the almost total neglect of the city, the area has prospered in recent years. In spite of John Fox's obsessive crusade against the Seattle Commons, a new park and the Center for Wood Boats have taken their rightful place to provide public access to Lake Union. What was once vacant lots and oil-soaked shoreline is now large shiny buildings and plush marinas. How anybody in their right mind can consider this "another example of the 'business' practices which are destroying this country with Fraud" is totally beyond me.

In fact, when we look back 40 years, we can see real fraud which impoverished the city and the neighborhood. The city was collecting nominal rentals on streetends and waterways, and the state wasn't collecting anything at all on the state tidelands (in this case, a legal definition denoting water beyond the shore landowner's water, out to the harbor line). As you might have expected, real fraud was accompanied by economic stagnation and decline.

So the real question is, who are you going to believe- John Fox and Doug Tooley, or your own lying eyes?

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." That's a cautionary statement to us readers to be aware of inherent bias, declared or not. Of course, David Postman would object to criticism that threatens a financial enterprise he himself is involved in. What's more, being the spokesman for Vulcan, it is his JOB to shut John Fox up. We expect this, but he still needs to make a case. Instead, he informs us, "I don't have time".

Ironically, Postman tries to shut John Fox up by declaring that Fox is biased, and, while acknowledging a wee bit of bias of his own, expects us to just take his word that Fox is completely misinformed and deserves never to be published again. He cherry picks one item from Fox's very long, detailed article - whether or not there has been an increase in price for the Mercer Plan - as a supposed illustration of Fox's ignorance. There may be a semantics argument, or there may be room for interpretation: John Fox's article certainly demonstrates a clear understanding that Phase II existed, but shall we say the city may have both stated and buried or "obscured" the funding requirements as it went along. There is certainly distortion and over-simplification by Postman as to what Fox actually says on this point. The rest of his attack on Fox is just name-calling: he's a "gadfly" and he has personal "animus" toward Vulcan.

To double down on his attack of Fox, Postman attacks Crosscut as well, trying to make sure that you never have the nerve to give a platform to his Nemesis again. ("Nemesis" because I'm declaring this match to John Fox, since Postman mounted no effective rebuttal to Fox's article. I assume he cannot - or else, Postman is so arrogant he thinks he doesn't have to waste his precious time doing so.)

Postman tries to argue that Crosscut doesn't indicate Fox's bias. On the contrary, Crosscut indentifies both Postman and Fox at the ends of their respective articles. The reader knows that John Fox has been an advocate for low-income housing for most of his life: it is his job to study and critique and try to influence city policies and development projects from that prospective. The reader knows that David Postman is spokesman for Vulcan, the largest real estate developer in the very area that John Fox's article is about. We know what his job is.

We also know something else about David Postman from the byline at the end: that he was "for many years a polical writer for the Seattle Times". This would seem not to be important in identifying his standing in writing this particular article, after all we aren't given any historical/previous employment history about John Fox. But it is important, because he is using it as an integral part of his ad hominem attack on Fox and on the journalistic practices of Crosscut. HE was a respected journalist, he worked for The Seattle Times, he knows bias when he sees it: he says so and he doesn't have to prove it.

Well, I say he has to prove it and he did not. I say that writing is to be judged by content and I went back and compared the two articles. I don't know if John Fox's article is 100% accurate or not, but I see a very detailed and substantive piece on which he clearly spent hours researching and writing; thus, it seems quite credible. Postman's article is a rather quick political hit piece, devoid of content, full of smears. It is offensive.

Postman basically makes only an obnoxious claim that John Fox's articles do not rise to appropriate journalistic standards! It's quite the other way around. This so-called article by Postman does not rise to the standard of a legitimate "article"; it should have been relegated to commentary, ill-willed, biased commentary, at that. Postman may have been a journalist at one time, but that is not his job now and he should not be allowed to get away with such implicit "appeal to authority" posturing. It should be recognised now that his actual job is to kill certain kinds of news stories before they appear. The political writer is now political.

