We're shocked that costs have already ballooned for an unbuilt government transportation project, right monorail fans? It was only June that the state Department of Transportation sent Seattle Weekly a message telling us it's wrong to use $4 billion to $6 billion as cost estimates of Mayor Greg Nickels' proposed tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Yesterday, that same department conceded the cost could be as high as $5.5 billion. Don't believe that, either. With interest and overruns, the true cost to taxpayers will be closer to $10 billion. (That, by the way, would put the one-mile tunnel costs close to the $11 billion—with interest—costs for the rejected 13.7 mile monorail).
But the mayor's not willing even to gracefully accept the state's new, higher numbers. "The actual construction cost of the tunnel remains essentially the same at $1.7 billion, just as it was in July," he incredulously told citizens in a massive e-mailing yesterday. The state's "new budget forecast of $4.6 billion for the tunnel," the mayor said (picking a lower, less likely cost estimate also released by the DOT), represents "what amounts to a $3 billion insurance policy to cover inflation and any risk."
In other words, we don't need no stinkin' responsible estimates of future costs, says a mayor who is currently facing a potential $100 million overrun on his 2003 fire station levy. In their own e-mails, City Council President Nick Licata and council member David Della sounded more realistic: "These new cost estimates make a tunnel even less feasible," said Licata, noting the state's unsteady figures don't account for possible litigation or other delays. "Transportation dollars are finite," said Della, who advocates rebuilding the viaduct at perhaps half the tunnel cost. He added:
We've got other major projects that we must ensure funding for that we can't afford to jeopardize at the unnecessary expense and cost uncertainty of vanity projects.
Council member Peter Steinbrueck thinks its irresponsible not to study the cheapest alternative—tearing down the dangerous viaduct, improving surface transportation services, and letting traffic find new ways into and around the city. It's something that would naturally occur anyway during the five (10?) years of tunnel construction. Multibillion-dollar insurance policy not required.