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Seattle wants $1 billion for new Alaska Way Viaduct

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times
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 Nickels.

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 said.

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 and economy.

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.