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 1:18 p.m. Inappropriate

http://www.seattle.gov/Transportation/images/Mercer%20Corrid

This link is to SDOT's latest detailed drawing of the project Dexter to I-5, Mercer to Aloha. It accurately depicts traffic lanes, sidewalks, curb extensions, etc.

The drawing shows traffic light signalized intersections (with left-turn signals) on Fairview, Westlake and 9th. Boren and Terry are signalized intersections 'without' left-turn signals. The distinction is important for picturing signal timing and overall travel time between I-5 and 9th.

The point here is that Grace Crunican and SDOT generally do not portray a believable picture of how Mercer will be improved. Crunican and SDOT exhibit the same shortcoming on many road projects, the Deep-bore tunnel, the new Alaskan Way, years of prior proposals on these, etc. So, it's little wonder people are left angrily doubting their veracity.

Mercer is obviously a mess long overdue for a redesign to restore some order to its chaos. This project will not of itself reduce daily traffic jams, but it will make it less chaotic.

Is Phase I necessary to improve southbound access to the Deep-bore and/or Battery Street tunnels? I can't see how. Just because SDOT, Crunican, McGinn, Mallahan or whoever says it does is not proof. How, where, what route improves this southbound access? (Note: From non-SDOT renderings of Phase II, 2-way 6-lane Mercer under Aurora creates three right turn route to access Aurora southbound.) Could Mercer remain 4-lanes under Aurora but run 2-way and create the same access to southbound Aurora? Some DOT drawings depict a roundabout and a lighted intersection on Aurora at Roy. Would either of those work?

No kudos to Grace Crunican for failing to assuage public concerns. As for financial considerations, development is likely to return funds to City coffers. New development will be a much better use of South Lake Union blocks, no doubt about it.

Wells

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

First, John Fox also wrote a follow up comment in the comments section of his original article here,

http://crosscut.com/2009/09/10/transportation/19224/

the comment is well worth reading. In it he responds to the comments by a person named Allie, from SDOT. It is quite striking to read Allie's comments, and then the Grace Crunican article, and see almost identical language. But that's neither here nor there.

I have the following responses to Mr Postman's article.

First, I would like a more detailed response to the points in the article and in the comments. For example:

--is the "private contribution" really that, or is it proceeds from land sales?

--is the S. Lander underpass being cancelled or deferred to help fund the Mercer project, yes or no?

--Bridging the Gap monies are being used to a much larger extent on this project than was implied to voters: yes or no?

--Nickels tried to get the city to start spending money, claiming the state would come through with the rest from Federal stimulus dollars. Mr Fox says Nickels knew he would not get this money, and a day after the council refused to go ahead got the official word. Mr Postman, again, yes or no?

--Nick Licata says the council is violating the city Auditor's "best practice" by releasing $40MM. Yes or no, is this a violation of a best practice?

--Claim: there are 30 bridges in "poor" condition in the city (and that does not include the South Park bridge) but the city won't ask for stimulus funding for them because it wants the dollars for Mercer. Yes or no?

Maybe insiders or people watching closely were aware there would be a phase 2 that was not included in the original estimates, but I doubt the general public was aware of this. I think Mr Fox's point is on target.

Many of these assertions, and others I don't have time to put into a comment, could be answered by "Allie", or Grace Crunican, or Mr Postman. I hope they do so.

sjenner

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Too bad the freeway was abandoned 40 years ago that would have connected 520 and I-5 to Aurora. Just as Atlantic/Edgar Martizez Road and Royal Brougham, Mercer and Valley Streets should have elevated connections to I-5 and Aurora. Autophobes have screwed up the Mercer Mess big time.

animalal

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 5:42 p.m. Inappropriate

John Fox here, weighing-in on Vulcan spokesperson Postman’s comments on my Mercer and SLU pieces. I will get to his comments below in a second, but first here also are my comments on SDOT Director Crunican’s piece from yesterday’s Crosscut.

