Viaduct for Dummies: Why You Gotta Hate?

Is there a ceiling on this thing?

Full-glory morning sunshine this morning as I drove along the top of the Viaduct, pondering Seattle's love/hate of the thing. Sure, those views of the bay—ferries, the Olympics, the works—make going to work almost a pleasure. But also, the thing might one day kill me, one way or another.

You can thrill yourself again with that exciting animation of the Viaduct pancaking in a huge quake. But it's not that kind of crushing that tunnel opponants are talking about these days; it's the possibility of crushing debt caused by deep-bore tunnel cost overruns. Mayor Mike McGinn and others say that, more than likely, the thing will run over its $3.1 billion budget, and so far, no one's offering to cover. The legislature put a cap on state funding of the project; above that, Seattle property owners will pay for any cost overruns.

Of that $3.1 billion budget, by the way, $1.96 billion is for the tunnel, according to DOT spokesman Chad Schuster. Of that, $1.35 billion goes to the design and construction; the rest includes allowances for inflation, insurance and other work. For its part, the Department of Transportation says there will be no over-runs, and they're setting aside $205 million just in case.

That's not good enough for some, and if it's not good enough for you, well...I suppose you could vent your disapproval of all things tunnelly by voting no on Referendum #1, but don't get cocky; failing Ref 1 won't stop the tunnel.

Here's a look at the language of the initiative just approved for the ballot:

"This ballot measure will neither approve nor reject the deep-bore tunnel as an alternative to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Rather, as explained below, your vote will affect how the City Council will decide whether to proceed with the current agreements on the deep-bore tunnel beyond preliminary design work, after environmental review is completed."

What does that mean? Failing Ref. #1 can cause delays, drive up costs and rev up the Seattle Process even more. But the tunnel, she is coming. Last week, another symbolic hurdle was cleared: The Puget Sound Regional Council voted to approve the deep-bore tunnel, not that anyone thought they wouldn't. Up next: federal approval of the project, expected shortly after the election in August.