Highway 99 tunnel machine resuming work this week, WSDOT says

Though they’re still not saying what exactly shut down the Highway 99 tunnel machine – the pipe, the boulders, or something else – tonight WSDOT has announced that it expects tunneling to resume this week. According to tonight’s update, it’ll go two more feet, and then will stop for evaluation. If it gets the green light to continue after that, the next milestone is 500 feet down the line, where it would be stopped for maintenance before going under the Alaskan Way Viaduct – which, as first reported here last April, is expected to be closed while the tunnel machine crosses underneath. The machine has been stopped for seven weeks.

29 Replies to "Highway 99 tunnel machine resuming work this week, WSDOT says"

  • A January 27, 2014 (7:55 pm)

    This is such a dumb idea.

  • Tuesday January 27, 2014 (8:10 pm)

    LOL. Two more feet.

  • David January 27, 2014 (9:16 pm)

    Smart. If you’re not convinced what stopped it (pipe, plastic, boulder) then restart for 2 feet to make sure the gears turn, electrical is good and not overheating, then if not, proceed again. Not much else you CAN do. It was PROBABLY just the metal well pipe that got tangled (because unlike rock metal is soft and twists up) and jammed the original cutters. But with that gone, not much else you can do but TRY to move it and see what happens.

  • Chris W January 27, 2014 (9:23 pm)

    I hope we find out exactly what happened before that drill is allowed under the viaduct or buildings.

  • D January 27, 2014 (9:33 pm)

    So Bertha has travelled about 1019 feet out of 9270 feet. They started July 30, so that is 1019 feet in 6 months, or roughly 170 feet per month. So if this thing continues to dig at its current rate of speed, we are looking at another 48.5 months (2 more years) to complete the remaining distance. I don’t think this project is going to finish on time and on budget.

  • rumorhasit January 27, 2014 (9:41 pm)

    i heard it was a 3 1/4″ rock. Bertha can chew up to 3″, but any bigger than that and it cannot be broken.


  • a wild guess. January 27, 2014 (9:54 pm)

    They won’t announce what went wrong because whoever has to pay for the delay depends on who’s at fault. That’s my guess anyhow.

  • Mike January 27, 2014 (10:39 pm)

    I heard it was the rocks that fell out of heads of Internet geologists and engineers that kept it from going, there are so many of them around here.

  • D January 28, 2014 (12:41 am)

    Sorry, I meant 4 more years (48.5 months) to completion at its current rate of progress. Onward!

  • rg January 28, 2014 (6:31 am)

    3 inch rock? Ive dug up bigger rocks trying to put in a fence post! As curious as I am as to what caused the delay, our shiny new toy broke down and then we had to fix it…. happens.

  • Jenny January 28, 2014 (6:37 am)

    Hmmmm, if it took so many weeks to restart this time, I REALLY hope it doesn’t encounter anything while it’s under the viaduct! More than a couple of weeks of “Viadoom” and West Seattle will start to riot.

  • Smitty January 28, 2014 (6:53 am)

    It feels like a lot of these comments are being run through attorneys.

    Never a good sign.

    Hang onto your wallets, folks. Just as predicted.


  • Lura January 28, 2014 (7:11 am)

    Rumorhasit – ” is the abbreviation for inches, not feet.

    They haven’t said exactly what the problem was. They have said that an 8-inch steel pipe may have been part of the problem, and a 3-FOOT rock, not because it was large, but because it just happened to fit in between moving parts. And I think moving two feet and stopping is what they would be doing in any case, wall the next wall section gets put in.
    At this point I think it becomes irrelevant whether you/we were opposed to the tunnel or thought it was a great idea.

  • D January 28, 2014 (7:36 am)

    What IS relevant is how much we are all going to pay for the cost overruns for this disaster.

  • NorDel January 28, 2014 (9:30 am)

    Clowns to the left of me,
    Jokers to my right, here I am,
    Stuck in the middle with you

  • Smitty January 28, 2014 (9:51 am)

    “At this point I think it becomes irrelevant whether you/we were opposed to the tunnel or thought it was a great idea.”

    Not sure I agree.

    At the very least we need to never forget this debacle the next time a pipe dream of a porject gets floated.

    More importantly, it is NOT too late to pull the plug and write off your losses now.

