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City Council seals fate of Battery Street Tunnel to become landfill

The Seattle City Council vote 7-1 on Monday, to execute an agreement with the Washington Department of Transportation to decommission the tunnel, leaving it up to the contractor to decide what material should be used to fill-in the Battery Street Tunnel, once the SR 99 tunnel is complete. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - The Seattle City Council has sealed the fate of the Battery Street Tunnel, choosing to make it a landfill - rather than provide more time to explore alternatives.

The Council vote 7-1 on Monday to execute an agreement with the Washington Department of Transportation to decommission the tunnel, leaving it up to the contractor to decide what it should use to fill-in the tunnel.

The intent is to use concrete and dirt debris from the demo of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, once the State Route 99 tunnel is complete.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she gave a ‘symbolic’ no vote because she thinks other things could be done with the tunnel, but the 11th hour alternatives are just too late.

“Every time I kept running into these dead ends, 'no we are past that,' 'no its going to be too costly,' 'no it's not going to work,'” said Bagshaw, explaining attempts to seek alternatives to filling in the tunnel, which is in her district.

The Battery Street Tunnel opened in 1954, but is in need of tens of millions of dollars of seismic upgrades before any alternative could be considered, an official with the Seattle Department of Transportation told councilmembers.

“Seismically retrofitting is right, how we do that, I think the fill is the wrong thing to do,” said Aaron Asis of Recharge the Battery, a group of Belltown neighbors and working professionals who are proposing several alternative ideas.

RELATED | What should the city do with the Battery Street Tunnel, when SR 99 tunnel is completed?

Some are fanciful such as making it a beach, or a driving range, a drone racing course, an exotic mushroom farm or a public pool.

But, a serious effort was given to making it a usable place for same or less money than the $80 million estimate to decommission the tunnel and make it a landfill.

“We are breaking it up into four different pieces that focus on the park at the south portal,” said Asis. “Within the tunnel itself it would be one-half public open space and one-half public, private space.”

Gallery: Click here to see more alternative ideas proposed by Recharge the Battery

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One serious proposal called for turning the 2.7 acre tunnel into the world’s largest underground garden with tiered planters for vegetables.

Eventually the council voted to move forward with the plan that has been in the works for years, according to City Council Member Mike O’Brien, who chairs the council’s transportation committee.

Chasing the alternatives he said, would be too disrupted to existing transportation projects.

“The cost and risks associated with doing that are not warranted at this point,” said O’Brien.

But, Jon Kiehnau, a key member of Recharge the Battery, still sees some light.

“Even if we have a back to the wall, I think there is a way to achieve something much better for Seattle," said Kiehnau.

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