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    City Council: Don't worry, we are taking over on tunnel

    The council said it plans to hold off on final action endorsing agreements with the state on construction terms but that it will pass a resolution underlining its support. In late afternoon, McGinn responded by saying the council is trying to block a vote by citizens.

    The Seattle City Council said today that it plans to move forward with the state of Washington on a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct while holding off a final signing of agreements until it sees whether the state receives good construction bids for the huge project.

    The council unveiled near-unanimous agreement on a plan to approve a resolution stating the city's intent to reach final agreements with the state next year. Mayor Mike McGinn, an increasingly firm opponent of the tunnel, cannot veto council resolutions, although he has a choice whether to sign or not. A resolution is also exempt from being overturned by a referendum that might be forced if opponents undertook a drive to get petition signatures for a vote, as some critics have discussed.

    Late this afternoon, the mayor responded to the council's plan in an e-mailed statement to the media. "It appears that council is doing everything possible to prevent a public vote. Yet they still have not dealt with the underlying issue — who will pay for overruns given the $2.4 billion cap in state law. Until the state law is changed, Seattle remains at risk of paying cost overruns."

    Amid considerable talk at the council press conference in the morning about wanting to work with the mayor, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the transportation committee, expressed the most annoyance with McGinn, with whom he has clashed before on the issue. Apparently referring to proposals to withhold city action on approving agreements with the state until the state legislature guaranteed it would accept any cost overruns, Rasmussen said the mayor "tried to insert a poison pill."

    "It was another tactic of the mayor to kill the project, which is something he said he would not do when he campaigned," Rasmussen said. Because of that, he added, "the council took over."

    The council's plan, however, is a clear acknowledgement that members had listened to concerns that signing final agreements with the state would be premature without bids on construction and a final environmental approval for the tunnel. Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said the approach allows the city "the best of both worlds," getting more time to see that reasonable bids come in while sending a "very strong signal to the contractors" that the city will be part of the project with the state.

    State officials evidently agree. Gov. Chris Gregoire issued a statement praising the council's action. Gregoire said, "The Seattle City Council, as partners in this project, understand that after nearly a decade of process, that further delays will cost money, risk our economy and threaten public safety. We are in an unprecedented climate for construction bids which allows us to stretch taxpayer dollars even further."

    City Attorney Peter Holmes repeated his assurances that a state law on city property owners near the project picking cost overruns is unenforceable. Holmes said he was surprised by one thing about a poll showing that more than 60 percent of city residents were concerned about how cost overruns might be covered. He suggested 99 percent might have been a reasonable figure, but he said the council, with whom he worked on the plan, is also very concerned. He said the proposed agreements with the state protect the city on that issue and others, including environmental mitigation and the protection of valuable city infrastructure along the existing right of way for the viaduct.

    Rasmussen called the plan a "team effort." He added, "Each council member has been heard." He specifically included Mike O'Brien, the member whose position has been closest to McGinn's.

    O'Brien didn't join other six other council members in presenting the plan at a late morning press conference and he didn't endorse it. But when asked by members of the media afterward whether the council had done something "sneaky," he demurred, saying it wouldn't be appropriate to comment when he hadn't been involved. However, referred to the plan's development "as what went on behind the scenes."

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    Posted Mon, Jul 26, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    The grown ups are taking over! I love it. Keep moving folks.

    With all the BS and general cluelessness of many commentators and the mayor, it's great to see progress continue.


    Posted Mon, Jul 26, 4:15 p.m. Inappropriate


    Being an adult is taking responsibility and doing the right thing without being told what to do - the State even needing to tell Seattle it needs to pay for the tunnel is evidence of the contrary.

    I think rather than grown ups we have nothing but another example of American corporate/public entitlement conspirators.

    Punks cum baby boomer PC extorting tyrants is more like it.

    Posted Mon, Jul 26, 7:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    Not only is the tunnel still considered a giant step backwards by Seattle voters, it’s also a political loser. It will certainly cost more than proposed and the resulting chaos and gridlock during and after construction will be a constant reminder to voters, who will be sitting in increased levels of traffic congestion remembering who was responsible.

    Nickel's demise was more about his intractable position on the viaduct than it was about his mishandling of the snow storm.

    Listening to the council one would think that they’re still channeling the ex-mayor.


    Posted Mon, Jul 26, 8:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    mhays has exactly nailed it.

    I hope the Council will stick to their guns and somehow manage to facilitate construction of the tunnel, but given the Seattle metro area's propensity for hand-wringing, I fear that the state will simply disassemble the viaduct and stick us with the ludicrous surface "option" instead. The latter really isn't a viable option because the immutable constrictions of Alaska Way caused by the railroad tracks across the street from the cruise ship terminal, and I-5 under the Convention Center make it impossible to replace much if any traffic conveyance currently provided by the viaduct. In addition, there are little details like the lack of grade separation between the tracks and the street adjacent to the Sculpture Garden, and the way traffic will be forced to creep through the 90 degree bend of the road at that location. In McGinn's world, however, all these things can be wished away.

    Mud Baby

    Posted Mon, Jul 26, 10:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks, Crosscut, for the honest, informative, and insightful coverage of this issue. I've really grown to appreciate that the writers here treat the readers like adults rather than telling them what they should think about this complicated issue.

    It's still not obvious to me what the right call is, but the romantic in me is very much drawn to the idea of a park, shops, bars along that stretch, and the tunnel is the only way to plausibly make that happen.


    Posted Tue, Jul 27, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    (I think the jewelry ad disguised as a "comment" by Vivian needs to be scrapped.)

    Could it be that the City Council actually 'did the right thing' by slowing down in its hasty efforts to show that the tunnel plan is a 'done deal' which nothing can stop? Very possibly--but this slowdown in the lemmings march cannot be traced to that austere body's coming to its senses or sudden willingness to put the people's interests above those of its developer and construction industry friends. It does show, however, that the firestorm of constroversy that has enveloped this boondoggle project has started to get too hot for some members on the Council--particularly those who are up for re-election next year. I suppose they are hoping that there will be nothing but 'good news' coming out of this project between now and then..? Dream on.

    Posted Tue, Jul 27, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

    Wow. Sean gets an 'Editors Pick' for an opinion that Crosscut offers "honest, informative, and insightful coverage." Crosscut's coverage on the DBT issue is biased. And neither is Crosscut honestly informative when pertinent information about the DBT's engineering, environmental impact and extreme risks is ignored. Insightful? More like Crosscut is cross-eyed.


    Posted Sat, Jul 31, 9:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Do voters realize they need to vote smarter people into office?

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