For a topographically challenged city, Seattle has become a metropolitan Swiss cheese. Not since the original “big dig” of the Denny Regrade area in the late 1890s and the building of Interstate 5 through Seattle in the early ‘60s has the city undergone so much construction.
With skyscrapers filling up the downtown skyline and squeezed-in townhomes and condominiums going up around our hilly city, there is nowhere to go but down for some of that construction. In addition to numerous ongoing construction projects, Seattle will bore deep this summer: the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel (though on hold), Sound Transit’s Link light-rail extension from Capitol Hill to the University District and Magnolia’s sewage-overflow pipeline. Seattle already had about 100 tunnels totaling more than 40 miles’ worth as of 2002, including the downtown transit and Battery Street tunnels, according to the Discovery Institute’s report “Tunneling in Seattle: A History of Innovation.”
Past city planners have long said Seattle’s hilly terrain and varying soil conditions necessitate tunneling, but sinkholes can result, as discovered with the Beacon Hill light-rail tunnel. And, still, there are constant concerns about landslides, a major earthquake and the imminent eruption of Mount Rainier. In any event, the dirt being removed for the massive Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel may need to be repurposed to shore up the rest of the city.
With Seattle’s aging infrastructure nearing the end of its lifespan — for example, the crumbling waterfront seawall and the 50-year-old steel expansion-joint cover that closed southbound I-5 for five hours last Thursday — maybe it’s time to build the city anew with fresh planning and engineering. It’s been proven time and again, the relatively short-term bandages employed certainly won’t fix the causes of the problems once they reach the end of their lifespans.
Maybe if the city is, instead, left to completely fall down, we can rebuild on top of it — like we once did with Pioneer Square, after it burned down in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The first structures built would become New Seattle’s first tourist attractions, much to the delight of our development-happy officials and the developers.
Or, because of the city’s current financial troubles, officials should just auction off the entire city, instead of selling bits and pieces of it to developers, millionaires and corporations. There must be a hedge-fund manager somewhere with a network of deep pockets who has big plans for his/her own city. It would be much like how Las Vegas once started, albeit with more scrupulous people.
From potholes to major construction projects, with so many holes in and around Seattle, the city should make a new top-10 list — as the “holey-ist” nonsecular city in the country.