  • RumorHasIt January 28, 2014 (11:50 am)

    Lura. Gee. Thanks for pointing out my obvious typo. All internet commenters need you to straighten them out or the whole enterprise is just going to crumble.

  • wscommuter January 28, 2014 (12:15 pm)

    The project haters – Smitty, etc. – will continue to bitch and complain. There’s no talking to them. Fortunately, the project will get built and we’ll move on.

    re the 3 FOOT rock … the problem is that because it is in a wet zone of liquified soils, it tumbles and the cutter head can’t get purchase on it (in conjunction with the metal pipe being chewed up). It is a short-term problem.

    D – please get your fact straight. Setting aside this delay, the plan all along was to go slowly during this initial phase, and then to accelerate the TBM once past the viaduct and into the more stable, less wet soils. Your “4-year” calculation isn’t based in reality.

  • Fiwa Jcbbb January 28, 2014 (12:58 pm)

    Sigh. Again, this tunnel IS a dumb idea, but the only idea dumber, The Stranger’s beloved “Surface-Transit”, was the only other option we were given, and is STILL completely unworkable and unrealistic as any West Seattle resident can tell you. Rebuilding the viaduct would have been far more cost effective and handled more traffic, but would have done nothing to improve the real estate value of the land uphill of it, so of course it wasn’t an option. Greg Nickels “cut and cover” tunnel idea is looking better all the time.Hindsight, indeed. Quit yer bellyaching and get out and fight “tolling”.

  • WS76 January 28, 2014 (2:03 pm)

    Oh yes the “facts” that we were only giving a few viaduct replacement options was exactly the problem. A 3 foot rock and some metal stopped the worlds largest tbm? There is a reason why wsdot will not talk about what is actually going on.
    Typical wsdot mums the word.

    What about Architect Roger Patten plan to save Washington and Seattle $1.8 billion? Deemed to inexpensive!

  • wscommuter January 28, 2014 (3:32 pm)

    FJ – I think your facts are off … the “rebuilt” viaduct option would NOT have handled more cars – the three lanes would still have choked into the two-lane Battery St. tunnel we have now. Yes, we’d keep the Seneca and Western off-ramps, but that was the only benefit to a re-build. Conversely, a re-build would have been a nightmare of construction (don’t like traffic now while the DBT is building? Imagine NO viaduct at all for the 3+ years of tearing down the viaduct and rebuilding) … and we would have still ended up with a seismically vulnerable structure. When you impute that the “real reason” we’re building a tunnel is for the profits of (presumably evil) real estate owners uphill of the viaduct, you’re just spouting uninformed rhetoric. Yes they benefit. But the grown-ups – DOT, Mayor Nichols, Gov. Gregoire, etc. – who recognize the DBT is the best option didn’t do that because they want to help rich property owners. I’d suggest dealing in facts.

    Which, btw, includes the addressing the fantasy that tolling shouldn’t happen. Tolling was always going to be – and should be – part of the deal. User fees are the most democratic of all.

  • Democratic? January 28, 2014 (7:19 pm)


    1) I agree a viaduct rebuild wouldn’t handle more cars. Will the tunnel handle more or fewer cars than the existing viaduct?

    2) Do you believe it isn’t possible to build a viaduct capable of withstanding earthquakes? How long has the current viaduct existed?

    3) Why exactly is the tunnel the “best option?” I’m very curious as to how you quantify such a bold statement.

    4) Speaking of “democratic”, what is your opinion of the obstructed flow of information about the delays on this public project?

    There are many valid comments on this thread that you’re attacking with seemingly invalid arguments.

  • Lura January 28, 2014 (7:33 pm)

    RumorHasIt – you could just say “oops” or something. Yes, I knew you meant 3 foot, but at least one poster thought you meant 3 inches.
    Actually, as far as “facts”, there was once a detailed state plan for rebuilding the viaduct that would have kept one level open while the other level was built around it, and the new structure would not have been particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. And the cut-and-cover tunnel was by far the most expensive option when they first started showing alternate plans.

