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January 13, 2009 12:17 PM

Will Frank Chopp support a tunnel?

Posted by Andrew Garber

Now that Gov. Chris Gregoire, the city of Seattle and King County have decided to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct with a tunnel, everybody wants to know if House Speaker Frank Chopp will go along.

Chopp is one of the most powerful politicians in the state and can pose a serious problem for the tunnel if he's inclined. He's pushed his own option for replacing the viaduct - an elevated highway with buildings underneath and a park on top.

Close associates predict he will not block the tunnel. But Chopp is being, well, Chopp, he won't say.

He granted me a 19-second interview this morning outside his office. Here's a transcript:

Question: Will you oppose the tunnel?

Chopp: "I issued a statement and I have to do homework. I need to understand what the proposal is."
Question: That doesn't answer the question.
Chopp:"I have to read the proposal and I have to understand the proposal."
Question: So you don't know yet?
Chopp: "I issued a statement and listed the concerns. Yeah, you know. We'll get back to you on that."

Then he went into his office and closed the door.

In the statement Chopp sent out to reporters, he said:

My main concerns at this point are:
  • A tunnel is the most expensive option, particularly since this proposal is significantly longer than the previous tunnel options. There is a real possibility for cost overruns. This plan already requires at least $1.8 billion in additional taxes from Seattle and King County residents. Will they also be on the hook for the overruns? (Boston's "Big Dig" was estimated to cost $4 billion - it ended up costing many billions more.)
  • Seattle voters rejected a similar tunnel option by 70% - is this option going to be more acceptable to the people?
  • Will this option meet the needs of people north and south of Seattle who rely on this corridor to get to work and to move their products?

That doesn't sound like somebody who is willing to support a tunnel. But House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said that in the end she thinks Chopp will not be a barrier. Clibborn supports the tunnel option.

"He (Chopp) has told me he's not necessarily against the tunnel. I'm reading the tea leaves. If we have a bill and it goes through the committee and we all talk about it and people are supportive, I think he's there."

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Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Jennifer Sullivan
Covers the state Legislature from Olympia.

Chantal Anderson
Covers the state Legislature from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Writes about the city of Seattle and local politics.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Jim Brunner
Writes about money and power from Seattle.