If you live in Seattle, you may have noticed a little thing about some sort of vote…oh, what was it now…oh, that’s right, the Viaduct. City voters decided that they wantedno part of a new waterfront highway.  No tunnel, no elevated.  Period.

Of course, this was just an advisory vote, and the whole election was pretty widely portrayed as a meaningless exercise. Legally, our elected officials are still free to pursue whatever wacky plan they want.

So does the “no and no” outcome really change anything?  Well, yes, in fact, it does.

  • First and foremost, the vote killed the tunnel. At this point, after 70% of voters have rejected the idea, any city politician who tries to saddle the city with the cost and risk of a waterfront tunnel is committing political suicide.  By my reckoning, the tunnel is dead.

    Second, it seems to me that the vote gave a huge boost to a streets + transit option. Huge! And given these results, I think there’s an excellent chance that the city will finally, finally, commit enough resources to develop a serious, detailed and credible no-highway alternative—something that can stand on its own two feet as a real proposal, not just a tantalizing concept.

    And third—and perhaps most importantly—the outcome suggests that voters are just plain fed up with paying for highway megaprojects.  For most people, the huge and ballooning costs just don’t seem worth the benefits.  $2.8 billion is, plain and simple, a lot of money to pay for 2.2 miles of highway.  (Are you listening, RTID?)

    All this said, the debate ain’t over—not by a longshot. People who want to fortify the existing structure no doubt see this as a victory of sorts.  Supporters of an elevated highway may take solace that their option was more popular than the tunnel—and that they just need to convince an extra 5 percent of the electorate to squeak out a victory next time (if there is a next time).  Ex-Governor Locke apparently wants to spearhead a new tunnel plan.  And on it goes.

    Those sorts of debates are both inevitable, and completely legit.  After all, the precise message that voters sent isn’t clear—in this case, “no” could mean anything from “hell no!” to “let’s talk.”

    Still, all things considered, I’m pretty pleased. I’ve been writing about the no-rebuild option for more than four years now.  It’s nice to think that, at long last, there’s enough political support for the idea that city transportation planners have no choice but to give it a serious look.