Construction of a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Vaduct, carrying Highway 99 through downtown Seattle, won approval this week from the city's voters. "Votes counted as of Wednesday showed 59.4 percent approving the tunnel," The Seattle Times reported.
"One purpose of putting Highway 99 underground, rather than on a new or fixed viaduct, is to make the waterfront more pleasant," the paper said. "An ambitious ring of waterfront parks, perhaps with lawns, footbridges, small beaches and a new Pier 62, is envisioned in 2018."
"The state agreed to finance a new waterfront Alaskan Way with bike lanes, a short bridge connecting Belltown to this new surface route, and a widened six-lane stretch from the ferry terminal to Sodo," the paper noted.
There has long been contention over what to do about traffic through downtown. The Congress for the New Urbanism joined others in opposing the proposed bored-hole tunnel. With supporting evidence from Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, CNU argued that the tunnel comes at a time when driving as a main means of transport is on the wane.
Using data supplied by the Seattle DOT, Bernstein has noted that while automobile trips have declined by 6 percent over 2000-2009, population has increased by nearly 10 percent. The resulting 14 percent drop in trips per capita has been used to argue that the tunnel is an inessential project that will at most create a small number of temporary construction jobs, while leaving Seattle’s core economically worse-off than before.
Nonetheless, the conclusion of The New York Times was that voters on Tuesday "gave what amounts to a final blessing to a $2 billion, 1.7-mile, 56-foot-wide, deep-bore highway tunnel that will run below downtown skyscrapers and behind a sea wall that holds back Puget Sound."
"The decisive vote, on a technical question about the authority of the City Council to approve the project, was seen as an 'enough is enough' statement after 10 years of debate," the New York paper said, adding, "It was also seen as a sharp rejection of Mayor Mike McGinn, who built his 2009 campaign on opposition to the tunnel and has spent much of his term fighting it, calling it too expensive and counter to the city’s broader goals of expanding alternative means of transportation."