Mayor: Residents won't pay a penny for proposed tunnel

Mayor Cary Bozeman said Thursday morning that funding for the proposed tunnel project has been secured and the project will not be paid for by local citizens.

“We are not going to have to raise people’s taxes for this project,” Bozeman said. “There will be no local matching funds required.”

For the second week in a row, citizens adamantly complained at the weekly city council meeting about the funding of the downtown tunnel plan.

Already, close to 7 million in federal transportation funds has been earmarked for the two-lane tunnel, which is intented to ease traffic congestion near the waterfront.

The main spearhead on the project, the city’s Director of Economic Development Gary Sexton, said each year until 2005 federal funds will be allocated until the project is completed. However, they require a matching grant.

But, a week and a half ago, Sexton received verbal and written committment from the office of Kathleen Davis, director of highways and local programs at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to allocate the remaining matching funds over the next three years, or until the project is completed.

This year, the WSDOT will provide $940,000.

“We were the first ones to make a request,” Sexton said.

“We have already gotten the $6.2 million from congress. What that really means is that it is an indicator that congress is committed to the total project.”

The tunnel could be completed in 2005 by using funds from the Federal Transportation Association, the Federal Highway Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation, as well as local companies like Puget Sound Energy, Sexton said.

The main bone of contention for opponents of the plan is how it will be funded.

Sexton says that about $12 million in federal funds will be allocated in 2004, and $10 million will follow that in 2005.

“What we have asked for is $28 million,” Sexton said on Thursday.

“We have already gotten the $6.2 million from congress. What that really means is that it is an indicator that congress is committed to the total project.”

Unfortunately, since its April inception, the project has been led by Bozeman and Sexton, and the council hasn’t yet received a thorough formal presentation on the tunnel yet.

“You folks need to wake up,” said Roy Runyon to the city council members at their most recent meeting.

“It is becoming a snowball. This (project) is being shoved down our throats by a senator and a congressman.”

Runyon was referring to Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who have designated the tunnel project as their priority. Dicks first penned the idea on a walkthrough of the downtown.

Runyon approached the podium close to a dozen times to ask for clarification and express his disgust that he believes the administration is moving ahead with plans to create a tunnel when the public has had no opportunity to talk about it.

But this time, a couple city council members sided with Runyon.

“The solution with this process is to discuss the project with the public now,” said District 6 representative Eric Younger. “Do not spend another dime.”

Mike Shepherd, District 5, chimed in to oppose the early draft of the tunnel project.

“If there are 22 or 24 businesses there and then they are gone, would that be economic development?” he said.

In May, the city council approved a $100,000 concept study for the 1,100-foot-long car tunnel.

Plans indicate it will burrow out under first street and Pacific Avenue and then exit onto Burwell Street.

“We need to separate the traffic that has no intention of coming downtown,” said Sexton.

He said it destroys connectivity in the downtown core. Both Sexton and Bozeman imagine that area as a pedestrian friendly hub, not an area where cars dominate — another piece of the redevelopment puzzle.

The council is set to receive their first presentation on the tunnel and its alternatives at their study session on at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 8.

Residents will have their first opportunity for public comment at the District 1 and 2 monthly meetings at 6:30 p.m. at Sheridan Park Community Center. For more information, call 478-5280.

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