Mike McGinn said he has a lot of ideas that do not include his objection to a deep, bored tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. But those ideas are ancillary to what has become his opus.
This stalwart hewing to the anti-tunnel line has managed to get Gov. Christine Gregoire to endorse his opponent and to get both candidates for King County executive to oppose him, along with most City Council candidates and all current council members.
"The question of the tunnel and is it a done deal? Yes, the governor, the mayor and the council say they support it, but they actually have to raise the money for it."
McGinn eased up a bit this week as the Council voted 9-0 approving the tunnel. McGinn said he's still against it, but would not fight it.
But if no tunnel, then what? McGinn's plan is to bring light rail to the western part of the city. He wants to put the idea in front of voters, so that within two years neighborhoods not currently served, such as West Seattle and Ballard, would get served. He said the city can do this as a Seattle measure, keeping costs down by using city rights-of-way. It would not be a "Cadillac system," he said, but a more local system using the local taxing authority and still transit ways separated from traffic as much as possible.
"If we do it that way, we are not going to have to wait 20 or 30 years for Sound Transit to bring light rail to the west side," he said.
But he is not backing down on his anti-tunnel stance.
"Let's look at the financing for a minute," he said. "They are going to have to raise almost $1 billion from the City of Seattle." Some of the money would come from property-tax increases and local improvement districts. And there would be an increase in the parking tax, he said.
"Maybe the council will do it on their own or put out a bond proposal, but even then it is going to cost an increase in utility rates," he said. "It is once thing for the council to say today that we've agreed, but they haven't taken the tax vote yet nor have they given the public the bill for a local improvement district. All of this for people to take a 1.7-mile ride [past downtown]."
In addition, McGinn said there is a requirement from the state for the city to raise $400 million from tolls, which will divert a lot of traffic to other city streets and Interstate 5. The irony, he said, is that the city will not invest in transit and I-5 improvements that would help deal redeployed traffic.
Besides city money, the Port of Seattle has to come up with $300 million - and the county is to come up with $100 million and the county is in dire financial straits, he explained.
"So [the tunnel] is not funded, nor do we know what the ultimate cost will be because the engineering is not complete," he said. "And what if there are cost overruns? The state said the city must pay all cost overruns."
McGinn said contractors will want to know specifically where the money for overruns will come from.
"All of this means the [state] Legislature is going to have to reopen that provision if the project is going to proceed," he said. "The Legislature said it is giving the city $2.4 billion and no more. So what happens in the Legislature when that issue gets opened up? When we look at all of these things, the funding isn't in place, the cost is unknown nor do we have any understanding of how we will deal with risk if there are overruns.
McGinn said, "much like [they were about] the monorail" city leaders are not being practical on the issue. The practical thing, he said, is to find something that will fit inside the city, county, port and state budgets and that would meet transportation needs. But rejecting the tunnel doesn't mean having to start from scratch to replace the viaduct, he said.
He said 70 percent of voters voted against the tunnel in a 2007 non-binding election.
"We know how to get things done in the city," he said. "We have built parks. We have repaired school building and fire stations. We have approved a Bridging the Gap levy," he said. "We did get to a vote on light rail."
After noting the reality of budget difficulties, McGinn said there were "efficiencies" that can be found, such as decreasing the number of political appointees in the mayor's office, or eliminating multiple city departments that have their own public relations and technology staffs.
"But if we don't see an upturn in the economy, we will have to have more cuts that will have to be made," he said.
"I do not support repealing the head tax," he said of a proposal by opponent Joe Mallahan. "I think we will do more for the city's finances by having that $5.2 million to help provide essential services."