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Seattle Viaduct Tunnel Replacement Question (August 2011)

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A Portion of the Seattle Viaduct
A Seattle Viaduct Tunnel Replacement Question was on the August 16, 2011 ballot in the city of Seattle, which is in King County.

This measure was approved

  • YES 43,410 (59.66%)Approveda
  • NO 29,348 (40.34%)[1]

This measure was brought to a vote by residents of the city who collected 28,829 signatures to put the issue of financing a replacement tunnel to the ballot.[2] Though the signature amount had been verified, the City Attorney had then brought the issue to the court, noting that administrative issues were not up for referendum. The court ruled in mid May in favor of allowing the measure on the ballot, in order to have a verdict before the proposed election date.[3]

The city council officially placed this measure on the ballot on May 23, allowing one section of the city's agreement to be put to a vote. The section in question gives the City Council the authority to proceed with the tunnel contracts which have been approved, after the Environmental Impact Statement is finished later in the year. Though it was still unclear if a vote in opposition would actually stop the tunnel replacement project.[4]

Text of measure

The question on the ballot:


The Seattle City Council passed Ordinance Number 123542 entering into agreements related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. Section 6 of that ordinance has been referred to the voters for approval or rejection.

Section 6, if approved, would authorize the City Council to give notice to proceed, beyond preliminary design work, with three agreements concerning the State’s proposal to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. Section 6 states:

“The City Council is authorized to decide whether to issue the notice referenced in Section 2.3 of each Agreement. That decision shall be made at an open public meeting held after issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.”[5]

Voter's Guide controversy

Those who advocated for this measure to be on the ballot were not in favor of the proposed language of the explanatory statement which was in the Voter's Guide. The main issue was that the city attorney, who had pursued a lawsuit to keep this off the ballot, was the one who wrote the statement and opponents of the tunnel felt that he placed undue bias and speculation about the results of the measure if it was approved or defeated. An Assistant to the attorney noted that they felt the proposed statement explained the effects of the measure in a clear manner. The group against the tunnel did state that they would appeal the statement, those in favor of the tunnel noted that they would not appeal the proposed language.[6]

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission ruled on June 17 that the wording in the Voter's Guide was not biased or misleading to voters. The head of the commission noted that the referendum was not approving or defeating the proposed tunnel replacement so what was written was an accurate statement of the intent of the measure. The Commission heard from the city attorney who wrote the language, the groups Protect Seattle Now and Let's Move Forward as well as the Washington State Department of Transportation. The decision on the wording was final and no other appeals could have been made.[7]

Support for the tunnel

Let's Move Forward's TV Spot

Those who supported the tunnel project going forward but opposed to placing this measure on the ballot included Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence, who had been hired to represent the group in favor of removing this measure from the ballot. The group Let's Move Forward was the main force in seeking to remove this measure along with the city attorney.[8]

Since the measure was approved, the group Let's Move Forward, noted that since the scope of the proposed referendum was so narrow they did not appeal the judge to remove the measure as it does not look to stop the project from going forward.[9]

In campaigning for the proposed tunnel, advocates noted that the State Legislature only had agreed to fund a tunnel and not any of the other proposed ideas anti-tunnel people had been advocating. They also noted that the process had gone on long enough and residents should vote in favor of the tunnel just to move the process forward after such a long debate.[10]

The governor of the state, Chris Gregoire sent an email to Seattle supporters and urged them to support the tunnel, noting that it has taken ten years to get to this point and it was time to end the discussion about the project. He noted that this plan had been discussed and is seen as the best option for Seattle.[11]

Opposition to the tunnel

Protect Seattle Now's Add

The group responsible for the petition which got this measure on to the ballot was, Protect Seattle Now which sought to overturn the city ordinance which gave way to the replacement tunnel. Members of the group noted that the tunnel is not fully funded so tax increase will likely be enacted as the project would probably go over budget and the new tunnel will not be environmentally friendly.[12] On May 23, the city officially placed the measure on the ballot and the group noted that they were glad the city council agreed to allow public opinion to be heard on the tunnel project, also encouraging a 'No' vote by residents.[13]

