Discontent growing over Seattle tunnel project

Discontent growing over Seattle tunnel project »Play Video
Artist's conception of the entrance to the planned new tunnel on the Seattle waterfront.
SEATTLE - With big questions about potentially huge cost overruns, skeptics are gaining steam to torpedo the planned waterfront tunnel in Seattle.

Some groups want voters to have one final say about the replacement for the viaduct - before it's too late.

The concerns loom large about how much it'll cost to replace the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel that would run under downtown.

The tunnel is expected to cost nearly $2 billion to construct. But a consultant for the Seattle City Council says there's a 40 percent likelihood it'll cost more than that.

With that new ammunition, some Seattle groups - such as the Sierra Club and Real Change - are pushing for a new referendum that would stop the tunnel project unless city taxpayers are protected from cost overruns on the state project.

If that referendum gets enough signatures, Mayor Mike McGinn - who does not want Seattle on the hook - says he supports a citywide vote.

Meanwhile, council members say there's still time for a compromise.

"The question is who pays for it," says councilmember Nick Licata. "But I'm pretty confident that if the city works with our state delegation, the state Legislature will be in a position where they'll have to pick it up."

The state Department of Transportation needs the City Council to approve three key issues dealing with technical issues related to the tunnel.

If a referendum is passed - putting the passage of those issues in jeopardy - turmoil could ensue.

One official says, "Safety and schedule are our top concerns. Any attempts to slow down construction of the tunnel will make it more expensive. Time is our biggest cost."

But some people want more than that - they want to stop the project before it gets started.

"There's still time to stop it," says Elizabeth Campbell of Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel.

She has sued to stop the project - and failed. Now she's about ready to try again.

And her group likes the idea of an initiative over a referendum.

"The point of either one is which one actually kills the tunnel - and that'll be the key," Campbell says. "Is one just going to put it off, like the referendum, or will the initiative be able to get into place and then actually stop the tunnel?"

Several organizations are ready to start collecting the necessary signatures for the ballot process in a last-ditch move to bury the tunnel plan.

The state has a risk contingency plan for cost overruns with the tunnel.

It's believed to be somewhere between $200 million to $400 million, depending on the bid amounts of the project.