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Seattle City Council approves tunnel deals

Despite threats of a veto by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, the city council approved agreements today that make some city departments partners in a plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bored tunnel. Supporters say making land-use, utility and design commitments to the state moves the controversial project forward. 

The council voted 8-1 in favor of the agreements. Mike O'Brien is the sole councilman who opposed them.

Linda Brill, of KING-TV, quotes O’Brien as saying he still has concerns about how the tunnel will be funded and who will pay for cost overruns:

“For a community that constantly calls on government to act more like business, I find it troubling to say ‘no, we want you to do something that no business will ever do,’” said O’Brien.

Mayor McGinn says that's why he plans to veto the measure. He says the city should be protected from clauses in the state's legislation, such as one that leaves "Seattle property owners who benefit" on the hook for construction overages.

According to Mike Lindblom, of the Seattle Times, the council will likely override the mayor's veto Feb 28. He reports that supporters, including Nick Licata, are committed to the tunnel:

Licata said there's no political support for another viaduct. An alternate plan combining surface streets, Interstate 5 improvement and transit would cost $1.9 billion. The state might fund half of that at the most. So the question, Licata said, is whether the city wants some risk of tunnel overruns, or be certain to spend $1 billion on a surface program that might work — or might cause more gridlock and pollution.

As KPLU has reported, a group of citizens has also submitted petitions to put the project to a public vote. The measure might not appear on the ballot until late summer or early fall, which is the earliest tunnel construction could start. The project is awaiting federal approval of an environmental-impact statement.    

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.
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