Frank Chopp, the powerful Speaker of the state House of Representatives, D-Wallingford, has co-signed a letter that characterizes Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed financing of a waterfront tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct as "too risky" and "speculative."
On Monday, July 31, the letter was sent to Jane Garvey, the chair of Gov. Christine Gregoire's Expert Review Panel that is preparing a report on the financial and implementation plans for replacing the viaduct and other state projects. State House Appropriations Committee Chair Helen Sommers, D-Magnolia, and state House Juvenile Justice Committee Chair Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Phinney Ridge, also signed the letter. Sommers provided a copy to architect and tunnel opponent Art Skolnik. You can download it here (88 KB PDF).
While Sommers and Dickerson have long been outspoken tunnel critics, Chopp has been cautious and quiet on the subject. He does not use the immense power of his bully pulpit often. If Chopp opposes something strongly, there is virtually no chance that it can be passed through the state House. When Sommers, a very influential lawmaker who has had some famous clashes with Chopp, is allied with the Speaker, the possibility of opposition in the House becomes miniscule to the point of invisibility.
The letter reviews the recent funding plan outlined by Mayor Nickels for the extra cost of the tunnel—around a billion dollars more than a replacement of the viaduct—and finds each source of money suspect. The legislators write, "Almost all of the proposed funding sources are future possibilities, some years ahead. We believe they are too risky to count on. We do not believe that they constitute a 'feasible and sufficient' finance plan for a tunnel."
The stage is set for a battle royale between a headstrong mayor and a stubborn Speaker. Seattleites may be asked to contribute their opinion through an advisory vote in November.