Tickets for the inaugural season of the NHL Seattle are sold out and Seattle is eagerly awaiting its team. What you may not know is that Edmonds is building its own fantasy ice hockey team. And they are starting by buying the center.
What is Edmonds looking for in its center player? Following the NHL recommendations, they are looking for three core skills: “leading rushes up the ice,” “winning important face-offs,” and “setting up teammates.” The mayor is pushing for a player nicknamed “Viaduct,” but local ice hockey enthusiasts prefer “Midblock.” The city asked a consulting firm to numerically score these players on all three skills; Midblock got more points (47) than Viaduct (45). Why, then, is Edmonds’ Mayor not seriously looking at Midblock?
You may argue that not all skills are equally important. What if leading rushes was the most important skill? Suppose it is four times as important as any other skill. With this weight, the experts gave Midblock a total of 74 points and Viaduct 75 points. What if winning face-offs is the most important — say four times as important — as any other skill? In this case, the experts would give Midblock 95 points and Viaduct 96 points. Alternatively, the most important characteristic for the center may be his ability to set up teammates. In this case, Midblock has 101 points, and Viaduct only scores an 84.
|Total points (all skills equal weight)||47||45|
|Total points (leading rushes weight of 4)||74||75|
|Total points (winning face-offs weight of 4)||95||96|
|Total points (setting up teammates weight of 4)||101||84|
Should Edmonds’ mayor buy Midblock or Viaduct? The answer seems pretty clear. If you believe that overall performance is important, then clearly Midblock wins. Furthermore, even if you are interested in a particular skill, Midblock is either much better, or virtually identical to, Viaduct in all respects. Finally, Midblock would cost the city $6 million, but Viaduct’s price tag is $30 million. All Edmonds ice hockey fans are on the edge of their seats. They are very worried, and rightly so, that the mayor will run out of money. The city’s fantasy team still needs a goalie, a right wing, a left wing, and two defensemen.
Here my ice hockey analogy ends. Edmonds is not building a fantasy ice hockey team but looking for ways to improve emergency response on its waterfront. I am appending the original table from page 45 of their 228-page analysis. Midblock is the leftmost yellow alternative: Midblock Overpass. Viaduct is the rightmost orange alternative: the Edmonds Street Overpass. The points for each alternative are exactly the same as in the ice hockey example. So is the math of weighing some characteristics higher than others. So are the costs! Why would we spend $30 million for a viaduct that is inferior to another much cheaper alternative?
If you prefer a comparison of benefits of the project and its costs, the data are available, but they also advise against building the Edmonds Street Overpass. Mayor Earling provides the cost benefit analysis for his preferred alternative, the Edmonds Street Overpass. And the data do not justify the project. Benefits amount to about $12 million (at 7 percent discount rate) or about $20 million (at 3 percent discount rate) while costs amount to about $30 million. The costs exceed the benefits by about $10 million even with the more favorable discount rate.
Mayor Earling tells us that the city will not have to pay the entire $30 million, as they plan to apply for a federal capital grant — Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (NSFHP) Grants — in the amount of about $17.4 million. An additional $5.7 million are expected to come from other federal funds, though those are not specified. Applying for a federal grant, however, does not mean the city will receive the funds. For example, in fiscal year 2016, applications for FASTLANE NSFHP grants in the entire USA amounted to nearly 10 billion while the actual awarded amount was about $760 million. That is a 7.6 percent chance.
Edmonds residents should ask the council and the mayor how much in extra taxes we will have to pay if state or federal funding does not materialize. That is, if we even want to get Viaduct, and I am not persuaded we should. If you were picking a center for our fantasy ice hockey team, who would you pick?
Nives Dolšak is an Edmonds resident, and a Professor of Environmental Policy at and an Associate Director of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle.