Posts Tagged ‘tunnel option’

‘Build it — or else’

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I just posted about a phenomenon called job blackmail on Sightline’s Daily Score. Job blackmail happens when businesses threaten to leave the state or city because of environmental legislation. But megaprojects like the waterfront tunnel replacement for the viaduct also become the focus of what could be called megaproject blackmail. The blackmail machine was humming along the other day when Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant said that a s

Build more highway capacity? Not when our policies might finally be catching up to our rhetoric about saving the planet.
urface option without a tunnel would be “municipal suicide.” Wow. Fail to build the tunnel and Seattle will die.

So now Patrick Doherty, right here on SeattleScape, has offered yet another arm-waving warning that borders on what could be called “throughput blackmail.” If you don’t build the tunnel we’ll have to build another freeway somewhere else to handle all the traffic. Things will be even worse for climate change and there will be even more cars. Don’t build the tunnel and we’ll be destroying the environment. We’ll have to build even more highways. He writes:

If north-south circulation through the metro area is even further complicated by the removal of one of the region’s vital north-south highways, the I-605 promoters would essentially be offered more fuel for their fire. Constant gridlock on I-5 and the downtown Seattle streets, coupled with the congestion already on I-405, could lead to a ready-made argument in favor of efforts to pursue an I-605.

First of all, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and gasoline consumption are down, a fact that defies classic transporation planning. Part of this is attributable to last year’s wild increases in gasoline prices but it is also because people are making different choices that result in less driving. And gasoline prices are still volatile, causing people to get off the fossil-fuel rollercoaster.

Second, Doherty is comparing apples to oranges. Traffic volumes on the viaduct are nowhere near what they are on highways like I-5 and I-405. Those are interstate highways while the viaduct is a state highway. Why would we build a new high-capacity interstate freeway to deal with whatever capacity issues are created by a surface option? And remember, whatever problems with capacity that are created by a surface option are only periodic in nature, not constant.

Finally, our policies might finally be catching up to our high-flying rhetoric about saving the planet and being responsible stewards of our resources. If Mike McGinn is elected mayor of Seattle, for example, there is really a chance that the tail will stop wagging the dog. Like Portland and Seattle in the past, we might just resist the urge to spend billions of dollars on a new highway — one that has no exits downtown for all this throughput that Doherty is concerned about. And if Doherty is right about stoking the fires of I-605 there is no reason to believe we won’t be able to resist that too.

When you’re in a hole, start digging?

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Early this year I wrote a post based on a quote from John Maynard Keynes, the famous British economist of the last century. Keynes had an idea about filling a hole with bottles filled with money, covering the hole over with dirt and then selling permits to dig out the bottles. His argument was that during an economic downturn the best thing was to spend, even if the spending seemed to contradict common sense.

Last week I wrote about the falling rate of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the United States and the Northwest. The post goes into a bit of detail about the numbers and asks the question, “Why invest huge dollars in capital infrastructure for new ways to carry cars?”

It’s far from certain what the downturn in VMT means. Part of it is attributable to last year’s price spike in oil and gas prices. But when you look at gasoline consumption (down), VMT (down) and car sales (down) you can’t help but wonder why we’re digging a big hole along the waterfront and filling it with cars. Does a tunnel that will cost billions of dollars still make sense?

Could the possibility that we are significantly changing our driving habits make Keynes’ idea more attractive?

Tunneling our way to recovery

Friday, January 9th, 2009

While reading about Obama’s plans to pull the economy out of a nose dive, I happened upon this quote from John Maynard Keynes:

“If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.”

How long will it be before local officials start touting the tunnel option as a way of boosting the local economy by creating jobs?  The trouble with Obama’s infrastructure plan is that it seems to significantly rely on projects like replacing the viaduct that we don’t need and shouldn’t build.

Now is the time for us to lean into the fact that automakers are facing a downturn in demand for their product.  Why would we keep building infrastructure for single occupancy vehicles?

So my half-serious proposal is we go forward with the tunnel option to replace the viaduct.  Once we’ve dug out the tunnel, we bury bottles with $100 bills, cover it back up and sell the rights to dig them up.  That way, we get the benefits without the downside of more infrastructure for something we are trying to discourage.  So grab a shovel, and let’s start digging!