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Seattle City Council split on tunnel with some calling it ‘boondoggle,’ others ‘essential’

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There was a little finger-pointing over Seattle’s troubled Highway 99 tunnel project at Monday’s City Council briefing.

At one point, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant launched into a lecture on the delays in the tunnel project, saying that “all the eggs are in the tunnel basket.”

“Let’s not forget where this whole boondoggle started in the first place. I mean look at the information that was available to us from the very beginning,” Sawant said

Council President Tim Burgess countered, “Councilmember Sawant, do you have a question specifically to these presenters? Otherwise we’re going to move on.”

“I think that the points I’m making are relevant to the discussion,” Sawant said.

“So the people of Seattle voted specifically for this project, so it’s not accurate to say that the people did not weigh in on this project,” said Burgess, a strong supporter of the tunnel. “But I don’t think we’re here today to debate that issue. We’re here to finish this presentation and then move onto our final agenda item.”

But Sawant continued, arguing that everybody knows 90 percent of megaprojects run over budget.

“At that time, the politicians who were involved in this project, who were the cheerleaders – I’m not simply talking about who voted on it, but who were the cheerleaders of this project – insisted that the project would never run over budget, it would never be delayed and so on. And the mayor was in Olympia at that time and he was the primary sponsor for a 2009 law to build a tunnel,” said Sawant.

She said the project’s cheerleaders ought to be held accountable.

Council president Burgess maintained that the project is “essential to our regional transportation system,” that it’s 70 percent complete, according to the state, and there’s no turning back.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien, the only member to vote against the tunnel, said that the 70 percent number is a little misleading because that primarily refers to the approaches on either end. The tunnel itself still has about two miles to go.

“I’m sure this is not our last discussion by any matter or means,” Councilmember Jean Godden said about the issue.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Transportation said Tuesday it will allow Seattle Tunnel Partners crews to resume excavation on the pit to access Bertha. The drill has been stuck under the Seattle waterfront for over a year.

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