Commentary: Edmonds waterfront access — let’s pretend we’re building a fantasy hockey team

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.

Midblock Viaduct
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.

7 Replies to “Commentary: Edmonds waterfront access — let’s pretend we’re building a fantasy hockey team”

  1. I firmly believe an Emergency Medical Station should be included in the new Waterfront Center. It would not take more than a few hundred square feet of space and would be much more effective and efficient than either of these options.
    This affects the entire Edmonds Community and those are the folks that should be making the choice. Not just one person. Diane Bucksnish (sp) stated in an earlier posting that during the Council meetings for this thing that there was hardly any negative comments from attending Citizens. Considering the fact that nine out of ten Residents I talk to are against this, I am confused. I know that there are Citizens looking into getting this put on the ballot in November and I will do anything I can to support them in this endeavor. That is the right thing to do. If this ‘mayor’ cares about Edmonds, it’s Citizens and their quality of life at all, he should put his ego aside and let the Citizens decide which they feel best fits these needs and then do his best to ensure we get the best bang for our buck. That is his job.


    1. From an environmental standpoint, a triage center housed at the new Edmonds Senior Center (in space of Thrift Store) and having Marine One available as of now. Personally, a viaduct or overpass will bring many more problematic issues relating to a large concrete structure located at our only public beach (and dive park) north of the ferry.


  2. The hockey team analogy certainly highlights the problem with the proposed “Viaduct Project”. There is also a recent website that does an excellent job of injecting some realistic information that has not been covered in the public meetings. The website is appropriately named “” and discusses the locations critical area designation, shoreline sanctuary status, public beach usage and under-water park status. More frightening than the scope of the project is the estimated cost of $30 million. In looking at almost all of the recent government projects from Sound Transit, the 520 Floating Bridge, the Seattle Tunnel and the most recent Seattle street car debacle, I would probably double the $30 million cost of our Edmonds project to be more realistic!


  3. Mistake on website for the Connector project; it should read “” instead of viaduct. I guess I have an overload about hearing about the viaduct in the news recently.


  4. That viaduct thing as, depicted in earlier public information, looks like a real eyesore to me, not to mention “mucho” expensive. I’m with Joseph on his idea. Why not incorporate a helipad on top of the new Community/Senior Center and contract with Medi-Vac to station a unit there, providing them office space in the process. That should come in at much less than 30mil. That doesn’t solve the ferry blocking issue but the city can just let the state and BNSF Duke that one out. (Yes, I know the RR has no intention of paying for anything because they essentially own the World). You already have a police fire/boat on the waterfront, so the Port could provide a little space for on sight manpower for that venue to transport less severe medical cases to Shilshole Marina for ambulance transfer. There just has to be a better way on this than the viaduct mess. The City needs to go back to the drawing board.


  5. I like the thinking-outside the box approach, but cannot see a benefit to an Airlift Northwest station. The perceived need is for ground-based EMS response capability. The helicopter and its crew may often be away and therefore unavailable to meet the perceived need.

    I say “perceived” because our own fire department does not support establishing response capabilities on the waterfront. Therefore, I conclude that our emergency responders do not deem the need critical enough to warrant such extra attention.

    And the ferry seems like a moot point. It’s not too far for them to unload at Mukilteo.

    In other parts of our county, there are portions of communities which are accessed by crossing railroad tracks. It’s a fact-of-life that some signals must be obeyed by emergency responders: school bus stop signs, construction flaggers, and trains. Is the standard of care owed by our City not satisfied with the do-nothing option?

    Getting back to the analogy, while a new hockey team would be cool, they are really expensive – and not a necessity.


  6. Great points Brian. A helicopter on sight would be an unneeded expense. You could put a pumper truck and police cruiser (unmanned) on water side of the tracks that could be accessed on foot across the tracks if needed. Call in a copter(s) if the emergency warranted. All they need is a safe place to land.


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