(This post is part of a series.)

It seems like state and city politicians are still dead set on spending billions of dollars on Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct. (And just to be clear: I was wrong to declare the tunnel dead last week; the governor tried to put a stake in its heart, but city officials resurrected it as a 4-lane “hybrid” tunnel. And so, the saga continues…proving, yet again, that I know nothing about reading the political tea leaves.)

But King County exec. Ron Sims seems to be looking for another way forward. He’s identified 49 fixes to downtown transit—everything from bus only lanes to curb bulbs for faster loading to extensions of electric bus wires—that could add capacity for about 35,000 extra transit trips through downtown Seattle each day. And as he points out, these kinds of transit improvements are going to be necessary, no matter what happens with the viaduct—whether it’s closed for construction, or simply demolished.

In case you’re counting, 35,000 extra transit trips could absorb about a third of the car trips taken each day on the Viaduct—at a fraction of the cost of a new highway, whether elevated or underground.

Which, of course, begs the question: if a few tens of millions in up-front infrastructure investments, plus another $10 million per year in transit operations, can absorb a full third of the trips from the Viaduct, what could you do with some real money?

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  • Sims has lots of ideas, which he lays out in his op ed: bus passes for downtown workers; congestion pricing to ease traffic during rush hour; and parking policies that discourage driving. These, too, could be costly—but again, the price tag is way less than the cost of a new highway.

    And, of course, there’s the bus/train tunnel, currently closed for repair and refurbishment. When that reopens, downtown transit capacity will leap by at least 5,000 passengers during the peak hour, at least according to this report (download the word document at the end of the page, and go to section 3.11—pre-closure, the tunnel handled 70 buses each way during peak hours.)

    So it seems to me that, adding up the passenger capacity of …

    • a revamped Alaskan way boulevard,
    • a reopened bus/train tunnel, and
    • Sims’s 49 transit fixes…

    …the city comes mighty close to having all of the rush hour capacity it needs when the Viaduct is closed. Add in a little extra money for additional traffic and transit fixes, and I have a hard time seeing how closing the Viaduct could possibly doom downtown Seattle to decades of gridlock.