Opening Day for the Waterfront Tunnel — Ground Hog’s Day Comments

Home » Opening Day for the Waterfront Tunnel — Ground Hog’s Day Comments

Here are my comments from the ribbon cutting ceremony for our SR99 tunnel on February 2, 2019.

There are moments in each of our lives that change everything. You might think about:

• The day you received a fat envelope to the college of your choice.

• The day you volunteered to be helpful and you actually made a difference for someone.

• The day you met the person that you choose to marry.

All of those were true for me. I can remember the precise moment when each of those happened.

I also remember the day and lunch that initiated a series of events that led me to this stage today.

Sixteen years ago, I had lunch with David Yeaworth at the Rock Bottom cafe. We were introduced by a mutual friend. He asked me, then a prosecuting attorney working for Norm Maleng, to join the Allied Arts Board.

David shared Allied Arts’ Vision for this great city. He introduced me to terms like “design charette”, “charm, “green over gray”, and “neighborhood character.” He also introduced me Todd Vogel, Laine Ross and others within Allied Arts who shared his vision.

They in turn invited me to the big Waterfront Charette put on by the City of Seattle just 15 year ago this month.

There I met Matt Roewe, Alan Hart, Lesley Bain and Stephanie Bower among dozens of other great local architects, planners, visionaries and illustrators.

They drew for me at the Waterfront Collaborative what our Seattle Waterfront could look like and showed me visions on paper what I could only write with words. That was the magic for me. They introduced me to urban planning for All Ages and Abilities and The Promise of City Life.


In 2005 Allied Arts morphed its energies into Waterfront for All. We worked with everyone who would work with us – great architect firms like Miller Hull, NBBJ, VIA, LMN and dozens more and the Waterfront for All Committee was born.

We were joined by our labor partners like Dave Frieboth, head of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council at that time, now Nicole Grant and her labor brothers and sisters. We worked with John Persak and his predecessor with ILWU and colleagues in the maritime industry.

I met the Bobs – Bob Donegan and Bob Davidson, Ivar’s and the Aquarium respectively. They have been steadfast leaders moving the connections along the waterfront and to the Pike Place Market and Pike Pine corridor real.

Special thanks to Kate Joncas from the Downtown Seattle Association followed by Jon Scholes and Don Blakeneb. The Chamber of Commerce’s Charles Knudsen, now working for Governor Inslee, led their strong support, as well as cautious Waterfront businesses like Argosy with my friends John Blackman and Kevin Clark, and neighborhood leaders like John Pehrson.

Freight leaders including Warren Aakervik and transportation advocates and urbanistas like Cary Moon advocated smartly for sharing the road and for creating what Gehl Architects described as a livable city with pedestrian friendly streets.

Port leaders including Stephanie Bowman, Peter Steinbrueck and Courtney Gregoire and their predecessors, industrial leaders like Dave Gering stood strong for maritime industry and argued for the value of our Waterfront jobs.

And teaching us all along the way were tribal leaders including Leonard Forsman and now Colleen Echohawk and Councilmember Debora Juarez who remind us about the sacredness of this land. I am honored to be working with these strong proponents of authentic native history and art and will continue to honor their heritage.

As our architects and designers published their illustrations, we began to embrace a common vision on what the Seattle Waterfront for All could become and more people became convinced that this could actually happen.

One of the great values of being an optimist is that not for one minute did I ever think this vision was a mirage. True, I was literally patted on the head at one point and told that we were a bunch of dreamers, but the ball was rolling. Where would you ever get that kind of money? we were asked. I shrugged. Let’s see: The State, the City, the federal government, the Port, the Flood Control District, a local improvement district and philanthropy I answered. Good ideas can and will be funded. You, too, are on a roll, Lid I-5’ers!

It’s not to say that it was smooth. We encountered a few problems like an advisory ballot in 2007 where voters said no to both a rebuild of the viaduct and to a cut and cover tunnel. No and No. What’s next?

The big leap forward happened when Bruce Agnew of Cascadia/Discovery Institute demonstrated that a Waterfront tunnel could pencil. That changed the conversation and our elected officials caught the vision too.

Huge thanks to the Seattle City Council between 2006 and 2009 – Jan Drago, Tom Rasmussen, Sally Clark, Jean Godden, Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess and others who pushed for a broad public conversation. Richard Conlin would later become one of my superheroes for life, taking the unusual step as Council president of signing an EIS document –not his normal role –at a critical point in time.

