By John Ryan, February 21, 2014
The Alaskan Way Viaduct section of state Route 99 is being replaced by a
tunnel under downtown Seattle and will be partially paid for with toll
Anyone who's hosted a party has probably had that panicky feeling beforehand: What if you throw a big party and nobody comes?
transportation officials face a similar worry: What if after they build
a $3.1 billion underground highway to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct,
not enough people use it?
Build It And They Won't Come?
state Legislature has decreed that tolls have to pay for $200 million
of the state Route 99 tunnel's construction cost. The total cost of the
project is estimated at $3 billion.
But if the tunnel tolls are
too high, drivers might just skip the underground party entirely. They
might stay home, take a bus or use city streets instead.
downside of setting tolls too high is that peo
ple choose not to use the
tunnel and not to pay the toll," said Maud Daudon, CEO of Seattle
Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of a Washington State
Department of Transportation panel that's been studying tolling on state
Route 99. "So you end up with very congested city streets and a
beautiful new tunnel that's not going to be used for the kind of purpose
it was intended for."
recommended keeping the tunnel's tolls low,
but charging them around the clock: $1.25 during rush hour and $1 at
other times, including weekends and holidays. The committee considered
tolls up to $3.25 per car.
Daudon said the committee's recommended rates should hit the sweet spot of raising funds without driving commuters away.
Eventually, the Washington Transportation Commission will decide how much to charge to use the tunnel.
on state Route 99 in its current, earthquake-damaged incarnation atop
of the Alaskan Way Viaduct has dropped 44 percent since construction
got under way at the viaduct's southern end.
Most of the change comes from 33,000 extra commuters each day hopping on buses instead of getting behind the wheel.
Williams-Derry, with the environmental group Sightline Institute,
argued the shifting travel patterns show that Seattle could get by just fine without a waterfront highway, whether or not Bertha the tunnel machine ever gets her nose back to the grindstone.
has been largely stopped since early December when Bertha, the
five-story-tall tunnel machine, apparently suffered damage to the seals
surrounding its main bearing.
There's still no word on when Bertha the tunnel machine might be able to resume digging beneath the Seattle waterfront.
Dixon with Seattle Tunnel Partners told reporters Thursday tunneling is
only one month behind schedule right now. Dixon declined to estimate
how many months it might take to repair Bertha or whether it's even
possible for the tunnel to be completed on time.