Crunican refers to $31 million in private "contributions" for Phase I now Mercer East – the $190 million portion. These so called “contributions” include monies from the $20 million dollar sale of city land along Mercer to Vulcan back in 2001. By city ordinance, the city decided to plow a large amount of these proceeds back into the Mercer Project instead of placing them in the cities general fund where land sale proceeds normally go. I’d hardly call this a private contribution.

What the city calls private contributions also includes mitigation dollars reprogrammed from individual developments to Mercer. Normally developers contribute some money for streets, sidewalks, alleys, signaling etc directly related to their projects as required under SEPA and city ordinance. In South Lake Union (and I still question the legality of this) the city exempted developers (namely Vulcan) from these project-by-project mitigation fees and instead required them to contribute a set amount into an area-wide fund – the proceeds of which went primarily for Mercer. In effect, the public (out of the general fund) is being forced to cover site related improvements while these developer’s fees instead are diverted to Mercer. The Mayor’s plan relieving individual developers (primarily Vulcan) of site by site transportation mitigation can be accessed here:
http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/newsdetail.asp?ID=5578&dept;=40

Crunican sites “modeling studies” to support her claim that the 2-Way Mercer Plan will reduce congestion through the area. These modeling studies she refers to are buried in a revised EIS (Jan 2009) for the project in the appendix (http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/ppmp_mercer_ea.htm) The problem is that they are based on assumptions that are not valid. For one they assume no streetcar and that the SLU Streetcar does not have signal priority. Further, they look at and report only on traffic at selected intersections (that suit them) not the overall area.

By contrast, there are at least three available studies including SDOT’s own consultants saying just the opposite. For over a year, SDOT withheld release until 2008 of a study with link here showing dramatic increases in travel times due to the 2-way plan - the “Mercer Corridor Improvements Project Environmental Assessment, Transportation Discipline Report by CH2MHILL.” In is 5/9/08 bulletin, Licata discusses how this report was kept secret and describes its findings here: http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/up/256.htm

Links to earlier studies showing traffic worsening including Parson/Brinkerhoff’s Study paid for by SDOT can be found here:
http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/slureport/FinalSLUTransportationStudyJuly04a.pdf

And the City Council staff Bill Alves Study (there were two council studies actually) – text of which can be found here: http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/Mercer.htm#City Council Staff Analysis of the Mayors 2-Way

For Nick Licata’s thoughts on the veracity of SDOT claim their plan reduces traffic, click here for his 9/30/08 bulletin http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/up/262.htm#1a To excerpt a bit of that, Licata says,

“This statement is not true according to SDOT's Environmental Assessment Transportation Report analyzing 2010 travel times. With the exception of a few minor improvements, overall travel times are slower for the 6-lane project SDOT plans to build. The specific time measurements show that the average westbound trip will indeed be 3 minutes shorter in the a.m. peak, but will take the same amount of time in p.m. peak period. And the average eastbound trip in the peak periods is longer both in the morning and in the afternoon: taking 1 minute longer in the a.m. and 8 minutes longer p.m. North and south travel times are about the same.That same report concluded that the South Lake Union Mercer Project area will see increased idling of traffic at more intersections than the current configuration, resulting in higher percentages of auto polluting emissions than what we experience now. And it also concluded that the total traffic volume through South Lake Union will only increase by 2% by the year 2030, not the 25% that is claimed by our Transportation Department.”

