Sunday, February 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The viaduct debate | Elevated rebuild moves us forward

Special to The Times

In an all-mail vote, Seattleites are weighing in on a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Advisory Measure 1 centers on the surface/tunnel hybrid design; Advisory Measure 2 on a new elevated structure. A third option, the surface-street/transit alternative, is not on the ballot but hovering in the wings. Here are two views on the March 13 ballot titles:

Here are the facts: It has been six years since the Nisqually earthquake. During that time, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has studied 72 options to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, including elevated structures, tunnels, bridges, surface streets and retrofits of all shapes and sizes, none of them perfect. Meanwhile each day, 110,000 people drive on an unsafe highway while we jeopardize Seattle's 37,000 family-wage maritime jobs dependent on the viaduct. The time to act is now.

Measure 2, the elevated rebuild of the viaduct, offers us the only opportunity to move forward in a fiscally responsible manner that protects our safety, our economy and our ability to move people and goods through our city.

The money to pay for the elevated rebuild has been secured ($2.8 billion) and the state has guaranteed us it will cover any potential cost overruns. This is the only option that both is paid for and protects Seattle taxpayers, ratepayers and businesses from a sinkhole with a bottom we can't see.

Let's be clear: The state will not pay for a Big Dig, Little Dig or any other back-of-the-napkin underwater plan. That means, if Seattle opts for a tunnel, the families who so desperately need mass-transportation solutions will see all of their dollars diverted into the mayor's pipe dream. And the worst part is that we are voting on a half-baked tunnel plan with no verifiable cost estimate, questionable design and serious safety flaws, according to WSDOT.

In contrast to the tunnel's vague plan, the design for the elevated rebuild has been under way for four years and has been thoroughly reviewed. Voting "yes" on Measure 2 means we can actually get started replacing this aging structure — now.

I'm not willing to risk the safety of the thousands who drive on the highway every day, let alone the $10 million extra it costs us each month as we delay a decision on this project.

Measure 2 is our bird in the hand. Let's not let it get away while we search for an elusive shiny penny.

We must maintain our traffic capacity. Seattle is a city built on trade, which is why we have a robust, family-wage maritime economy. The elevated rebuild has 33 percent more traffic lanes than the tunnel proposal, making it easier for people and goods to get to their destination — including transit.

While critics of Measure 2 cite San Francisco as a model for a post-highway city, they forget that San Francisco lost its port economy when it made that choice. As a child of a working-class family, I'd find it very hard to explain to thousands of working Seattleites that they just lost their jobs thanks to a tenuous urban-design concept that will largely benefit only the wealthiest in our city.

The new elevated structure will have a modern design that will be quieter and safer, and protect our world-class views of the Sound. Even more importantly, the elevated rebuild preserves the lifeline of our waterfront economy.

Because it is easier to construct another viaduct, we can minimize traffic disruption while it's under construction. While a tunnel would force a total shutdown for up to three years, a new viaduct can be built in sections, ensuring smoother traffic flow and reducing disturbances to local businesses.

Simply put, the elevated rebuild of the viaduct is the only solution that is planned, paid for and ready to be built immediately. It is also the only option that will maintain the capacity our city needs, without further congesting our already overburdened downtown streets.

We have been battling over this issue for far too long. After six years and hundreds of studies, it's time to end the threats and public tantrums and support the one fiscally sensible option that will keep Seattle safe and moving. Please join me in voting "yes" on Advisory Measure 2 on March 13.

David J. Della is a Seattle City Council member and chairman of the council's Parks, Education, Libraries and Labor Committee. He is a former union organizer.

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