Notes from today’s Council meetings

A lot was said, a few things were done.

This morning, the Council got an update on the federal legislative session. You can read the detailed report here. The most interesting note: there is apparently a growing consensus in Congress that they should bring back eamarks, at least in a limited fashion for transportation and infrastructure. The main reason: because without them, the executive branch has far to much decsion-making power over who gets money.

The Council also got a briefing this morning on the logistics of the upcoming closing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the opening of the SR99 tunnel through downtown Seattle. Some key notes from the presentation:

  • Downtown offramps from SR99 close on January 4.
  • The viaduct and Battery Street Tunnel close permanently on January 11.
  • Three weeks later, in early February, the new tunnel opens.
  • Currently, 90,000 vehicles use the viaduct every day; that traffic will move to other streets while SR99 is closed.
  •  The tunnel will be toll-free for several months when it first opens. WSDOT expects to begin tolling in Q3 or Q4 of 2019.
  •  During the 3-week period when SR99 is closed, all the focus will be on connecting up the onramps and offramps. But after it opens, the construction switches to three concurrent projects: removing the viaduct, decommissioning and filling in the Battery Street Tunnel, and surface street connections at the north portal to the tunnel.  Viaduct removal is expected tot take six months; WSDOT is hoping to have it done before the summer tourist season. Battery Street Tunnel should take 24 months: the first year will be quiet as they mostly work inside the tunnel, but the second year will be more disruptive as they work from the surface corridor of Battery Street.
  • Beginning January 11, buses that had previously used the viaduct will now use surface streets. The exact pathways they use to get from SR99 to 3rd Avenue may vary, possibly day-to-day, as traffic conditions change
  • The city is ramping up West Seattle water taxi service. They are adding a second boat, more shuttles, and additional parking at Pier 2.
  • There are several web sites you can use to get information and plan your commute, including  and
  • Pro tip from SDOT: don’t wait until January 11 to try out your new commute trip. Work out the kinks ahead of time.
  • Council member pointed out that a lot of workers don’t get flex time and may get fired if they show up late to work because of the extra traffic problems. She and her Council colleagues urge businesses to be flexible, patient, and understanding, and not to hold workers accountable for traffic issues they can’t control.

This afternoon, the City Council passed an ordinance making two amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan (they are allowed to amend it once a year). One was a bit controversial: it involved changing the zoning at one edge of Seattle Pacific University’s Ballard campus, thereby slightly reducing the amount of industrial-zoned land. The Seattle Planning Commission tries to protect Seattle’s industrial zoning and thus recommended against the change, but Council member Johnson championed it as a small one-off change with unique context.

The Council also approved the UW Campus Master Plan with its amendments; see my separate writeup here. Now if goes back to the UW Board of Regents, who will need to decide whether they can live with it.

Finally, the Council unanimously passed an ordinance creating the Office of the Employee Ombud. Here’s the backstory on that.