alaska viaduct flickr cliff1066(tm)Ah, the Viaduct—the gift that keeps on giving.  Yesterday’s Seattle Timesquotes Washington’s House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) as saying, “if you listen carefully you will hear a giant sigh.”  She believes it’s a sigh of relief, because the state legislature is moving forward with a plan to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

But perhaps it’s a sigh of exasperation, exhaled by the 70 percent of Seattle voters who voted against replacing the Viaduct with a tunnel just 2 years ago.

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  • There are all sorts of reasons to be exasperated. The tunnel is expensive; and compared with a more modest solution, the extra trips the tunnel would facilitate will likely increase greenhouse gas emissions. 

    But the financing plan for the new Viaduct is perhaps the biggest reason for Seattleites to be unhappy with the tunnel plan:  the legislature has required property owners in downtown Seattle to shoulder the financial risk of any unanticipated cost overruns.  (See more at the Seattle Times and Josh Feit’s post atPublicola.)

    So the state is foisting a highway on Seattle—in a plan that’s comparable to one that the city’s own voters have already rejected — and is also saddling city business and residents with all the risk if the state can’t stick to its budget.  It’s a potentially enormous financial burden, since even the best planning process can’t anticipate things that can go wrong with such a massive undertaking.  In fact, there’s a rich academic literature on the tendency for big projects to go over budget.

    Yet the state doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem here.  A spokesperson for the governor has reassured city voters that “we don’t envision any cost overruns to occur on this project.” 

    But I’m not so sanguine:  I imagine that Boston didn’t envision the massive cost overruns for the Big Dig, either.

    Viaduct photo courtesy of Flickr user Cliff1066(tm) under a Creative Commons license.