Seattle Waterfront from Under the Viaduct (Bryan Kellar photo)

Seattle Waterfront from Under the Viaduct (Bryan Kellar photo)

Finally.  Finally we have a decision on what will be built to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.  The 1953 monstrosity will be replaced with a tunnel.

According to the Seattle P-I and other sources, the government entities who are involved with the decision will be announcing on Tuesday that they are choosing a 4-lane tunnel option as the replacement for the earthquake-damaged viaduct.  If nothing else, it will be a relief to finally be beyond the discussion stage and get on with buildng something.

From the standpoint of the actual conveyance of traffic, I don’t think it really mattered whether the freeway goes through town on an elevated bridge of through a tunnel.  We could argue about access points along the route, but ultimately, this highway is about serving the same through route that it always has.  Presuming that the project can be done as planned, a fine choice has been made.

The one thing that has me most excited about the tunnel is the space that this frees up along Alaskan Way and Western Ave.  Removal of the unsightly viaduct will free up a lot of prime real estate that could be used to turn the Seattle waterfront into a first class tourism destination.  It could become a gathering place for downtown workers and weekend visitors from throughout the city and the region.  The possibilities are truly exciting.

The area occupied by the current viaduct contains parking for the area.  But it wouldn’t take too much effort from businesses to consolidate that level parking into garages, and use the extra space for parks, event locations, restaurants, or other atractions that would add value to the neighborhood.  The planned addition of transit options into the area will turn the area into the transportation hub that it needs to be, in the proximity of the ferry terminal and other marine facilities.  It will also allow people to get there and get around without bringing their cars.  If nothing else, there is an opportunity here to mitigate some of the traffic congestion that the waterfront area suffers through.

One thing that does need to happen is that during the construction process, we need to ensure that provision is made for transit, for bicycles, and for pedestrians.  For this project to be a success, we will also need to include these facilities.  I will be disappointed if they are left out.

Yes, it will take some years for all of this to come together.  It will also take some years to actually build the tunnel.  The time for businesses to start planning for the future development of the waterfront is now.  A recession you say?  The recession will not last forever.  Lets get started on making this a gem that the people of Seattle and all of Cascadia can be proud of.