New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on Alaskan Way Viaduct Tunnel

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Report calls Alaskan Way Viaduct project an example of waste, based on outdated assumptions

WashPIRG Foundation

A new report by the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG) Foundation calls the proposed Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel one of 11 examples of wasteful highway spending based on outdated assumptions of ever-increasing driving. The study, which details ten other highway “boondoggles” across the country, points to data showing that the financial risks of boring a massive tunnel to replace the damaged and unstable Viaduct hugely outweigh potential benefits. The study calls for the state to consider reprioritizing scarce transportation dollars to other options, including a cheaper combination of surface street and transit options to replace the old earthquake-damaged highway.

“Americans have been driving less, but Washington State and federal governments are still spending billions of dollars on highway expansion projects based on outdated and obsolete assumptions,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst with the WashPIRG Foundation. “The time has come to shift our resources to invest in 21st century priorities, like fixing our roads and bridges and providing more Americans with a wider range of transportation choices.”

The proposed tunnel replacement for the Viaduct, which was slated to cost up to $4.1 billion, was proposed when tolling revenues were projected as double what they are projected as today and when tunneling obstacles were not as well understood as they now are. Further, Washington State Department of Transportation statistics show that the proposed tunnel would likely increase traffic delays in downtown Seattle compared with less expensive and less risky streets-and-transit plans.

With limited resources dedicated to repair, Washington has 7,902 bridges that engineers have deemed “structurally deficient,” according to the most recent (2013) National Bridge Inventory tabulated by the Federal Highway Administration (See “All Bridges” linked here).

“The state should consider whether other more fiscally and practically responsible options might still make sense,” said Baxandall.

The report is available here.