Seattle Courant Archive

Burien says save the viaduct: We use the viaduct more than the people on Capitol Hill

Burien says save the viaduct: We use the viaduct more than the people on Capitol Hill

By Matthew Miller
May 20, 2008

The editorial cartoon, printed on John Woods' t-shirt, shows a boy labeled West Seattle writing a letter. Model trains and tracks crowd under his chair and desk. The letter reads, "Dear Santa. No more trains. I need a viaduct."

The cartoon is from the Post-Intelligencer, October 16, 1937.

Last week Woods and other West Seattle residents repeated their wish at an open house for the Alaskan Way Viaduct at Madison Middle School.

Placards stood on easels around the commons, describing building blocks toward replacing the viaduct. Engineers and staff answered questions.

On flip charts titled "What do you think?" people wrote comments.

"Retrofit. Billions saved. No delay to traffic."

"No tunnel. No surface boulevard. Won't carry traffic efficiently."

"110,000 plus cars a day on surface streets is unacceptable. Gridlock nightmare."

"We need a new viaduct before 2012."

Ron Paananen, project manager with the Washington State Department of Transportation, explained the context for the open house.

"In 2001, we considered State Route 99 and the viaduct as a replacement program," he said. Now, in cooperation with city and county agencies, the state is considering system-wide improvements - including transit, streets and the interstate - as components of any solution.

Bob Powers, deputy director with the Seattle Department of Transportation, called the names of who signed up to speak. Mary Peterson, a special project manager with the King County Department of Transportation, also listened to comments.

Vlad Oustimovitch and Pete Spalding - neighborhood representatives on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee - were there.

Kingsley Hall spoke first. He touted the idea of a floating bridge across Elliott Bay, which he originally developed in 1961. If not that, he supported a retrofit, maintaining capacity without long closures.

"It's absolutely forbidden to take 10 years to eliminate one-third of the throughput through downtown," Hall said.

Kathy Keene, a member of the Burien city council, complained the planning has been Seattle-centric, ignoring cities such as hers, Normandy Park, Des Moines, SeaTac, and White Center.

"We use the viaduct more than the people on Capitol Hill," she said.

Karl deJong is concerned because Spokane Street does not let him get his elderly parents to medical care.

"I don't want this to become another New Orleans," he said. "Theirs was a hurricane. Ours would be an earthquake."

Guy Gallipeau suspects the city has already decided what it wants.

"The city is spending $8.1 million to prevent an elevated option," he said. "But once you take down the viaduct and all you have is a surface street - it's gonna be a disaster."

He turned to face Paananen, Powers and Peterson.

"Look me in the eye and tell me no surface street."

Paananen said "I can't."

Gallipeau threw his hands up and walked away from the microphone.

Dick Warren, a 40-year resident of Alki with an engineering office in the Pike Place Market, said replacing the viaduct is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If it isn't maintained, then rebar rusts through concrete, rainwater pours between cracks, and it must be replaced.

"No reasonable analysis says the viaduct can't be retrofit or maintained," Warren said. "It's a waste of money to do otherwise."

Bud Shasteen waved a comparison sheet he wrote, showing a retrofit would save billions of dollars and years of closures.

"The mayor called the viaduct the Big Ugly," he said. "But it's our Big Ugly and I like it."

Midge Bart, a 48-year resident of West Seattle, likes parks and boulevards, but she wondered what developers would do with a waterfront without a viaduct.

"It'll become a lovely place for those who can afford the new condos, or who can bring a brown bag," she said. "But not for the rest of us."

John McNamara, who works at the Seattle Reparatory Theater, asked how many people were in favor of a retrofit. About 40 hands went up, most of the visitors.

"I say embrace the re-brace," he said.

Don Anderson, a life-long resident of West Seattle, said the open house didn't feel like a public invitation.

"You're being railroaded," he warned, saying the transportation agencies cannot complete an environmental impact analysis before 2012. "They've already decided what they'll do."

Another set of open houses will be scheduled this summer, once the stakeholders advisory committee decides on three or four possible alternatives for replacing the viaduct.

Matthew G. Miller is a freelance writer living in the Admiral District and may be reached via