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Bye Bye Battery Street Tunnel: Council votes to fill it in

Battery Street in Seattle. (Feliks Banel)

Despite a considerable community effort to repurpose the Battery Street Tunnel, the Seattle City Council approved an ordinance to continue with plans to fill the tunnel with rubble.

“I wish I were in a spot where I could say, ‘Wow, there’s an excellent opportunity before us’ and I could be a champion for that,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien at the council’s Monday meeting. “But my analysis at the moment is that we should agree to this memorandum of understanding.”

RELATED: Seattle community unites to recharge aging tunnel

The council voted 7-2 to allow the mayor to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Washington State Department of Transportation. It sets up rules and responsibilities for decommissioning the tunnel. Council members Sally Bagshaw and Debora Juarez voted “no.”

State officials will decommission the Battery Street Tunnel this year. It will shut down once Seattle’s new tunnel opens in Fall 2018. The Alaskan Way Viaduct will be torn down and its rubble will be placed inside the aging tunnel.

Battery Street Tunnel

The fill-in plan has been in place for years, but a group of Seattleites have been urging city officials to change that plan. They argue that there are other uses for tunnel, ranging from growing food to acting as sewage overflow, or even some kind of tourist attraction.

But Councilmember O’Brien countered those suggestions. He argues that it would cost $40 million to seismically retrofit the tunnel. Then $30-35 million to further build infrastructure for it. He said that King County Metro also assessed the tunnel. The transit agency agrees with the Seattle Department of Transportation; that it will be too expensive to update it. O’Brien sits on the Transportation and Sustainability Committee that recommended approval of the agreement. He is also its sponsor.

“This is work that has been in the planning phase for a number of years,” he said. “In committee, we heard from the folks at the Seattle Department of Transpiration about a variety of opportunities that they have explored. And the conclusion, after their analysis, was that the cost and risks associated with doing that did not warrant it at that point.”

Councilmember Bagshaw was among the two nay votes Monday. She points to two acres that WSDOT will use as a staging area for fill-in work. Bagshaw wants the land to be used as a park with affordable housing or a community center after work is done. She also wants the city to address the condition of the surface street.

“Battery is really pretty awful right now,” Bagshaw said. “As a street, we can look at replanning, making it pedestrian, perhaps a bicycle priority. I want that to be a connection we can be proud of.”

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