Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Tunnel Experiment

A major financial and transportation project in western Washington is replacing the earthquake damaged and still vulnerable Aslaskan Way Viaduct along the waterfront in downtown Seattle. The State's preferred solution, which it seems intent on ramming into reality, is a deep bore tunnel at a cost of about $2 billion. The tunnel will be a marvel of engineering, incorporating the latest of technologies, according to the plans.

The tunnel alternative is controversial. The existing viaduct is a remnant of mid 20th century urban design that cut cities off from their waterfronts with concrete walls and constant traffic. Replacing viaduct will affect not only Seattle's physical environment, it will define the nature of transportation in Seattle in the 21st century. Even if the tunnel weren't so very expensive, it is problematic for many reasons.

But it IS massively expensive--$1.96 billion. Project managers assure the public that likely overruns fit within the $415 risk and inflation factor built into the estimate. But even if the project is within budget, it still consumes hundreds of millions of dollars that would build a lot of transportation infrastructure in Washington at a time when money is very tight.

Where the project finally goes south for me is the high investment in technology as the solution. I'm skeptical of technology in the short run (except maybe for computers and communications). In the short run technology is experiment and hypothesis. Technology is more effective in the long run, where that experimentation and resulting experience build a strong and reliable knowledge base. Experimenting is essential but as a Washington taxpayer, do I want to invest in a $2 billion experiment?

Technology is further suspect in my opinion. BP's Deepwater Horizon well is another technological gamble. Think missile defense. Think especially about America's perpetual wars. In all of these endeavors, technology is supposed to give us the advantage. In effect, all it gives us is the ability to be massively destructive and wasteful. We usually pay dearly in the process.


Just because I didn't work this into the commentary is no reason not to celebrate the fact that I figured out how to post a video on my blog. Think of it as a reminder that Nature Bats Last.

(I see that I need to work on formatting but for now I don't care.)

Labels: , ,


Blogger BadTux said...

But how experimental is that technology, really? BART with its tunnel under San Francisco Bay and Market Street came through the Loma Prieta earthquake just fine, and although Loma Prieta wasn't the Big One, it was still enough to make the Embarcadera Freeway come down (the Embarcadera Freeway was similar to your Alaskan Way Viaduct, it ran along the San Francisco waterfront and cut off the view).

Of course, the alternative is what San Francisco did, which was to run a surface street with light rail tracks along the old Embarcadero route. So now you can hop on the trolley at Fisherman's Wharf and either go all the way to the Caltrain station (by Giant's Stadium) or to Market Street (the main drag). And if you want to drive quickly through San Francisco to get to the other side... tough. Just tough. You aren't going to do it. You go as fast as the Muni buses, no faster, that's just how it is in San Francisco. So if you're in a hurry, you might as well hop on a Muni bus (one will be by within five minutes) or light rail car, because you won't get where you're going any faster...

- Badtux the Transit Penguin

3:53 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home