(This post is part of a series.)
I haven’t had much new to say about Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct saga, despite the fact that there have been a bunch of significant developments of late:
- Late last month, Governor Gregoire signed off on a 9.5 cents per gallon gas tax increase, which would provide (among other things) $2 billion to replace the Viaduct. But the Viaduct only gets that money if Puget Sound can come up with enough cash to finish the project—for the tunnel option, that means raising an additional $2 billion or thereabouts, the equivalent of about $3,500 in taxes per Seattle resident. Some observers are already predicting statewide political backlash from the gas tax in the 2006 elections.
- Last week, the citytouted a new study that found that the benefits of rebuilding the Viaduct outweigh the costs, and that paying extra to put the tunnel underground just sweetens the pot. The city is clearly laying the groundwork to impose a levy on downtown properties that would gain value if the Viaduct were relocated underground. But as David Sucher’s City Comforts blog points out, most of the benefit to downtown property owners comes from getting rid of the Viaduct, not from building a tunnel in its place.
- The Seattle Times editorialized yesterday in opposition to the “no-build” alternative. Clearly, they’re concerned that some of the powers-that-be have hardened into a “tunnel or nothing” position—and that if the region can’t figure out a way to raise $2 billion, that nothing would be built. For some reason, this seems like a doomsday scenario to the Seattle Times—though from what I can tell, the medium-term result of replacing the Viaduct and removing it are the same: drivers are going to have to figure out how to get by without the Viaduct’s capacity.
My only thing to add to all this is an addendum to City Comforts’ point. It seems to me that downtown property owners could well be substantiallybetter off if the Viaduct were simply removed, rather than replaced with a tunnel. Over the medium term, downtown businesses wouldn’t have to deal with the noise and mess of construction. Over the long term, downtowns are often better places to live without highways sucking the life and vitality from them. (Think New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Vancouver BC.)
So it’s certainly odd that the city is building a case to tax downtown property owners to pay for something that’s actually against their own financial interests. If anybody’s property values will benefit from replacing the Viaduct, it’s the folks who live in the neighborhoods to the north and south of downtown—so why is the city targeting downtown property owners to foot the tunnel bill?
Update: Fixed some typos and inconsistencies.