Monday, March 5, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Cast a blank viaduct ballot

Special to The Times

The Municipal League of King County has concluded that the March 13 advisory ballot asking voters to select between two Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement options has no practical significance. For the first time in our almost 100-year history, we are urging voters to cast a blank ballot.

We believe the options currently under discussion need more engineering, design and analysis before voters could fairly be asked to choose. Variations of a tunnel, of the surface-and-transit proposals and of the approaches to rebuilding or retrofitting the current structure should be examined.

The process that has gotten us to this point is a failure, characterized by abdicated responsibility and unwillingness to advance sound public decisions. The deadline to reach a decision by the end of the current legislative session is unwise and unnecessary. City officials and other advocates have offered a variety of proposals that are in need of much more review. Citizens are being handed a hot potato but no real authority to settle the question. We refuse to go along.

We urge Gov. Christine Gregoire to rethink her approach to this issue. She should disregard the outcome of this charade of an election and, instead, insist that the necessary additional analysis be completed quickly. Additional delay is, of course, frustrating. Yet, a delay is necessary because of the botched and irresponsible process so far. With help from expert advisers and a renewed effort to consider a full range of options, the governor should be able to find an alternative worthy of broad support within six months.

We urge voters to send a message of protest to elected officials by returning their ballots completely blank. Blank ballots will be counted in the official vote and election officials will record your participation. (Remember: Writing on the ballot itself will invalidate it. Describe your frustrations and alternative proposals in separate letters directed to the responsible public officials.)

There are simply too many things wrong with this ballot measure:

Both options are unacceptable as currently proposed. The elevated structure planned by the Washington State Department of Transportation is too insensitive of Seattle's desire for a more attractive urban landscape. The surface/tunnel hybrid option has not been thoroughly vetted for engineering flaws or cost. (The same applies to surface-and-transit options.) We believe it is still possible to design a compromise that meets safety requirements, provides essential through-capacity and is aesthetically acceptable. We should not be asked to vote on the current half-baked, either-or questions.

The timing is not right. Six years ago, the Nisqually earthquake taught us the current structure is unsafe. We can afford to take another few months to do the right thing. Rushing ensures that we will rush to a mistake. Let's take another six months to refine the alternatives, let the Expert Review Panel do its work, and then make a fully informed decision. The decision should be made in advance of the November 2007 vote on the regional transportation-funding package, so that voters will have a clear picture of where their tax dollars will be spent.

The March 13 ballot is merely advisory. It is not binding on any decision-makers. Various elected officials have already said publicly they will disregard the outcome. Why are we doing this?

The outcome will be clear as mud. The formulation of the two questions, both as yes-no questions, enables nine possible outcomes: yes-yes, yes-no, yes-blank, no-yes, no-no, no-blank, blank-yes, blank-no, and (our favorite!) blank-blank. Any result is likely to generate even more confusion and ill will. All sides of the discussions to date will look for ways to interpret the results in their own favor.

As good-government advocates, concerned citizens and taxpayers, we urgently ask for a pause. The issues are too important for our government to continue neglecting its basic responsibilities for leadership and sound decision-making. Voters must protest this craziness.

Bruce Carter, a retired federal prosecutor, is chairman of the Municipal League of King County.

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