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.
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David Postman: more fact-checking, please!

A Vulcan spokesperson pleads: no more ill-informed pieces on South Lake Union by John Fox.

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.


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