Tunnel Project Funds Seattle Street Repairs

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Seattle street maintenance crew, 2011

In an entertaining twist to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project saga, the tunnel project has wound up funding Seattle street repairs.  The Seattle City Council has approved legislation authorizing the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to spend an additional $3 million this year on street maintenance and repairs.

The money came to the City as a result of the State’s purchase of a piece of property owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation.  The property is colloquially known as the “Rubble Yard”, because it has been used to store paving materials such as crushed stone that are used for street repair.  The property is adjacent to the north portal for the Alaskan Way Tunnel, and will be used as a construction staging area by the State.

These added funds will greatly expand the street maintenance and repair program, boosting project funding by some 33 percent in 2011 and eliminating the need to lay off 21 street maintenance workers. While some of this will be used to fill the proliferation of potholes, most of it is being used for longer term repairs, such as replacing concrete panels and repaving deteriorated asphalt streets.  While pothole repairs are important short-term steps, these more substantial repairs will address a number of major problems that are more serious than potholes, and will provide fixes that will last for many years.

One of the earliest projects, which was highlighted at the news conference at which the Mayor and Council announced this funding, was replacing concrete panels that had caved in on MLK Jr., Way South adjacent to Barnett Park.  Letting this street crumble further could lead to significant problems for vehicles and bicycles that travel this section, and eventually would likely require an even more expensive fix in the future.

I have been working for years to secure funding to maintain Seattle’s streets and bridges.  An era of neglect that began in the 1970’s has only just begun to be turned around – with the first major new maintenance funding coming in 2006, when voters approved the Bridging the Gap (BTG) property tax levy.  This levy was proposed by the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee II (CTAC II), which I convened shortly after becoming Chair of the Transportation Committee in 2002. 

Unfortunately, while BTG funding has repaired a number of bridges and roadway structures and has halted the steep decline in our street system conditions, it has not been enough of a boost to completely turn the situation around.  That’s why these kinds of additional infusions are necessary.

SDOT had been about to lay off 21 street maintenance workers prior to this funding decision, because of decreasing gas tax revenues.  I asked SDOT to stop the layoffs pending approval of this additional funding, and I am pleased to be able to report that these 21 skilled and experienced employees will continue to do this important work, thanks to this action.

These funds will help keep crucial street repairs on schedule for this year.  The City still faces a major challenge in finding new sources of revenue to fully address the maintenance of our street network.  This is one reason that the Council is currently considering submitting to the voters in November a Vehicle License Fee proposal as one more source of funds for these critical projects.