The City of Seattle is proposing to spend $700 million on waterfront improvements such as new sidewalks, trees, bike lanes, parks, and pedestrian overpasses. This plan, launched in 2012 by Mayor Mike McGinn in anticipation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s removal, is a grand vision of new open spaces throughout the waterfront with no real long-term budget to ensure the improvements and public spaces are safe, attractive, and welcoming to the tens of millions of future visitors.
This September, Mayor Jenny Durkan will be sending legislation to the City Council to form a Local Improvement District to raise between $200 and $418 from downtown property owners to pay for these improvements. Asking downtown property owners as far east as Interstate 5 and as far south as Pioneer Square to pay for infrastructure, the bulk of which will primarily benefit a handful of tourist destinations such as the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Aquarium doesn’t make much sense. For example, more than half of the budget – $100 million – is reserved for Overlook Walk, a huge, concrete pedestrian overpass connecting the Pike Place Market to the waterfront and Seattle Aquarium. To make matters worse, the City has a poor track record of delivering projects on time and on budget, and it is likely that the overrun costs will be huge over the life of the project. And, cost overruns will be the responsibility of all City taxpayers.
We are all eager to see a post-Alaskan Way Viaduct waterfront, and existing mitigation money from the state will cover significant improvements to the sidewalks, roadway, bike lanes and street trees. However, new public spaces and costly enhancements such as Overlook Walk designed to primarily benefit seasonal tourists don’t make sense in 2018. When thousands of people are living without shelter, streets are clogged with unprecedented traffic, and many other needs remain, these 2012 plans seem out of step with 2018 priorities.