No more Highway 99 tunneling any time soon: Repairs ‘will take months,’ state update says

(WSDOT graphic showing how much tunneling had been done before the machine stopped December 6th)
Tonight for the first time, the state says it’ll be “months” before Highway 99 tunneling resumes. WSDOT published this update tonight:

This evening Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) informed WSDOT and responded to a media inquiry that it is still conferring with its experts to determine how to repair or replace the broken seals surrounding the main bearing of the SR 99 tunneling machine.

Replacing the seals is a complicated process and STP is working closely with Hitachi Zosen, the tunneling machine’s manufacturer, to determine the best path forward. They are looking at two ways to access the seal area: through the back of the machine or by drilling an access shaft from the surface in front of the machine. Either way, this process will take months. They expect to make a decision by the end of the week, and once they do, we will share that information with the public.

STP has not yet fully determined the cause of the seal problems and to date, they have not shown any evidence that suggests the state or taxpayers will be responsible for cost overruns associated with these repairs. We have requested and expect detailed plans on how the repairs will be made and how STP can recover lost time on the tunneling project.

Since the machine is stopped and repairs need to be made, STP has also informed the City of Seattle that they can proceed with seawall replacement construction near the machine’s current location.

This update follows one on Friday detailing what was believed to have brought the machine to a stop two months ago. The tunnel originally was supposed to open at the end of next year.

66 Replies to "No more Highway 99 tunneling any time soon: Repairs 'will take months,' state update says"

  • Frag February 10, 2014 (8:59 pm)

    Boston, I mean Seattle, can’t afford this project!!

  • Doozer February 10, 2014 (9:11 pm)

    Is anyone else getting the feeling that this was an incredibly bad idea?

  • Linda February 10, 2014 (9:13 pm)

    The important thing is human safety. In a dire event the collapse of the viaduct would be not only devastating to our city, and devastating to families, it would be devastating to our citiy’s survival. The project is well intended but needs some help, which if anyone didn’t know this going into this project, didn’t envision it when the idea was conceived. Sorry this is happening.

  • Blown Seal February 10, 2014 (9:17 pm)

    Sad. The tunnel is a solution that could have served Seattle in the 80’s. Trouble is it’s 2014. There really was not a 50-100 year solution discussed. So now we are stuck with a half-assed immediately outmoded solution, that will cost loads more than estimated, and be completed years past the promise date. Sad.

  • not a tunnel guy February 10, 2014 (9:20 pm)

    We can still fill in the tunnel or make it into a homeless shelter and build a bridge and probably still come under budget.

  • David February 10, 2014 (9:31 pm)

    “they have not shown any evidence that suggests the state or taxpayers will be responsible for cost overruns associated with these repairs.”

    Good. Tunneling ain’t impossible. We tunneled I-90 through Mount Baker neighborhood. We tunneled light rail through Beacon Hill. We tunneled from West Lake under I-5 to UW…all without major incident. It can be done.

    This just sounds like someone ‘broke’ the machine operating it (or it was defective) neither of which is the states fault, that’s the “private” contractor we hired who said they could do this job.

  • Doozer February 10, 2014 (9:33 pm)

    They could cut their losses, build a new viaduct, and then sell tickets for the 10% that has been completed as “Seattle’s New Underground Tour”! Maybe they can even recoup some of the losses with the ticket sales.

  • JanS February 10, 2014 (9:37 pm)

    does this company have insurance on it’s tunnel digger? If not, they should be fired. And the question keeps going through my head…is this all it takes to break this thing?WTH? Did they get the cheap version?Fire them and tell them we want our money back. There HAS to be a better way. I’m sorry all this was dumped into Ed Murray’s lap. The state owes us all an apology.

  • PigeonPoint Ben February 10, 2014 (9:37 pm)

    Transit/Surface. We could have light rail and massively improved bus service for less money than this useless tunnel. I sure wish the city hadn’t been bamboozled into building this thing. It’s likely an unpopular decision in these parts but I would support a citizen led effort to abandon the tunnel (and replace it with greater mass transit access to downtown, not an awkward bridge circling the city out in the bay. The western view from downtown needs no “enhancement.”)

  • Wait a Second February 10, 2014 (9:43 pm)

    Did I just read that STP added a separate, other gov’t agency managed project to the schedule? It sounds as though both projects can’t execute in parallel. What happens if the drill is ready to move again but the seawall replacement won’t allow it? Also, anyone know details of the labor agreements? Is STP going to continue paying for all the workers during the drilling hiatus?

  • no mom February 10, 2014 (9:44 pm)

    I voted against this. Seriously They could have built a new Viaduck by now and had a monorail from West Seattle to Downtown for the price of this boondoggle. If I hire someone to work at my house and his tools work I don’t buy him new tools. COME ON !

