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City of Seattle

Comparing the views of the state attorney general and city attorney on state law, and what it means for Seattle

It is worth taking a close look at what our city attorney, Pete Holmes, and the state attorney general, Rob McKenna, have to say on the state law that caps the state’s contribution to the Viaduct Tunnel at $2.4 billion and requires Seattle area taxpayers to pay all cost overruns.

Both believe the state’s cap on spending is enforceable:

Holmes: “The cap on the state’s contributions is quite enforceable. It is essentially carved in stone.”¹

McKenna: “It’s really going to come down to whether or not the Legislature wants to try and hold Seattle’s feet to the fire and they don’t do that through a law, they do that through the state transportation budget. That’s where their real leverage is.”²

On the provision requiring Seattle to pay cost overruns, they have differing viewpoints:

Holmes: “It is not enforceable. . . . We are solid on that, we are very clear on that. It is a red herring.”

McKenna: “Once it’s adopted, it’s our job to defend it. A law which is adopted by the Legislature is presumptively constitutional.”

If Seattle chooses to go ahead without addressing cost overruns now, that means in the event of cost overruns we will be locked in litigation with the state over the city’s responsibility to pay. Even worse, we will have no standing to compel the state Legislature to lift the spending cap.

McKenna’s final analysis: “This is going to be figured out by agreement with the city and the state Legislature.”

That is why it is critical for Seattle elected leaders to stand together on the issue of cost overruns now before we enter into a final agreement with the state. We have a path to negotiate now for an agreement that protects Seattle from cost overruns.

If we avoid the issue and wait for cost overruns to occur, we will be in the worst position of all — an unfinished tunnel, lawyers litigating Seattle’s share of cost overruns, and a state Legislature with the undeniable power to enforce its spending cap.

¹ Holmes’s quotes throughout:  “City Attorney on Tunnel Cost Overruns: “The City Cannot Be Forced to Pay” – The Stranger’s SLOG 5/24/10

² McKenna’s quotes throughout: KUOW’s Weekday 11/24/09

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from Matt the Engineer
Time May 26, 2010 at 8:36 am

It’s inconceivable that the Council is backing the State’s position on this. It seems like they’re just taking a stance against the Mayor, whether or not it hurts Seattle. Speaking as a voter, this just makes them look bad.

Take a breath, Council, admit you’re wrong and do the right thing. Being able to admit your faults is an honerable trait and it will help, not hurt, your image in the end.

Comment from gene
Time May 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Mayor McGinn, I support your position. The city should cross out of any contract that Seattle citizens are to pay cost overruns for a State Highway Tunnel. We the Voters of Seattle already voted 70% no on the Tunnel. Any cost overrun agreement by the City Council or Mayor must and should be approved by those taxpayers put on the hook for cost overruns..

Comment from Art
Time May 27, 2010 at 9:19 am

Mayor McGinn. The deep-bore tunnel has horrific design flaws that have never been debated, many never even disclosed to the public. It is time to bring the hammer down on WSDOT, SDOT, City Council and other agency officials and tunnel supporters who know better, but keep the public in the dark.

Now is the time to debate the impacts more traffic will have upon Lower Queen Anne, Lower Belltown and Alaskan Way; the impacts to motorists redirected from the simple and direct access to SR99 in Lower Belltown to the Aurora portal; the impacts to the economies of these districts. It’s time to discuss whether the related Mercer West project will add too much traffic to Mercer east of Aurora.

It’s time to actually debate Tunnelite, instead of sheepishly accepting WSDOT’s charges of unacceptable construction disruption.

Mr Mayor, you are right to oppose the deep-bore tunnel for these reasons and many more besides the cost overrun issue. It doesn’t matter who is found to blame for misleading or otherwise leaving the public in the dark and falsely claim anywhere near enough discussion on these issues has occurred. Seattlers will thank you for putting up the roadblock once they learn how they’ve been wrongfully misled and thank you again when they learn how Tunnelite is the only sensible tunnel option. Don’t let Seattle down. Fight the deep-bore tunnel. You can’t lose.

Comment from Art
Time May 28, 2010 at 10:31 am

The compromise solution is Tunnelite.

“AWV replacement supporters gain” because Tunnelite maintains the access ramps for traffic to Interbay and Ballard, about 40,000 vehicles daily.

“Lower Belltown gains” because the new ramps are rebuilt nicely ‘below’ Elliott and Western, removing the hideous, burdensome overhead highway and gaining developable property.

“Motorists gain” because the new entrance southbound becomes a clear downhill merge instead of a blind uphill climb. The exit north onto Western becomes uphill which slows traffic to surface street speeds. The Lower Belltown access to SR99 is simpler, more direct and has the fewer stoplights than the deep-bore north portal on Aurora.

“South Lake Union gains” because the Mercer West Project will induce more Mercer Street traffic between Elliott and I-5.

“Steinbrueck Park visitors gain” because Tunnelite creates a car-free gardened walkway beween there and the waterfront. The deep-bore tunnel locates a 4-lane boulevard jammed with heavily polluting, noisy traffic between sidewalks and bike lanes.

“Pedestrians and Bicyclists gain” with Tunnelite, obviously.

“Lower Queen Anne residents gain” because they will oppose the additional traffic (20,000+ vehicles daily) when they are finally informed about what’s coming down the pike. City Council is keeping them in the dark.

“Construction workers gain” because Tunnelite creates more jobs.

“Taxpayers gain” because Tunnelite will likely cost less in the long run.

The compromise solution is Tunnelite, WSDOT’s Scenario ‘G’ or some version thereof. A ‘stacked’ 6-lane version is possible while leaving the AWV in place and operating through most of its construction.

Mayor McGinn. Maybe your hands are tied, but Seattle traffic will only get much worse with the deep-bore. Please focus your opposition to the deep-bore tunnel away from its potential cost overruns and toward its extreme engineering shortcomings. Please support the advantages of Tunnelite as a part of this compromise.

Comment from Art
Time May 30, 2010 at 10:03 am

Mayor Mike. Continuing my string of argument against the deep-bore tunnel (DBT), I must add that decommissioning the Broad Street Underpass indeed redirects westbound Roy Street traffic onto Mercer West. Calculating how much traffic Mercer west of Aurora must handle is even more than that which now accesses SR99 in Lower Belltown. It’s incredible that SDOT directors would even consider it, let alone pretend this much traffic through Mercer West is manageable and won’t degrade Lower Queen Anne. Which Councilmember oversees SDOT? None?

Comment from Robert
Time May 31, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Mr. Mayor, While no citizen of Seattle wants to be saddled with costs overruns for a State highway, the big question is how can our leadership (at all levels of government) work together to both avoid this unfair outcome AND get the job done? We have had enough negatives and delays. We need a POSITIVE strategy to get political agreement on cost overruns AND keeping the tunnel project on track. Construction costs have fallen with the recession and if we get this tunnel built sooner rather than later, we will all benefit. Delay means higher costs. Getting Highway 99 off of our downtown waterfront means new public spaces, new development and a larger tax base that helps us be a humane world-class city. Thank you.

Comment from Jennifer
Time June 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Trying to submit comment to police chief candidate public forum – but can’t find a link to submit a comment. Blog Administrator: please correct since we’re supposed to be able to comment during the live stream. Thx.

Comment from Aaron Pickus
Time June 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Hey Jennifer,

The comments on the most recent blog post on are being collected as part of the public forum. The live stream is also embedded in that post.

Comment from vendre maison
Time June 24, 2010 at 2:17 am

I like this read! thank you!

Comment from criminal defense attorney marietta ga 
Time July 7, 2010 at 3:02 am

How does attorney fees work for non criminal matters?

Comment from Utah Graphic Designer
Time August 17, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Though I’m not from Seattle I stumbled across this blog post and became interested. I really found this phrase interesting:

McKenna: “Once it’s adopted, it’s our job to defend it. A law which is adopted by the Legislature is presumptively constitutional.”

I’m not sure I agree, but I do see where they are coming from. It is similar to when a candidate runs for office and you are not “for” them but they are still elected. Are you then obligated to support them? I think so, to a point, but I don’t think you have to agree with them always.

Sorry if this was a tangent but I thought it was worth discussing.