The Sierra Club had joined those in favor of allowing this measure onto the ballot, noting that it also gave volunteers to the petition effort for both measures in regards to the tunnel. The group saw the proposed tunnel plan as one which encourages driving, where as the club would rather see more sustainable means of transportation being promoted such as light rail and biking. Though they supported the measure being on the ballot, they were encouraging a vote against the tunnel.[14]

The group Protect Seattle Now had announced that Esther Handy would head the campaign in opposition to the tunnel. Esther was an aide to council member Mike O'Brien, the only council member who had been opposed to the tunnel being built. Rebecca Hyman was named as the field director who helped with educating residents about the vote and the position of the group.[15]


See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2011 and 2011 ballot measure litigation

A lawsuit was sought to not allow this measure to be voted on by city residents. The Superior Court judge agreed to hear this case on May 13 so that if it was allowed it would still make it to the August ballot. Those who petitioned for this measure stated that they felt that none of the arguments presented so far are sufficient enough to get this issue removed from the ballot.[16]

The judge ruled that the measure will be allowed to appear on the ballot, though it is yet unclear what will be asked. Another court hearing was set to happen in the following weeks after the initial date and proponents hoped clarification will be given by the judge. Those opposed stated that they would continue to fight to keep this measure off the ballot at the second court date, though they did not succeed. The judge asked for legal briefs on the proposed measure so that a decision could be made about what would be presented on the ballot.[17]

Though the measure was approved to be on the ballot, the judge stated that the actual vote would not stop the state's project to replace the tunnel which was approved in a 2009 vote. The portion of the council ordinance which requires notification of the state's policy decision was up for a referendum vote, a narrow view. Those opposed to the tunnel want the vote to be more broad, allowing for the project to be halted if there is a vote against it. But those in favor of the tunnel agree that the narrow view is all that petitioners sought so the ruling should stand.[18]

The State Department of Transportation stated that it will not seek an appeal to the court to stop this referendum vote. June 17 marks the date where pro and con arguments against the wording of the Official Voter's Guide will be heard in court.[19]

Editorial Opinion

  • The Eat the State political forum listed their opposition to the tunnel measure, stating that the tunnel is just a vanity project for the politicians and would ultimately not solve the city's problems.[20]

See also

Suggest a link

Additional reading


  1. King County Elections, August Election Results
  2. Seattle P-I, "City attorney: Tunnel agreement not subject to public vote," March 29, 2011
  3. KUOW News, "Anti-Tunnel Measures Head For August Ballot," April 8, 2011
  4. Seattle Post Intelligencer, "Seattle will vote on tunnel in August," May 23, 2011
  5. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  6. The Seattle Times, "Tunnel foes challenge Voter's Guide wording," June 6, 2011
  7. The Seattle Times, "Voters' Guide to say anti-tunnel Ref. 1 wouldn't kill project," June 17, 2011
  8. The Seattle Times, "Well-known Seattle attorney to represent pro-tunnel campaign," April 12, 2011
  9. The Seattle Times, "Highway 99 tunnel soap opera: plot thickens this morning," May 23, 2011
  10. The Seattle Times, "Tunnel foes, backers see high stakes in Aug. 16 vote," July 17, 2011
  11. The Seattle Times, "'Enough is enough,' Gregoire says in urging Ref. 1 on tunnel be passed," August 3, 2011
  12. West Seattle Herald, "Protect Seattle Now coalition turns in 28,929 signatures for tunnel vote, Pete Holmes sues coalition," March 29, 2011
  13. West Seattle Herald, "Referundum-1 to be placed on ballot August 16 regarding deep bore tunnel," May 23, 2011
  14. The Seattle Times, "Sierra Club digs into tunnel fight; too cozy with McGinn?," April 27, 2011
  15. The Seattle Times, "O'Brien council aide to manage anti-tunnel campaign," June 13, 2011
  16. The Seattle Times, "Judge sets May 13 date for tunnel lawsuit," April 18, 2011
  17. The Seattle Times, "Judge says tunnel referendum can go to voters," May 13, 2011
  18. The Seattle Times, "Seattle council puts tunnel measure on ballot," May 23, 2011
  19. The Seattle Times, "State won't file appeal to stop Seattle's tunnel vote," June 16, 2011
  20. Eat the State, "Primary ’11: The Tunnel Is a Racket," August 1, 2011