  • artlore February 10, 2014 (10:07 pm)

    I suppose if they can’t get it going, the tunnel could become the second “Underground Seattle” tour. Just sayin’…

  • west seattle steve February 10, 2014 (10:12 pm)

    The tunneling machine is still under warranty. That goes until 1600 ft according to an article in the Times over the weekend. It’s gone just over 1000 ft so far.

  • WTF February 10, 2014 (10:14 pm)

    I, along with the thousands who voted for a bridge, are pissed! This has gotten way out of control. To reprise and edit an old quip, “Last person with any money left, hide your wallet.”

  • MellyMel February 10, 2014 (10:20 pm)

    From the way I read the link to wsdot from a week ago, they say that STP “owns” the drill tool/Bertha and their repairing it is on them (and implies not the taxpayer).

  • West February 10, 2014 (10:22 pm)

    Did anyone ever think that boring the largest diameter tunnel through man made fill
    next to a failing sea wall threading a needle through the pin pile network holding up downtown seattle was gonna go well?!?
    This is going to be worse then Boston’s “big dig”. Even when the stupid thing is done, it dosent even re connect directly with highway 99…. Anyone who thinks this is going to “solve” seattle traffic problem is just plain naive….just wait, this is just the beginning….

  • herongrrrl February 10, 2014 (10:24 pm)

    No mom, exactly.

    PigeonPointBen, that is an interesting idea…I wonder if it would work, in this city that routinely ignores voters’ will on large expensive projects.

  • Jenny February 10, 2014 (10:24 pm)

    I wonder if we should be “glad” it broke now, and not when it goes under the viaduct? Months of delay once the viaduct is closed for that portion of the digging would be very bad indeed. This does not bode well.

  • bridge to somewhere February 10, 2014 (10:28 pm)

    Mega projects have unforeseen problems, that’s the nature of complex engineering. I for one look forward to the city waterfront post-viaduct.

  • Fred Walters February 10, 2014 (11:23 pm)

    This is BS….
    Gregoire should have to pay for any cost over runs since she rammed this idiotic idea down Seattles throat…
    I bet the solution will be to put little boxes in all our car and charge us per mile in order to pay for this…
    Oh wait they are planning on doing that anyway…

  • B-Check February 10, 2014 (11:28 pm)

    “Did anyone ever think that boring the largest diameter tunnel through man made fill
    next to a failing sea wall threading a needle through the pin pile network holding up downtown seattle was gonna go well?!?”

    “Mega projects have unforeseen problems, that’s the nature of complex engineering. I for one look forward to the city waterfront post-viaduct.”

    I agree with both of those statements, which is why a surface street option would have been and still is the best choice. There are other cities (San Francisco, Chicago) that have routes like that and they move traffic just fine. You just have to design it to include pedestrian/bicycle and transit in mind, instead of being mesmerized by traffic counts and catering to car/truck traffic. If you design to accommodate vehicle trips, you create a system heavily biased towards more and massive highways – anyone who has tried driving around So-Cal knows that is not a viable solution. Too bad we can’t just bury Bertha in place, remove the viaduct, and create an amazing open boulevard environment.

  • D February 10, 2014 (11:36 pm)

    I for one look forward to paying $7 to go through a 2 mile long underground tunnel with no downtown exits. *sarcasm*

  • Seahawk Momma February 10, 2014 (11:53 pm)

    They have to save face and make sure the project is done regardless of the cost.

  • iggy February 10, 2014 (11:57 pm)

    Will the viaduct be torn down even if the tunnel isn’t finished on schedule?

    • WSB February 11, 2014 (12:14 am)

      Ig: The AWV was NOT to be torn down until after the tunnel opened. However, it has always been warned that a quake, or more settling, could lead to its closure.

  • Ace20604 February 11, 2014 (12:08 am)

    What will the route from West Seattle to 1st & Seneca be once completed, and how is it better than current 10-15min 99 north medium traffic commute?
    We need a plan to move the current amount or greater of cars, bikes, mono/light rail all in the same foot print as 99 viaduct.

  • KenK February 11, 2014 (12:26 am)

    Dori Monson is going to have an absolute field day(s) with this.
    It’s a shame nobody had the foresight to create something like the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

  • dsa February 11, 2014 (12:42 am)

    I heard on the radio that they thought the main million dollar bearing was not damaged. However the bearing seals were broken, the machine was stopped due to heat. Think about it what causes heat? Friction does. And friction causes wear. The main bearing may be damaged. The question is, is it useable.
    Another question is, are the seals going to go out every 1,000 feet? The next time Bertha won’t be under warranty and it will be in a much more difficult spot to get to.

  • Seahawk Momma February 11, 2014 (4:23 am)

    West Seattle is headed for gridlock soon.

  • Seattlite February 11, 2014 (4:42 am)

    Too bad Christine ignored the NO votes on the tunnel.

