Transportation projects get big money from state, feds
As the nation turns its attention toward the big Inaugural events next week, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D) danced her way (back) into office during her own Inaugural Ball Wednesday night. But the celebration was over the next day as she announced her economic stimulus plan for the state, which faces its biggest budget shortfall in history.
While a big chunk of change — more than $800 million — would go toward accelerating building and road projects, she also suggests funding greener ventures: Some $30 million would help construct water-pollution-control facilities, and $10 million would install alternative-energy equipment in government facilities.
Gregoire also hopes to create 20,000 new jobs in the next two years. There’s no word on exactly how many of those are "green jobs," but there are likely to be quite a few openings in light-rail construction now that Sound Transit has been awarded a $813 million federal grant as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.
The three-mile light-rail tunnel linking hot-spots in Seattle was awarded the FTA’s top rating because of the city’s dense population and high transit-ridership. The money, which covers about 40 percent of the $1.9 billion price tag, will come primarily from federal gas taxes.
In semi-unrelated transportation news for the Seattle area, state, county, and city officials recently agreed on a plan for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a major artery that was damaged in a 2001 earthquake and has been deemed unsafe for long-term use. Their decision? A deep-bore tunnel — the largest so far in the world, actually — that would offer a north-south routing underneath the city’s downtown. (What is it with this city and tunnels?)
The decision-making process on the viaduct replacement has long caused turmoil in the city — and in fact, voters booed this tunnel concept by a 70 percent majority in 2007. A hefty price tag (up to $4 billion) was likely the reason for that. But enviros from the People’s Waterfront Coalition and the Sierra Club offer another reason to hate it:
Reorienting priorities around transit, compact growth, street connectivity, and providing people real alternatives to driving works for urban mobility, freight mobility and economic development. Spending $2 billion or more on tailpipe capacity with deep-bore tunnel — the most expensive option — is not a step toward a better future.