By Susan Gilmore
SEATTLE The Alaskan Way Viaduct
could receive $1 billion in federal money through a new "mega-projects"
initiative in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mayor Greg Nickels is working with Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake
Stevens, a member of the House Committee on Transportation
and Infrastructure, to secure money for the viaduct.
"The viaduct is the No. 1 transportation priority in
our state, and time is running out to replace it," said
His comments came just a day after state Department of Transportation
officials revealed that the 50-year-old viaduct has settled
4 inches since the February 2001 Nisqually earthquake and
is 2 inches away from requiring potentially expensive repairs.
The push for viaduct money comes as the House prepares to
act on a six-year federal transportation bill. A House committee
has proposed establishing a mega-projects fund for such major
efforts as the viaduct.
Susan Crowley, head of the city's Office of Intergovernmental
Relations, said there are about 15 similar mega-projects on
the wish list, including a major rail project in Chicago,
but she doesn't know of any others with safety problems as
serious as the viaduct's.
"The whole safety factor is the one thing that calls
the viaduct out as a project that needs funding," she
The fact that Seattle is a major port city also should enhance
the chances of receiving viaduct money, she said.
Nickels yesterday sent letters to the leaders of the House
Transportation committee urging them to approve $1 billion
for the viaduct.
"If the viaduct fails in an earthquake, it means gridlock
on (Interstate 5)," said Nickels. "The economy of
our state ... can't afford to take that hit."
In a letter to James Oberstar, D-Minn., ranking member of
the House committee, Nickels said the continued deterioration
of the viaduct poses a major threat to Seattle's public safety
But even with the $1 billion, there would not be enough money
to replace the viaduct. The state estimates those costs between
$2.5 billion and $4.1 billion.
So far the only money committed to the viaduct is $5 million
from the city, $177 million from the state gas tax and $8.5
million from the federal government.
Nickels said he is pushing hard for the money, acknowledging
that "it's not a done deal, but we've been working aggressively
and we've got friends there."
Nickels has even gone so far as to give pieces of the gribble-infested
seawall to every member of the state Legislature. Gribbles
are tiny creatures that are eating away the Alaskan Way seawall.
The state is considering five options for replacing the viaduct.
The options include rebuilding the viaduct in the same location
with wider lanes; building a new six-lane aerial structure;
digging a tunnel; building a bypass tunnel that would include
a four-lane tunnel on the central waterfront; and building
a six- to eight-lane surface street on Alaskan Way, which
would cause the most traffic congestion. Consultants are also
looking at a do-nothing option.
The environmental-impact statement on the options will be
released March 31, and the state expects to pick a preferred
alternative this summer.