Our Highway Tunnel Is Transforming Seattle — Hartford Take Note
After a decade of debate and planning, a new, 2-mile-long tunnel will soon open in Seattle, replacing a noisy elevated expressway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, that has walled downtown off from its beautiful waterfront for more than 60 years. A 20-acre park will be built over the tunnel, reconnecting the waterfront and downtown. This “once-in-a-century opportunity” will transform Seattle for generations.
We think Hartford may have a similar opportunity along its riverfront.
The three of us — a Seattle business owner, a former Seattle mayor and city council member and an urban economist who grew up in eastern Connecticut — were all intimately involved in Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. Several disastrous earthquakes up and down the Pacific coast, including the Nisqually earthquake just south of Seattle in 2001, which damaged the viaduct, forced the city and state to find a new transportation solution. We are enormously proud of this project and we are excited to share our experience with Greater Hartford.
When U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-East Hartford, first contacted us, he described Hartford’s infrastructure challenges related to the I-84/I-91 interchange. The similarities to what we experienced in Seattle are striking: an aging viaduct that separates the city’s economic engine from its greatest open space asset, a highway carrying thousands of vehicles every day that contributed to poor public health and environmental injustice, and a levee system in dire need of repair (ours was an aged seawall keeping Elliott Bay out of downtown). Rep. Larson described the I-84/I-91 tunnel proposal that addresses these challenges by reconnecting neighborhoods, recapturing the riverfront, shoring up the levees, easing traffic congestion, building new open space and creating a more vibrant city.
We don’t know if our solution will work for Hartford, but it appears to be working for Seattle:
— The tunnel has been built with minimal disruption to the existing highway system, because it was bored under all streets and highways, rather than using conventional “cut and cover” technology.
— More than 10,000 new apartments and condos have opened within blocks of the project in anticipation of a great park that isn’t yet open but has been planned with massive community input.
— Business owners along the waterfront have spent more than $250 million renovating their piers and businesses.
— By luck of geography, the cruise ship lines are racing to bring the biggest ships in America to Seattle to serve the cruise market to Alaska. More than 1.2 million passengers will board more than 200 sailings this summer.
— Properties within the shadow of the old viaduct have been renovated and expanded at a cost of more than $1 billion.
— With the luck of having Amazon and technology companies, Seattle’s downtown is one of the hottest in the country with rapid expansion of work and residences, not to mention restaurants, retail and entertainment choices.
— When the park is finished, economic and quality of life benefits are estimated in the billions of dollars, with far and away the most significant effects coming from attracting and retaining young talent.
Deciding upon and building the tunnel and park has not been quick or easy. We considered more than 70 alternatives, and it took eight years to decide on one, and 14 more to build it.
The tunnel was completed last year and will open to traffic this fall. Starting in weeks, we will demolish the viaduct and create a beautiful waterfront park with access to the water, a concert space on one of the piers, miles of gardens, a new Ocean Pavilion for Seattle’s Aquarium, a connection between the Pike Place Market (where we throw salmon) with the waterfront, new bikeways, pedestrian paths and a new state ferry terminal where 17 million residents and visitors glide into and out of Seattle annually.
We are excited to share our story with Hartford and we look forward to sharing the lessons we learned to see how our experience might be a guide for Hartford.
Bob Donegan is a Seattle business owner. Tim Burgess is a former Seattle mayor and city council member. Candace Damon is an urban economist based in New York City. They will be appearing at a forum to talk about the Seattle tunnel Monday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hartford Club on Prospect Street in Hartford. A second panel will discuss Rep. Larson’s proposal for two tunnels under Hartford. The event is free and open to the public but advance registration is required. To register, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-seattle-tunnel-experience-a-path-forward-for-greater-hartford-tickets-49857430918