Tunnel supporters: Aren't you creating gridlock?

Maybe those who want to tunnel along the waterfront need to take a seat. On the bus.

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A construction crew poured a slab of the new First Avenue S. sidewalk at Railroad Way S. in Seattle's SODO neighborhood.

Maybe those who want to tunnel along the waterfront need to take a seat. On the bus.

Here's what the "Let's Move Forward" campaign says about the viaduct replacement effort: 

To maintain a working waterfront and thousands of jobs in our neighborhoods, we need a safe, efficient route for trucks and delivery vehicles. The alternative? Gridlock and construction impacts that will harm businesses and jobs. Diesel engines idling in gridlock is bad for our economy and environment.

Here's what a recent story in the Seattle Times said about the beginnings of the tunnel project: 

The May 16 lane closures mark the start of a long-dreaded, long-lasting traffic slowdown to enable replacement of the 1950s-vintage highway. Conditions will remain congested until early 2016, when a tolled tunnel is to replace the central viaduct section along the waterfront.

Tunnel advocates say the surface alternative and not building the deep bore tunnel will cause job-killing gridlock. The truth is that the tunnel project, and any updates that involve construction are going to create gridlock for sure. Even just tearing down the viaduct and creating a surface option would likely create some disruption to typical traffic flows.

It's amusing to see the advice — quoted in the Seattle Times story — to commuters given by the Washington State Department of Transportation:

State officials urge commuters to change trip schedules or take the bus. Some bus trips already are standing-room only.

Those of us who think the viaduct is a hazard and ought to be closed today would give the same advice. But when we give it, the Gov. Chris Gregoire calls it "social engineering." 

I like the advice the WSDOT is giving. Take the bus. Change your route. Maybe they should add, “work from home” and “consider moving to Belltown.” What WSDOT is suggesting is that people “get out of their cars.”

It is important to also note that gas prices are climbing. There was a stretch there where prices increased for five weeks straight. Some sources are suggesting $5 or $6 per gallon over the summer. Worry about people not driving is inspiring some destination vacation spots to offer big discounts to offset gas prices. Again, people are “getting out of their cars,” opting for staycations this summer rather than driving.

The upcoming gridlock created by the tunnel project along with increased gas prices has also caused an uptick in interest in West Seattle in other options than driving alone. The West Seattle Blog quotes a Metro official talking about growing demand for transit in the neighborhood:

To date, WSDOT has funded an additional 31 trips on routes: 21X, 56X, and 121. These trips were added a while back to make transit a good alternative for folks during the construction. Metro has seen ridership increase 11 percent on those trips (fall 2009 compared to fall 2010).

Right now, there is a proposal (not finalized yet) that would add more trips in October 2011. This would increase trips on the Rt. 120 funded by WSDOT and the Rt. 54 funded by Metro. And, the additional trips on the 21X, 56X, and 121 would continue.

And Metro has picked up an increase in inquiries on van-pools and car sharing as well.

The point is that the tunnel project is creating the very gridlock that it claims it will be solving. Proponents will likely argue that the gridlock is only temporary, while we solve the bigger gridlock problem.

But this is silly. We’re knocking out the viaduct and building a tunnel because we’re worried that gridlock will kill our economy, but we’re creating gridlock to do it. It’s the destroying the village to save it, to use a warfare analogy. If gridlock is so deadly, then why is WSDOT creating it, then suggesting transportation alternatives to it, the same alternatives many of us suggested as alternatives to the $4.5 billion tunnel?

Why not take some of that money we've set aside for tunnel-building gridlock and spend it on more transit. After all, there is increasing demand (standing room only!). We’re already creating gridlock and suggesting alternatives. Let’s allocate our resources so that people can sit down when they ride the bus from West Seattle.


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