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Wahington DOT takes viaduct request to D.C.

By Matthew Daly
The Seattle Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In what is becoming a familiar ritual, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels came to the other Washington this week, seeking federal money to replace Seattle's earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Nickels led a coalition of state and business leaders on a whirlwind visit to the Capitol, where the local leaders met with members of the Washington state delegation and congressional leaders to press their case for as much as $1 billion for the Seattle project.

The aging 2.2-mile elevated highway along the downtown waterfront was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

"We all watched '10.5' on TV," Nickels said, referring to a recent movie about an earthquake that destroyed much of the West Coast. "Well, we experienced 6.8 (in the 2001 earthquake). A critical piece of our highway was damaged, and we need to fix it before we have a real-life disaster."

Local leaders hope to see the viaduct included in a six-year highway-spending bill.

Preliminary estimates suggest replacing the viaduct would cost between $2.5 billion and $4.1 billion, depending on which option is chosen.

The state plans to announce its preferred alternative this summer.

Even without a final plan, the project is certain to need significant federal support, which is why Nickels and a dozen others traveled here. Nickels came to the Capitol last year on a similar mission.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she was optimistic the project would receive federal support but declined to predict what form that would take.

Whatever help the federal government can offer is crucial, said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens. Larsen and Cantwell serve on transportation committees in the House and Senate, respectively.

The viaduct carries 110,000 vehicles a day and is the main right of way for a natural-gas line, Larsen said. Two rail lines run under it.

"This is the single biggest and most important project for the entire state, when it comes to moving freight and goods and people," Larsen said. "It is absolutely critical to have it included in the federal (highway) bill."

The highway bill, the biggest public-works legislation of the year, has been stalled for months by a battle between congressional leaders from both parties, who want a generous bill, and the White House, which is demanding that Congress hold the line on spending.

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