Crunican poo-poos the possibility that other much less costly options that could reduce congestion saying there are no studies that support this claim. Crunican neglects to mention that SDOT and the Mayor left out of the EIS process any analysis of the Cascade neighborhood’s original “small and simple” fix. Mayor Schell supported that plan from 1998 thru the rest of his tenure. It’s carried over through 2001 and the 2002 CIP Plans then dropped. The plan is here at the following link. http://www.cityofseattle.net/neighborhoods/npi/plans/slu/Section7.pdf

You can find city estimates for these small and simple fixes in the 2001-2006 CIP Plan - The 2001-2006 CIP Plan that identifies a $6.24 million pricetag for reconfiguring and straightening the Mercer weave - see page 65 of SeaTrans Section of that plan with a link here: http://www.seattle.gov/financedepartment/0106adopted/seatran.pdf
That plan also cites costs for the rest of the improvements from the neighborhood plan (see page 64), including reconnecting Roy under Aurora which would add another $24 million for a total of about $30 million in all. That’s about one-tenth the current Mercer East Phase I $190 million pricetag.

Now take a look at the December 2008 Environmental Assessment (EA) - Alternative A. This is the original set of improvements from the neighborhood plan including smoothing out the weave and reconnecting Roy under Aurora. To quote from that 2008 EA (see page 36 of 44 Chapter 2-3), that subsection begins with the following “Alternative A would improve traffic times through the corridor”.
http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/mercer/1_MercerEA_SigPg_Ch1_Ch2.pdf
Unfortunately, this plan did not dovetail with Vulcan Inc’s plans for its properties along Valley so it was dropped and not even studied as an alternative in the EIS process.

Crunican fails to note that use of both the parking tax and head tax portion of Bridging the Gap (BTG) by ordinance were not supposed to go exclusively to pay for big ticket projects including Mercer. The legislation makes clear that these dollars were also to be used to meet needs in our neighborhoods. And when these taxes were approved and the levy portion of BTG were sold to voters back in 2005, we were told that "only" 30 mil from these sources would go to Mercer. Now we are looking at easily over 100 million more of BTG funds if both phases go forward...perhaps as much as 150 million - the gap for both phases...because there are precious few other sources around to go to fill this shortfall. This may very well require them to tap the levy portion of BTG funding.

Further, Crunican fails to note that they shelved the much needed Lander Street improvements and redirected at least $50 million of those BTG dollars to cover increased Mercer costs. She also sites their application of $50 million in stimulus funds for phase I like it’s a done deal…. Not hardly as I note in my piece. Further, in order to fund this, it is likely that two other projects in the NW won’t get stimulus funding. Some 200 million in requests were made by the state and county for the South Park Bridge Request to fund desperately needed replacement of that unsafe bridge and 520 expansion. $300 million out of $1.5 billion distributed nation-wide are not all going to King County. Why would the Mayor and SDOT subordinate these other vastly more important projects that really do address a transportation need and instead give preference to Mercer – a project Crunican herself acknowledges is not really a transportation project but a beautification effort aimed at what she calls “creating a sense of community” in SLU. As a state in our column, this is a misuse of our limited transportation revenues.

Regarding Mr. Postman’s responses to our Mercer column and his facile dismissal of our piece on the failure of biotech in South Lake Union, he seems to have given up any pretense of journalism to front for his bosses at Vulcan Inc.

Postman says that there has been no change in Mercer Phase I’s $190 million pricetag. In 2004 the cost of Phase I was estimated at between $63 million and $92 million. Source: Parson’s Brinkerhoff 2004 a study of possible transportation improvements to South Lake Union. Costs were broken out for turning Mercer into a 2-way street (Fairview to Dexter) and narrowing Valley (Fairview to Roy) i.e., now called phase I East improvements. At that time, costs came in at between $63 million without pedestrian improvements and up to $92 million with them added - see page 160 Table 8-5 of that report:
http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/slureport/FinalSLUTransportationStudyJuly04a.pdf
Since 2004, there has been a 100% increase in costs for Phase I. Licata in his bulletin cites a 2007 estimate SDOT gave to Council for Phase I coming in at $119 million. DPD in 2004-2005 used a figure of about ’90 million. See Licata’s charting of costs here http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/up/262.htm#1a