Somewhere along this point – 2007 to be exact, Jan Drago invited me to consider running for Seattle City Council. Housing, transportation, jobs, livable city for all and this WATERFRONT provided that heartbeat for my campaign.

In May of 2009, then- Governor Gregoire signed the deep bore tunnel bill into law. Here’s a great recap from the West Seattle Blog about the event. Ron Sims, Greg Nickels, Rep. Judy Clibborn, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, Ron Judd and others stepped up and stood together in support of the deep bored tunnel. Thanks to great leadership, the Legislature committed $2.8 billion for the SR99 tunnel. Enough indecision was enough.

We kept working on the vision for the Waterfront and needed an additional $1 billion because more was needed both to replace the seawall and create the Waterfront park. And in response to the decision, over 60% of City of Seattle voters voted yes on a straw ballot for a tunnel in the Let’s Move Forward vote in August, 2011, and in 2012 nearly 77% of Seattle voters voted YES to bond money for the Seawall and associated amenities.

Sure, we witnessed a wee bit of trouble with the little digger called Bertha. Thank goodness if it was going to have problems it got stuck on the south side of Downtown, and clever engineers redesigned and strengthened it. What’s a couple years delay? 50 years from now we’ll never remember the delay nor the law suits but we will remember the success.

Fast forward a bit: After the two-year digging hiatus Bertha got moving again and except for scheduled maintenance she didn’t stop again. Voters voted yes for a Metropolitan Park District to provide ongoing maintenance money across the city and specifically a line item for operations and maintenance on the Waterfront Park. While the city moved utility lines, Jessica Murphy, Ken Johnsen of SOJ, Mortenson Mason contractors and thousands of union workers and apprentices from many trades built the seawall infrastructure, the biggest project the city had done to date and we can’t even see it!

Philanthropy has and will play a critical part in funding the new Waterfront Park, thanks to an extraordinary Waterfront Steering Committee. Members included Maggie Walker, Charley Royer, Mark Reddington, Leonard Forsman from the tribal leadership, Patrick Gordon and many more helped guide the process.

Along came Heidi Hughes, the extraordinary Executive Director of the Friends of the Waterfront. Over the past five years she has brought music, performing arts, food, and “super-free” fun to the Waterfront, even in the midst of construction. Big thanks to her, and to Bob Davidson and the Aquarium board, Ben Franz-Knight who had been the Executive Director of Pike Place Market and his successor Mary Bacarella, and the thousands of people who have volunteered their time and offered their suggestions on what our Waterfront Park should look like. They too had the vision for connecting the Aquarium to Pike Place Market and to our Pike/Pine corridor. Brilliant!

Although I have sped through 15 years of effort making it sound easy, I will never underestimate the miracles here. This has been brutal work. I want to acknowledge and thank again all of our workers, building trades and our labor union leaders who have labored 100,000’s of person hours to build the seawall and the tunnel, who will be taking down the viaduct and helping us create our beautiful 20-acre park.

I also want to thank the WSDOT team Paula Hammond, Linea Laird, Ron Paananen, Jared Smith, David Sowersand Roger Mallard, Brian Nielsen and hundreds more who kept the faith and kept us moving forward.

And special thanks to my SDOT friends who have put up with hundreds of my requests including former leaders Grace Crunican, Bob Chandler, Peter Hahn, Joran Sparrman and current greats Heather Marx, Angie Brady, and Sam Zimbabwe.

That brings us up to right now — Marshall Foster, Joshua Curtis, CM Debora Juarez, who have helped me keep our eyes on the prize.

I am also most appreciative to my husband Brad Bagshaw who has put up with my obsession for this Waterfront for the past 15 years.

And final thanks to the voters and to my Downtown business and residential neighbors, here we are with funding in our hands to build the extraordinary Waterfront park.

Summing all this up: Remember at the beginning of my conversation today I mentioned that lunch in 2003 with David Yeaworth? My warning to all of you is this – be careful when you agree to go out to lunch with a visionary. You may find yourself – like I have – spending the next 15 years of your life working on one of the most exciting projects in our history, with the best and most dedicated group of people I could ever imagine having on my team. Thank you friends. We have climbed mountains together.