Washington Republicans: Put Seattle’s Highway-Borer Out of Its Misery

If nothing else, the politics of Seattle’s deep-bore highway tunnel fiasco keep getting more interesting. With Bertha the tunnel-boring machine stuck underground and “rescue” efforts literally destabilizing city neighborhoods, a pair of Republicans in the Washington State Senate introduced a bill to scrap the project before any more money is wasted.

After Seattle has spent billions and more than a year and all it has to show for it is a hole in the ground. Photo: Washington Department of Transportation
Washington Democrats won’t back off their support for a risky deep-bore highway tunnel in Seattle. Photo: Washington Department of Transportation

While putting a halt to the underground highway would limit Seattle’s exposure to enormous cost overruns and open the door to more city-friendly transportation options, this effort to bury Bertha comes from outside the city. The Democratic establishment in the Seattle region isn’t rallying around the idea.

Republicans Doug Ericksen of Ferndale and Michael Baumgartner of Spokane co-sponsored legislation to cease spending on the stalled tunnel project and use the remaining money to study alternatives. The text of their bill [PDF] is probably the most sensible thing any politician has said about this project in quite some time:

The legislature finds that the state route number 99 Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project has failed. The legislature also finds that the project as it is currently designed cannot be justified financially and is not in the best interest of the public.

The knock against the bill is that it’s pure theater — a political maneuver to place the blame for Bertha squarely at the feet of Democrats.

If that’s the case, some Democrats are playing right into their hands. Democrat Judy Clibborn, who represents Mercer Island (directly east of Seattle) in the Washington House of Representatives, said of the bill: “It won’t help grow our economy or reduce gridlock, which means it doesn’t have any support.”

Of course, taking a huge risk on a deep-bore tunnel that would only serve to generate more traffic even if it’s completed isn’t exactly resolving congestion or producing real economic benefits either.

Allegiance to the underground highway project cuts across party lines, however. The State Senate transportation committee, led by Republican Curtis King of Yakima, refused to bring the bill to a vote, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Still, if scoring political points was the purpose of this bill, this point goes to the Republicans.

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