Postman also says there’s always been a phase II. I did not say there wasn’t always a plan to undertake a phase II. I said that the Mayor and SDOT have kept it hidden from the public. Since at least 2006-2007 Phase II has been stowed away and certainly no cost estimates have been provided to elected officials (let alone the public) – not until 3 weeks ago in Council Committee. The stakeholder group Postman refers to where supposedly phase II all along was discussed – that group is made up of the Mayor and Vulcan’s pals. Other buried documents Postman refers to were just that – buried. The WSDOT study he refers to – is the Viaduct study – and Mercer improvements there were buried under the rubric “North Portal Improvements”

Try finding reference to a Phase II or its costs in the last 2-3 years of presentations SDOT has made to the Council (until three weeks ago). Try finding any allusion to phases at all let alone Phase II or its $100 million pricetag in the recent application SDOT filed for $50 million in stimulus funds for the “$190 million Mercer Project” Indeed if they’d said a phase II was still needed, they’d have a hard time proving the project shovel ready. Until last month, the public has been presented with a $190 million project and the press has covered this issue accordingly as a $190 million project.

I particularly resent Mr. Postman arrogant ad hominem attack which goes beyond critiquing my columns. He goes from feebly attempting to dismiss on point of a larger column, then uses that to try and marginalize (muzzle) not only me but silence discussion of these critical issues we are trying to raise.

This years city budget dedicates $129 million to South Lake Union and over five years, the CIP plan identifies over $860 for South Lake Union in public resources. It’s more than just wasting funds on Mercer. It’s about a fundamental raid on our city’s budget. There’s been little attention lately given to this matter from the mainstream press except Crosscut and I especially resent Mr. Postman’s attempt to intimate its editors who chose to print these pieces and who have chosen to try and shed light on these critical issues. It’s a shameful display Mr. Postman and beneath you if indeed ever were a journalist.

Documentation for our piece on the tanking of biotech
http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/biotech.htm

Documentation of enormous Public Costs Associated with Mayor/Allen plans in South Lake Union - $129 million this year and total over 5 year CIP Plan $862 million
http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/SLU09cost.htm#Citys 09 Budget contains $129 million for Paul Allens South Lake Union Plan; 5-Year CIP top $862 million!

jvfox

Posted Tue, Sep 22, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

continued from last comment:
neighborhoods. And when these taxes were approved and the levy portion of BTG were sold to voters back in 2005, we were told that "only" 30 mil from these sources would go to Mercer. Now we are looking at easily over 100 million more of BTG funds if both phases go forward...perhaps as much as 150 million - the gap for both phases...because there are precious few other sources around to go to fill this shortfall. This may very well require them to tap the levy portion of BTG funding.

Further, Crunican fails to note that they shelved the much needed Lander Street improvements and redirected at least $50 million of those BTG dollars to cover increased Mercer costs. She also sites their application of $50 million in stimulus funds for phase I like it’s a done deal…. Not hardly as I note in my piece. Further, in order to fund this, it is likely that two other projects in the NW won’t get stimulus funding. Some 200 million in requests were made by the state and county for the South Park Bridge Request to fund desperately needed replacement of that unsafe bridge and 520 expansion. $300 million out of $1.5 billion distributed nation-wide are not all going to King County. Why would the Mayor and SDOT subordinate these other vastly more important projects that really do address a transportation need and instead give preference to Mercer – a project Crunican herself acknowledges is not really a transportation project but a beautification effort aimed at what she calls “creating a sense of community” in SLU. As a state in our column, this is a misuse of our limited transportation revenues.

Regarding Mr. Postman’s responses to our Mercer column and his facile dismissal of our piece on the failure of biotech in South Lake Union, he seems to have given up any pretense of journalism to front for his bosses at Vulcan Inc.

