The City Council voted 8-1 this afternoon to affirm the City's role as a co-lead with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) on environmental review of the viaduct replacement project.
Today's action should not be a surprise to anyone—unless you believe the project should be scrapped. Even Councilmember Mike O'brien voiced support for the action Council President Richard Conlin took late last month to advance the City's partnership with the state and federal authorities. Why shouldn't anyone be surprised by today's action? Because since 2001 the City has worked closely with WSDOT and the FHA to study the project. The Council's vote today affirmed that partnership and advanced the environmental review work to the next phase—public comment on the draft environmental conclusions. (Public comment will last 45 days from the date of publication of the draft EIS. The final EIS will be issued early next summer.)
So, where do things stand following today's Council action. The EIS process will continue with the City sitting at the table. We are waiting for construction bids to be received by WSDOT for the deep-bore tunnel. We have reserved until early next year the Council's final action approving City participation in the project; we want to see the bid prices and review the assignment of risk language in the final construction contracts between WSDOT and their preferred design-build team. We have clearly stated our view—supported by our City Attorney—that Seattle taxpayers are not responsible for cost overruns on this state highway project. In fact, we have been quite emphatic on this point. This is a state highway, a state construction project, a state controlled process. Despite confusing language in state law about who should pay for cost overruns if there are any, every council member has been bluntly clear—the state and not city taxpayers is responsible for all state costs, including potential cost overruns. Period.
No serious and objective observer, including the many lawyers who have examined this issue, believe anyone other than the State of Washington is responsible for the costs of this project. But, the opponents of the tunnel keep raising it, a desperate attempt to create doubt and fear.
The City Council is strongly united on this project.