On Monday, February 28, the Council voted 8 to 1 to override Mayor McGinn’s veto of the agreements with the state that protect the people of Seattle during construction of the SR 99 bored tunnel. Six votes were needed to override the veto. The Council took our override vote at 10:44 AM, exactly ten minutes before the tenth anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake, which revealed the vulnerabilities of the current Alaskan Way Viaduct.
In the ten years since the Nisqually earthquake, there have been some 700 meetings about the viaduct, 76 replacement options reviewed, and 15,000 public comments examined. In the last 14 months, the Council has held 20 public meetings and accepted public comment at every one of them. There has been a thorough vetting of the options, and the region and state have come together around the tunnel project.
While many people still prefer a different option, everyone should be able to support these agreements. If you like the tunnel, they are a routine measure to move it ahead. If you don’t like the tunnel or don’t trust WSDOT, they provide strong and substantive protections for Seattle and Seattle voters that would be useful for any project.
This legislation puts into law agreements negotiated between the State and the City over the past year. City negotiators included the City Attorney and the Directors of Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, and the Seattle Department of Transportation. These agreements affirm that the City of Seattle has no liability or responsibility for the tunnel project, and that the State will complete the project within the established budget and sources of funds.
Section 2.8 of the Transportation Agreement defines that “The STATE is responsible for designing and constructing the PROJECT (the deep bored tunnel)…” while Section 2.6 of the agreement provides that “Each PARTY shall provide the funding and resources necessary to fulfill the responsibility of that PARTY as established in the Agreement.” and Section 10.1 further clarifies that “The STATE shall provide necessary funding for all PROJECT costs as referenced in this Agreement without reimbursement from the City of Seattle, except for the CITY cost responsibilities established in this Agreement, in SCL Agreement UT 01476, and in SPU Agreement UT 01474.”
The Council added confirmation language in Section 10.2 stating “By entering into this Agreement, the CITY is not waiving its position that the CITY and/or its citizens and property owners cannot be held responsible for any or all cost overruns related to the portions of the PROJECT for which the STATE is responsible.”
At the Council meeting I reminded people of what is at stake by showing pictures of the collapse of the Oakland viaduct in the Loma Prieta quake and the damage to the Viaduct after the Nisqually earthquake. I showed these pictures to emphasize that we have talked for ten years about safety and risk for the people who travel on this corridor. We must also be concerned about risks to the economic future of Seattle.
Keeping the project moving is also about the opportunity to reconnect our downtown urban core to the natural ecology that defines our city and Puget Sound. The promise of reconnecting a visionary waterfront to downtown brought almost a thousand people to share their ideas at the kickoff meeting February 17.
We are now at the point to focus on the future and move this project forward. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to analyze options, consider the diversity of needs and interests of our residents and our region, listen to people, evaluate consequences, and make thoughtful and sometimes difficult decisions. We were elected to make decisions as responsible stewards for this great City. It’s what the people of Seattle expect from us.
The Seattle City Council has lived up to that expectation. With this action, we reaffirmed our commitment to moving forward in partnership with the community, stakeholders and our regional and state partners.