Postman says that there has been no change in Mercer Phase I’s $190 million pricetag. In 2004 the cost of Phase I was estimated at between $63 million and $92 million. Source: Parson’s Brinkerhoff 2004 a study of possible transportation improvements to South Lake Union. Costs were broken out for turning Mercer into a 2-way street (Fairview to Dexter) and narrowing Valley (Fairview to Roy) i.e., now called phase I East improvements. At that time, costs came in at between $63 million without pedestrian improvements and up to $92 million with them added - see page 160 Table 8-5 of that report:
http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/slureport/FinalSLUTransportationStudyJuly04a.pdf
Since 2004, there has been a 100% increase in costs for Phase I. Licata in his bulletin cites a 2007 estimate SDOT gave to Council for Phase I coming in at $119 million. DPD in 2004-2005 used a figure of about ’90 million. See Licata’s charting of costs here http://www.seattle.gov/council/licata/up/262.htm#1a

Postman also says there’s always been a phase II. I did not say there wasn’t always a plan to undertake a phase II. I said that the Mayor and SDOT have kept it hidden from the public. Since at least 2006-2007 Phase II has been stowed away and certainly no cost estimates have been provided to elected officials (let alone the public) – not until 3 weeks ago in Council Committee. The stakeholder group Postman refers to where supposedly phase II all along was discussed – that group is made up of the Mayor and Vulcan’s pals. Other buried documents Postman refers to were just that – buried. The WSDOT study he refers to – is the Viaduct study – and Mercer improvements there were buried under the rubric “North Portal Improvements”

Try finding reference to a Phase II or its costs in the last 2-3 years of presentations SDOT has made to the Council (until three weeks ago). Try finding any allusion to phases at all let alone Phase II or its $100 million pricetag in the recent application SDOT filed for $50 million in stimulus funds for the “$190 million Mercer Project” Indeed if they’d said a phase II was still needed, they’d have a hard time proving the project shovel ready. Until last month, the public has been presented with a $190 million project and the press has covered this issue accordingly as a $190 million project.

I particularly resent Mr. Postman arrogant ad hominem attack which goes beyond critiquing my columns. He goes from feebly attempting to dismiss on point of a larger column, then uses that to try and marginalize (muzzle) not only me but silence discussion of these critical issues we are trying to raise.

This years city budget dedicates $129 million to South Lake Union and over five years, the CIP plan identifies over $860 for South Lake Union in public resources. It’s more than just wasting funds on Mercer. It’s about a fundamental raid on our city’s budget. There’s been little attention lately given to this matter from the mainstream press except Crosscut and I especially resent Mr. Postman’s attempt to intimate its editors who chose to print these pieces and who have chosen to try and shed light on these critical issues. It’s a shameful display Mr. Postman and beneath you if indeed ever were a journalist.

Documentation for our piece on the tanking of biotech
http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/biotech.htm

Documentation of enormous Public Costs Associated with Mayor/Allen plans in South Lake Union - $129 million this year and total over 5 year CIP Plan $862 million
http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/SLU09cost.htm#Citys 09 Budget contains $129 million for Paul Allens South Lake Union Plan; 5-Year CIP top $862 million!

jvfox

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

To quote Leonard Cohen, "...wasn't it a long way down, wasn't it a strange way down?" Oh well, unemployed journalists have to eat, and I'm sure that Vulcan is keeping you well fed, Mr. Postman.

Mud Baby

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

John, thanks for the posts, but could you provide a little more detail? :)

joshuadf

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

The notion of widening Mercer to 6-lanes all the way to Elliott (with some redirection other than Mercer Place) to become a freight corridor is monstrous. It's the outcome of the Deep-bore AWV replacement tunnel's lack of access at Western/Elliott. I've been saying for nearly two years that cutting off Western/Elliott is a fatal flaw because it puts too much traffic on the new (also terribly designed) Alaskan Way. Mercer West is another fatal flaw of the Deep-bore tunnel.

Some other way could be devised to access southbound Aurora. For instance, a Roundabout or a stoplight intersection at Aurora and Roy. This would however, only enable access from Queen Anne, SLU and I-5. Maybe the Mercer underpass could remain its current 4-lane width and become 2-way. Roy too could become 2-way to access such a Roundabout or stoplight at Aurora.

