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.

  • Anyone know who fought for this in the first place? This seems like a rural/Republican type bill, as I recall the city actually voted against building the tunnel.

  • Moncada’s Codpiece

    In 2011, Seattle voters backed the tunnel over a viaduct replacement.


  • Sean

    A tunnel that they thought had downtown exits.

  • Moncada’s Codpiece

    Yeah, exits would have been nice. If the current plan were implemented, then use of I-5 would have to increase or there’d be even more vehicular traffic coming into the periphery of downtown.

  • Sean

    Mayor McGinn proposed improvements to I-5 in lieu of the tunnel, and a blvd a la SF Embarcadadero. So we ran him out of town. If we spent the money on the bottleneck at SR520 and I-5, there would be a much greater benefit to more people. That would have included HOV ramps and a better Montlake bus station.

  • tbatts666

    This is scary. It looks like a scene out of deus ex 3.

    Truly big Bertha is the worst symbol of how much public resources people are willing to waste on auto infrastructure.

  • douglasawillinger

    What improvements to I-5? There is little surface space to work with as I-5 passes through the downtown.

  • Sean

    SR520 was an afterthought to connect to I-5, a huge amount of congestion is created by weaving required to exit to SR520 from the north. Also, there are no HOV ramps to SR520 from the south which doesn’t allow the tunnel buses to easily access the eastside via SR520. No additional travel lanes besides a few flyovers and ramps, but it would help a lot.

  • argo

    this is sad… cities everywhere in america are investing in transit, even if its only a streetcar it represents a change in the right direction. meanwhile seattle is sinking billions of dollars into an underground freeway and even thats not working out. im not saying i support streetcars, but anything is better than this

  • Don W


  • Bertha DeBlues

    Old news. Tell ’em how the rescue pit got finished this week!

  • Jake Wegmann

    And the city’s voters also declined to re-elect a mayor whose signature position had been opposing the tunnel.

  • KevinInHeaven

    This project was championed by the far right think tank, The Discovery Center, for years. They love huge risky projects. They also support capping I-5 just north of downtown and putting buildings on top of it.


Seattle’s “Viadoom 2016” — Another Carmageddon That Wasn’t

Heard this one before? The temporary closure of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct to accommodate construction — code name: “Viadoom” — was going to paralyze the city. The elevated highway carries about 110,000 vehicles a day. Without it, travel times would soar 50 percent, predicted the traffic analytics firm Inrix. The highway was closed from April 29 to May […]