Politics & Government

Governor rejects Seattle timeline on tunnel vote

Gov. Chris Gregoire and key lawmakers rejected Seattle's timeline Wednesday for a public vote on whether to build a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct roadway along the city's waterfront.

They said the state must now move forward with an elevated replacement for the earthquake-damaged, double-decker highway, or else shift money to a separate project - replacing the Evergreen Point floating bridge across Lake Washington.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council member Jan Drago shot back late Wednesday, saying the city will move forward with plans for an April election.

"The voters of Seattle have a clear expectation that they will be given honest choices; that their voices will be heard; and their choices respected," Nickels and Drago said in a statement. "This is a choice about the future of our city, not about politics in Olympia."

Gregoire's office released a statement after she met with Nickels and legislative leaders late in the afternoon.

"We all understand that we need to move forward. No action is not an option," said the joint statement by several leaders and Gregoire.

Nickels and Drago said the city could put the issue to voters April 24 on a new hybrid tunnel design and financing plan, the statement said. But Gregoire already had told Seattle leaders that the vote had to happen before the end of legislative session April 22.

Gregoire announced in December that voters in Seattle should decide whether to replace the aging viaduct with a new elevated structure or a tunnel on the city's bustling waterfront. On Wednesday, Nickels presented a proposal for a smaller four-lane tunnel that he said would shave $1.2 billion from the $4.6 billion estimated cost of a six-lane tunnel.

The statement by state leaders said experts at the Department of Transportation had not had an opportunity to study the financial assumptions made in Nickels' latest tunnel proposal.

Nickels said that assertion "rings hollow" and that Olympia "arbitrarily rejected" the new proposal, which he said is a "more cost-effective, environmentally sound transportation solution that will save over $1 billion compared to WSDOT's inflated six-lane alternative."

Gregoire said last month the original tunnel proposal was not financially viable, and that building the replacement viaduct made more financial sense. A replacement viaduct would cost roughly $2.8 billion. The Legislature has set aside $2.2 billion for the project.

Gregoire's statement also was signed by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle; Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane; Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and chairwoman of the Senate Transportation committee; Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and chairwoman of the House Transportation committee; and Seattle City Council President Nick Licata.

Associated Press reporters David Ammons and Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.