Building a freight corridor from Elliott through Queen Anne to accesss the Deep-bore portal at Aurora is insane, incompetent, corrupt or all three. Buh-bye, G Crunican. Take a looong vacation before your last day on the job. And, hire a good lawyer. You're gonna need one.

Wells

Posted Wed, Sep 23, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

It's difficult to re-design replacements for things that already work perfectly, except that they're not as "purdy" as some people think they should be.

This process to destroy Mercer and the viaduct is like watching a Mack Sennett comedy, except that the last reel isn't going to be very funny.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Sep 25, 11:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I made a horrible mistake.

I moved to South Lake Union thinking it was a neighborhood (I actually lived in Casccade). I didn't realize that it's really a network of highways whose purpose is to "most efficiently move traffic".

It didn't take me long to learn my lesson. At first I was so gung-ho about the new South Lake Union Park that I made a donation. However, what looked like a short 4-block walk in Google Maps ended up being a 7 block walk with long lights, fast traffic, and a whole lot of hot, exposed concrete. My best bet was to drive there, which I did a few times after I bought a car.

I moved. It's half as far to Volunteer Park, but I don't notice the walk at all.

Hope jmrolls et al continue to eak out a bit of pleasure from their highway network. I'll do my part by staying out of South Lake Union except to drive through at 50mph running yellow lights.

Rob K

Posted Fri, Sep 25, 11:27 a.m. Inappropriate

My comment to John Fox is, "What if you're right?"

Is Mercer really hunky dory they way it is? Is that why we've spent 40 years trying to figure out how to fix it? Is it hopeless to try and turn the armpit of the city into something nicer?

Rob K

Posted Fri, Sep 25, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

Rob K

I lived in Eastlake/Cascade for many years. It wasn't shiny and new...just an area that housed many small and medium sized businesses and smaller, more affordable housing than you find there today. I walked. I had a bicycle. I had a car. Mercer Street's capacity was the same as today...80K vehicles a day so it was one of the most successful arterials then as now. I don't recall anyone trying to "fix it." The area was old but not a slum by any means. But it was considered "under utilized" by those who change things for money. Then the term European Urban Village was introduced with its requirement for hyper-density and later Mercer was labeled "mess." The rest is "mover/shaker" history. Today I would think that where you live now is rapidly losing the armpit race with Cascade.

Sounds like you just moved there too soon. The flashy European UrbanBioPalloozaTech Condos came later. I don't know about your walks to the park, but it sounds like you were able to use some of the hot exposed concrete streets to make it those last three blocks. Good thing you had a car, huh? I agree with you about Volunteer Park and I'm glad you enjoy your walks now.

I have no problem with any form of transportation that makes sense. My point is that as long as we drive cars we need streets. I think it's wrong to spend hundreds of millions of dollars beautifying serviceable, successfully functioning streets when there are so many other things that need funding. It's not enough to just hate cars to stop using them...there must be rational alternatives.

Downtown is not Seattle. It’s just where all of the money goes.

jmrolls

Posted Sat, Sep 26, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

There's a reason Cascade used to be so affordable: the razing of about 7 square blocks (including the eastern half the business district along Eastlake) for construction of I-5 and the Mercer ramps in the 1960s. I can't imagine why most residents of the former ethnic neighborhood wanted to leave after that.
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file;_id=3178

Now, highway has traffic become so bad that it made sense to build a highrise like the Mirabella (Fairview/Denny), replacing a parking lot formerly owned by the Seattle Times.

Hmm, still no crosswalk on the east side of Fairview in the Mercer designs. Another reason not to like it.

joshuadf

Posted Tue, Sep 29, 5:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for post. It’s really informative stuff.
I really like to read.Hope to learn a lot and have a nice experience here! my best regards guys!thanks for share it .
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