SEATTLE – Mayor Mike McGinn, worried about the potential cost overruns for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, wants to hold a debate on the issue. But some Seattle City Council members are very publicly saying that the time for talking is over.
"If we got 50 percent or 100 percent cost overruns, we're talking devastating financial impact to our city," says McGinn.
"He is actively trying to stop the tunnel and we know that and he's told me that directly," said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
In a recent blog, Councilmember Richard Conlin wrote "It's time for Seattle's Mayor and those opposed to the regionally approved replacement alternative to face facts.
"The primary cause of potential cost overruns is intentional delay."
The mayor responded by challenging Conlin to a debate.
"I think it is time that Richard and I air these issues and talk them through in a public forum," said McGinn.
As all this is going on, the Washington State Department of Transportation isn’t waiting. Work on the southern mile of the Viaduct will begin next month, and WSDOT will start drilling the deep bore tunnel late next year.
Conlin said Friday he won't have a public debate. Bagshaw says the city charter – Article 4, Section 14 - gives the council responsibility over bridges, viaducts and tunnels. Councilmember Tim Burgess says more argument won't help.
"I don't think he can actually, at the end of the day, stop the project. But, he can certainly slow it down. He can cause interference. He can, through his actions, cause the cost of the project to go up," said Burgess.
McGinn says he's trying to protect taxpayers from problems down the road.
"What we know, from studies done worldwide, is 90 percent of mega-projects go over budget and they go over budget by a lot," said McGinn. "So, right now, we're in an early stage. State legislature says we should pay all cost overruns. All I'm saying is we should stand up together, the city council and me, and say we don't want to proceed with the project while we're at risk of cost overruns. Let's work this out before the tunnel machines get underground."
McGinn points out that on $3 billion project, even a ten percent cost overrun could mean a bill for $300 million. He says that’s something the city just can't afford.