  • wscommuter January 28, 2014 (10:08 pm)

    1) Both the current Battery St. tunnel and the new tunnel have two lanes each way – its a wash, capacity wise. But the new tunnel has modern, engineered lanes that will handle traffic going faster. And the new Alaskan Way surface street, which will take many cars that used to get off at Seneca and Western will have more and wider lanes. Time will tell if that street use will bog down, or move efficiently.
    2) I trust the geotechnical engineers I’ve spoken with who tell me that any elevated structure on the central waterfront is built on liquifiable soils and is therefore inherently risky. Yes, a new viaduct would be stronger than the existing viaduct, but for my part, I don’t support a “better, but still vulnerable” structure. The tunnel is seismically much safer.
    3) Best option – IMHO – because (a) it provides a better structure (see comment #2) and (b) because I support opening the central waterfront to a better use – I think Seattle becomes a more livable city as a result (I am unconcerned with the ancillary benefit to property owners) and (c) because no other option (surface/transit, new viaduct, do-nothing) was a serious choice – each was seriously flawed.
    4) What “obstructed flow of information”? Please provide specifics. Are your claiming someone is hiding information? DOT? STP? Pretty sweeping statement without specifics. I am unaware of anyone hiding info.

    When you say “many valid comments” it suggests that you just want to believe what you want to believe; which “valid” comments do you suggest I’m attacking?

  • redblack January 29, 2014 (7:53 am)

    as mike mcginn argued, surface/transit/5 should have been implemented in addition to DBT, because all of the “grown-ups” knew perfectly well that there would be plenty of toll-avoidance. (tolling, btw, is capped at $450 million for the project.) ST5 could also provide some congestion relief and alternate routing in case of viaduct closures.
    but, sadly, foresight and planning just weren’t in the budget. perhaps WSDOT should start considering alternatives in the event that tunneling – or an earthquake – cripples the viaduct. better late than never, i say.
    wscommuter: comparing BST and the DBT is a false equivalence; the only way to see the effect of changing SR-99’s capacity would be to open the king st exit, close the seneca and western exits, close the columbia and elliott on-ramps, and reduce the viaduct to two lanes.
    look, i’m not simply naysaying or saying “told you so” here. the project is underway and i hope it goes as planned. but the “grown-ups” who got the ball rolling are no longer in office. our current leaders must start looking at funding and implementing contingency plans.

  • sam-c January 29, 2014 (9:46 am)

    +1 to what wscommuter said. I can’t imagine what the traffic would be like if we had gone the ‘rebuild option’
    though, wasn’t there a rebuild option that had them building the new viaduct ‘next to’ the old viaduct? would the old viaduct still have been operational at the time?

  • Fiwa Jcbbb January 29, 2014 (2:11 pm)

    @ws commuter: How are my “facts” off, and what have you offered by way of them? Sounds like more uninformed rhetoric to me, and I’m not even sure what you’re advocating here….are you a “Surface/Transit” fan?

    Anyone who’s lived in West Seattle for any length of time can tell you first hand what happens every time the viaduct is shut down for inspection, construction, a “rock and roll marathon” or anything else. It causes massive backups, and I’m STILL waiting for ANY “Let Them Eat Bus” advocate to explain the “improvements” to I-5 that would handle the increased traffic…tear out freeway park and the convention center? Not gonna happen, they’re currently talking about expanding the convention center, and we’ve cut transit service for lack of funding, and yet there are some of you STILL pimping this ridiculous idea because “Bertha” is stuck.

    The rebuild option would have handled…obviously….the same amount of traffic as the viaduct did before this project started. Have you lived here long enough to remember? Some engineers asserted that the viaduct could be retrofitted in place. Three lanes into two is still better than two lanes the whole way with no downtown exits, and frankly I’d rather be up on the viaduct than 60 feet underground during a major earthquake.

    Also quite obviously, the real beneficiaries of this project are real estate owners uphill of the current viaduct, and those wealthy enough to use the expensive new office/restaurant/living spaces that go in where all the parking garages are now. The “evil” thing is yours, I didn’t say that, but now that you mention it, I do think there is a special place in hell for people who use their financial resources to influence and manipulate public policy toward their own self-interest at the expense of the greater population.

    The “Grown Ups” you’re referring to went against the desires of former mayor McSchwinn and The Stranger magazine (who oddly 10 years earlier opposed Paul Allen’s proposed Seattle Commons Park because it “would just be a nice lawn for rich people”) because they recognize the utter folly of eliminating one of two major north-south arterials through a water-locked peninsula…one of which is a state highway…so….what exactly is your point, and why the condescending tone? You don’t sound particularly well informed to me, just another “Surface/Transit” advocate pushing for gridlock.

