Mayor McGinn vetoes waterfront tunnel project

SEATTLE - In a largely symbolic action, Mayor Mike McGinn has vetoed a waterfront tunnel agreement that was overwhelmingly approved earlier this month by the Seattle City Council.

The mayor issued his veto message Thursday afternoon, saying he took the action "to protect Seattle from the unacceptable risks of this project." He said he took the action after "sober analysis."

"As mayor, it is my duty to safeguard the public interest," McGinn wrote. "This is not about politics."

But the veto is not expected to last long. Eight of the Seattle City Council's nine members support the tunnel agreement with the state, and they are widely expected to override McGinn's veto in a vote later this month.

McGinn vetoed the project despite overwhelming support for the tunnel from the governor, Legislature, business community and others.

The proposed tunnel will replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was damaged in an earthquake 10 years ago and is scheduled to be torn down. The project is scheduled for completion in 2015 or 2016.

In his veto message, McGinn said he took the action to protect city taxpayers from footing the bill for cost overuns on the project.

He says the Legislature has capped the state's contribution to the project at $2.4 billion, and that the state is already short $700 million of the basic project budget.

He also wrote that Seattle would be forced to cut basic services to pay for the cost overruns, which he says are a virtual certainty before the project is complete.

In addition, McGinn argues that the tunnel option would add 70,000 more vehicles per day to Seattle surface streets.

"There is no plan to accommodate all that traffic," McGinn wrote. "There is no assessment of how badly that traffic will hurt downtown businesses."

McGinn vetoed the agreement despite the urging of pro-tunnel business and community leaders who met Wednesday with McGinn to urge him not to take the action.

The group reminded McGinn of his campaign pledge to not stand in the way of the tunnel, and argued that the agreement approved by the City Council protects the city from cost overruns.

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