On the waterfront plan - contradictions abound

One thing became clear during a recent Town Hall forum on the waterfront: Confusion reigns whenever we talk or think about the impending makeover.
Crosscut archive image.

People ogling the waterfront makeover model at a public forum on the project.

One thing became clear during a recent Town Hall forum on the waterfront: Confusion reigns whenever we talk or think about the impending makeover.

The city's remake of the central waterfront is moving ahead. In March, the Seattle Department of Transportation released a refined design. The current budget for the project is around $1.07 billion dollars, which includes the seawall and the surface highway. But now that the design is 30 percent complete, SDOT is recalculating. The agency expects to have an updated budget total by mid-year.

I doubt that the new figure will be lower.

Already the seawall project is some $30 million more than anticipated and the makeover will likely run into new challenges here and there. Then there is the potential impact of the long Bertha delay. Not only does that draw out the timeline for the project but repairing the broken tunnel boring machine might complicate seawall work. For example, this fall traffic will need to be diverted around the area near Colman Dock where the rescue pit work for Bertha will be underway. That could create a bottleneck or conflicting needs.

The Bertha situation raises a lot of questions, not the least of which comes from Lynn Peterson, head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, who said this week that she couldn't guarantee that Bertha could complete the job. If the tunnel had to go back to the drawing board, well, a lot that's contingent upon it would be up for grabs.

On April 29, the Seattle Channel devoted an episode of its "Seattle Speaks" program to a Town Hall forum on the waterfront project. I served as a panel member, apparently the designated skeptic of the plans. One thing became clear during that 74 minutes of TV: There are a number of seeming contradictions in the way people speak and think about the waterfront plan. Here are a few I've noted.

Infrastructure vs. Amenity

When proponents discuss the waterfront plan, its purpose always sounds lofty. A "Central Park" for Seattle. A "front porch" for the city. A "waterfront for all" that is first and foremost a beautiful park. Yet when these aspects of the project are questioned, supporters quickly remind skeptics that no, this isn’t really about amenities, but about infrastructure: a necessary new seawall, for example, which will cost around $330 million, and a state highway. Some traffic diverts to the tunnel, but a lot of cars will be moving along the waterfront. In other words, there's a tension between the waterfront project's park-i-ness and its functionality as a major surface thoroughfare.

Crosscut archive image.

Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.