    As for tolling, it’s a well established fact that our state has one of the most regressive systems of taxation in the nation. Road tolls are a form of this, as Bill Gates pays the same toll as the janitor at Microsoft…and look what’s happened with the SR 520 bridge…we’ve certainly reduced traffic on it, those who can afford it now have the bridge to themselves for the most part.Some of you seem to enjoy this certainly, but I’m hopeful that public opinion is turning against you. You seem to be a big fan of regressive taxation, but those of us who’ve been here for a while can recall a time when we were able to eliminate the tolls over both Lake Washington bridges through a progressive motor vehicle excise tax…Tim Eyeman led the charge for the whining wealthy who thought it unfair that a new Lamborghini owner pay more than that of a ’72 Pacer, but frankly I don’t see the benefit.Our city and state infrastructure has been in decline ever since. “User fees are the most democratic of all?” Is this what passes for “fact” with you? I disagree wholeheartedly.

  • redblack January 29, 2014 (2:11 pm)

    Sam-C: you might be right about a parallel elevated structure being built alongside the existing viaduct, but, as i remember them, all other viable options required removing the viaduct first. i can’t imagine the geotech involved in trying to support both structures at once along a decrepit seawall.
    in my opinion, the viaduct should have been dropped first and its replacement should have been fast-tracked. i.e. three demolition and road-building shifts a day for as long as it takes to dig a cut-and-cover tunnel. other states have rebuilt or replaced miles of interstate that way with minimal impact. yeah, it would be painful, but that only increases incentive to complete the project quickly and competently.
    after all, if tunneling or seismic activity undermines the AWV, we’ll lose it as a through-route anyway. we should have considered that contingency before digging.
    shoulda woulda coulda.
    instead, all we heard from the deciders is that we could have our cake and eat it, too, but for the most monetary costs. and here we are.
    time to start making contingency plans yet? or are we still wearing rose-colored glasses here?

  • wscommuter January 29, 2014 (6:10 pm)

    Fiwa … not sure why you’re confused as to my view – I think I’m pretty clear that I support the DBT. While I respect those with whom I disagree, I shake my head at those who don’t know what they’re talking about. The “surface/transit” option would have been monumentally foolish. Rebuilding the viaduct would have been only incrementally less foolish.

    Since you asked, I’ve lived in WSea for more than 30 years. “Some engineers” will always opine that one could build a new viaduct that would be “safe.” Others, however, point out the obvious – that our central waterfront is a mass of fill and liquifiable soils and no matter how deep pilings go below that, there is substantial risk in a large seismic event. The Seattle Fault runs right through this area. And – speaking of aesthetics and livability – do you understand that a rebuilt viaduct would have been almost twice as massive a structure as the current one due to modern code requirements? In other words, obliterating the waterfront as a civic amenity.

    You pretty much prove my point about facts v. opinions when you say you’d rather be up on the viaduct in an earthquake (but presumably not on the lower deck when it pancakes) than in the tunnel. Ask any competent engineer which structure is more vulnerable to earth movement. The cylindrical shape of the tunnel is vastly more capable of surviving undamaged than an elevated roadway. Again, good for you and your opinions, but I prefer to deal in facts.

    I have great sympathy for the concern that we lose the Seneca and Western exits. While I believe/hope that the new AW surface level improvements will solve that problem, I readily acknowledge we won’t know until we get there in a few years. For myself, however, I am content to open the waterfront with the viaduct gone and the great things that will offer the city.

    I understand your objection to tolling but am unpersuaded. I am politically and philosophically sympathetic to arguments against regressive taxation, but user fees are a necessary evil, especially in a state where we won’t impose an income tax. If you want to fight a fairness/anti-regressive tax battle, take on the real giant – sales taxes, etc. v. income tax. But special use taxes such as tolls are a common and appropriate funding mechanism for discrete projects – they are used nationally. That you disagree – your right – doesn’t make facts any less true. If you don’t like a toll, don’t pay it – use another route. Very democratic. But whining about it is, in the end, pretty pointless; all you’re really saying is that if “I don’t like tolls, then they aren’t fair”. Not terribly convincing.

Sorry, comment time is over.

WP-Backgrounds by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann