Even by the weird and hysterical standards of Seattle’s great viaduct debate, something very strange is going on. The weirdness has got to do with what I’ll call the “equity argument” — that our treatment of the viaduct should not discriminate against workers.
Good. Fair enough. No doubt most of us agree: voters and policymakers should be attentive to ordinary- and lower-income folks when making decisions.
But what’s strange is this: according to the purveyors of the equity argument, the elevated-rebuild is good for workers—and all the other choices are bad for them. And what’s even weirder is that in spite of having no actual evidence in support of the claim, the elevated-rebuild backers just keep saying it over and over again, as if repetition will make it true.
Exhibit A is P-I columnist Joel Connelly.
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He recently groused that the surface-transit option, “would be underwritten by the paychecks and jobs of those who live and work in the Emerald City.” (He went on to accuse the supporters of any option other than the elevated-rebuild as being variously “highfalutin,” non-indigenous Seattleites, or politicians.)
Now, of course, Connelly is exactly right that the surface-transit option will affect paychecks and jobs. Then again, that’s true of every option—surface-transit, rebuild, tunnel, retrofit, horse and buggy, personal jetpacks, whatever. So it’s hard to know what it is about the surface-transit option that Connelly thinks is so damming. It’s hard to know because Connelly never tells us; and he never tells us because, as I said, there’s no actual evidence in support of his argument.
Exhibit B is yesterday’s article in the P-I that pits the rebuild supporters (a scrappy bunch, “barely funded, grossly outmanned campaign”) against the “plutocratic” tunnel supporters. (Never mind that the elevated-rebuild crowd counts among their number an extremely powerful developer, the editorial board of the city’s largest-circulation newspaper, the governor, the speaker of the house, and the state department of transportation, just to name a few.) The article cites a couple of rebuild-supporting politicians—city council members Licata and Della—who make the equity argument. But again, neither Licata nor Della provides any actual evidence. Not a shred.
But is it true that any option other than the elevated rebuild is bad for workers? I have no idea. Neither do Connelly, Licata, or Della. Neither does anyone else.
Look, I’d sincerely like to know which of the various choices is, in fact, best for workers. I’d love to see some actual evidence—some studies, some data, some analysis… really anything but bald unsupported assertion. Until then, seeing as how everyone in Seattle has apparently become unmoored from the necessity of logic and reason-giving, I’d be happy to speculate about the equity effects of replacing the viaduct.
Here’s what I think. The surface-transit option is probably the most equitable of all choices under serious consideration. It’s by far the cheapest, the least reliant on highly regressive taxes, and the least susceptible to cost-overruns that would be paid for by further regressive taxes. It opens up the waterfront to more public uses. It creates opportunities for a more attractive, more densely populated, and probably more affordable downtown. (Admittedly, the tunnel option has many of these same virtues, though it’s costlier.)
So absent some evidence to the contrary, I just can’t see how the surface-transit option is worse for workers than the other options. Just the opposite is probably true since transit tends to be pretty great for lower- and middle-income folks. By comparison to transit, in fact, driving is the province of the bourgeoisie.
I, for one, have only limited sympathy for “workers” who can afford daytime parking rates in the city, sipping on their venti soy lattes as they pilot their L.L. Bean-edition vehicles through downtown. I’d rather worry about the fellow balancing a cup of joe on his lap during his bus ride to work.
But there I go, lapsing into class rhetoric with no evidence whatsoever to support my claims.
When in Rome…