Cost estimates are coming in today on the various Viaduct replacement options, and it could be doomsday for the expensive elevated option being pushed by Speaker Frank Chopp. That option is estimated to cost $2.2 billion, slightly less than the cut and cover tunnel ($2.7 billion), and far less than the deep bored tunnel ($3.5 billion). By contrast, the surface solutions come in a little under $1 billion.
Curtains for the Choppaduct? It might be, given all the red ink flowing in Olympia. Another factor will be the high costs of the Chopp-preferred alternative for SR520, greatly exceeding the available funds. The estimates for all the neighborhood and Arboretum enhancements could add up to $2 billion on top of the $4.5 billion new estimate for the bridge.
The conceptual cost estimates come from the team of state, city, and county transportation experts working on the Viaduct for the past year and sizing up eight different options. An advisory stakeholders' group gets the numbers today. Some are angry at the last-minute information but some are also pleased at the momentum for a surface-plus-transit solution. The next step is a decision by the governor, the mayor, and the county executive on the preferred option. Then it has to survive the Legislature, where Speaker Chopp may be able to derail any choice aside from his preferred structure of retail, offices, highway lanes, and a linear park on top.
Expect that decision from Nickels, Sims, and Gregoire by late December. And expect their choice to be tearing down the Viaduct, replacing it with a slow boulevard, adding bus transit, and reworking downtown streets to take more capacity. If it doesn't work, the safety valve will be a bored tunnel at some later date. Increasing the odds for this outcome is the sour economy, taking away the funds for any of the more costly options.