THE BOTTOM LINE
The cost picture for replacing the Viaduct is not pretty. Once you add in the lost opportunity to develop a vibrant, exciting civic and ecological shore, it begins to seem unconscionable. The alternative scenario for the downtown waterfront, as illustrated in the Seattle Strand plan, starts to frame a compelling economic argument:
- Downtown could add 5-8 new blocks of dense residential, commercial and retail development, providing new sources of sales and tax revenues for the city.
- Improving quality-of-life strengthens Seattle an attractive location for business, and in turn improves regional employment.
- Creating an authentic, interactive, gorgeous shore would anchor Seattle as a destination for both urban and adventure travelers.
- More housing, integrated with kid-friendly recreation and entertainment opportunities, brings more families downtown, fosters community, and staves off civility problems by putting "eyes on the street".
- The economic benefits of restoring healthy habitat in Elliott Bay's marine environment extend to regional commercial fishing and recreational boating.
- A dense, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly downtown is more sustainable long term: neighborhoods where people can walk and bike instead of drive cost less to the environment and to the taxpayer, and require less infrastructure.
- The direct cost savings of not taxing the next generation to pay for a decade-long megaproject frees up public money to address cuts, deficits, or necessary future projects.
THE LARGER PICTURE
Our greater waterfront is a working waterfront. The container industry, commercial fishing, recreational boating and related maritime businesses comprise one of the foundations of our economy. Seattle's industrial businesses are mostly located at SODO to the south and BINMIC (Ballard-Interbay-Magnolia Industrial Corridor) to the north of the central waterfront. These businesses, and the jobs they provide, are crucial, and need to be cared for and sustained.
However, freight use of the Viaduct is often misunderstood. The Port of Seattle doesn't use the Viaduct for container cargo. About 80% of container traffic comes and goes by rail, and nearly all of the remaining 20% comes from or goes to I-5 and I-90 on trucks. Only a tiny percentage of the containers are headed from or to Seattle businesses. Freight trips, some of which are between our two industrial areas, account for about 4% of total Viaduct trips, which is about average for freight use of any arterial or highway. Freight mobility is important throughout the city, because the distribution economy serves the restaurants, stores, and businesses in EVERY neighborhood. Solving the larger problem by investing in freight only lanes and freight priority access on important truck routes everywhere may be more cost-effective than investing billions in a single facility.
A healthy shore and dense downtown growth complement Seattle's working waterfront. Commuting from downtown to these jobs is easy. The visibility of container shipping and our maritime industries from downtown is an essential element of Seattle's identity, keeping our city 'real'. And a healthy Bay ecosystem would ensure that fishing and boating economies thrive.