  • smokeycretin9 February 11, 2014 (5:33 am)

    Giant halfpipe for the kids to skate.

  • w.s. maverick February 11, 2014 (5:48 am)

    time to bag this idea none wanted it anyway.. typical seattle can’t ever get it right waste of money just like the 520 project that isn’t working either

  • finbar February 11, 2014 (6:23 am)

    Reading the comments it looks like the tunnel is in phase 2 of the 6 phases of a project.

    1. Enthusiasm,
    2. Disillusionment,
    3. Panic and hysteria,
    4. Search for the guilty,
    5. Punishment of the innocent, and
    6. Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

  • McFail February 11, 2014 (6:46 am)

    Did Audi build the “engine”? My seals are alway leaking :)
    We once had a better option of a cut & cover alternative that went together with the waterfront project, but we the people voted it down so here it is Plan B(ertha).
    Surface street was never an option, looked good on paper but you still deal with Port Traffic, Ferry traffic, BNSF, etc…

  • WSgal February 11, 2014 (7:20 am)

    I’m with Doozer. From the very beginning I was anti-tunnel, would’ve been a better idea to rebuild the viaduct (probably would have finished a year ago), and add other transportation options. Think of all that money that could have gone to our metro system, monorail, etc! This is all very upsetting, mostly because it appeared so obvious from the get-go.

  • James February 11, 2014 (7:51 am)

    Whole lot of people studiously ignoring the facts in the article here. Reading Comprehension isn’t just a city in china, folks.

  • robert February 11, 2014 (8:19 am)

    again ,,,a simple maze guard around the seal would have protected the rubber dirt seal from damage..[caterpillar does it all the time] bad design/under engineered/over priced/foreign built junk…

  • AG February 11, 2014 (8:43 am)

    This isn’t a clusterf**k at ALL…

  • Nancy February 11, 2014 (9:00 am)

    I wondered why local (Kent) company, Robbins, didn’t get the bid. They helped construct the chunnel between France and England.
    Seahawk Momma, W.Seattle already is in gridlock, virtually any time of day. And will be much worse when all the mega-projects are completed and filled. I don’t mind new construction. Just wish we had the roads to support it. One lane streets don’t help!

  • Brian February 11, 2014 (9:24 am)

    As a Seattle City Resident and all-around know-it-all, I have a plethora of judgments and advice to give out on this complex engineering project. Gather ’round while I spout off platitudes and told-ya-so’s, there’s plenty for everybody.

  • K February 11, 2014 (9:26 am)

    B-Check, I hear ya! I lived in SF (which is a much smaller city, with no lakes, rivers to cross over), and boy was it fantastic :-) I know Seattle’s design creates bigger challenges, we’ll always be facing that.

    People won’t drive less unless it’s cost-prohibitive to do so. SF has done a fantastic job of discouraging car ownership–busses, lightrail, BART. I would love to see that here (full disclosure–huge fan of the surface street/lightrail/hybrid project). It seems we like to discourage driving (4 lanes instead of 6, with a growing population) without providing a comprehensive solution to getting around. We’re half-a$$ing both parts of the equation–which I think will just result in eternal gridlock.

  • JeffK February 11, 2014 (9:33 am)

    I’m still firmly anti-viaduct. It is and always has been a noisy blight on the waterfront.

    This newest Bertha stop sucks however.

  • Smitty February 11, 2014 (9:48 am)

    “As a Seattle City Resident and all-around know-it-all, I have a plethora of judgments and advice to give out on this complex engineering project. Gather ’round while I spout off platitudes and told-ya-so’s, there’s plenty for everybody.”

    Good, because the engineers and politicians who designed this mess obviously didn’t.


  • JKB February 11, 2014 (10:00 am)

    With a couple dozen pickaxes and shovels, this could be a new jobs program. All together now…*dig*

  • KBear February 11, 2014 (10:06 am)

    None of you voted against this project unless you were in the state legislature. This is not the same tunnel proposal that was put to a public vote.

  • marty February 11, 2014 (10:07 am)

    And when it is finally done we will have a road that has less capacity and fewer exits than the obsolete road that currently exists. I can’t believe that this project was ever approved.

  • twobottles February 11, 2014 (10:11 am)

    Wow, I did not realize that West Seattle had so many Civil Engineers that are experts on tunneling projects of this scale.

  • CE February 11, 2014 (11:10 am)

    Can we just leave Bertha down there and rebuild the existing structure now to save time & money?

  • HelperMonkey February 11, 2014 (11:21 am)

    interesting article from The Stranger in 2010:
    gee…what could possibly go wrong?

  • CanDo February 11, 2014 (11:22 am)

    From the old song… You gotta know when to hold, know when to fold em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run…

    Time to walk away, if not run. Cut the losses, fill in hole and come up with Plan B.

  • Seahawk Momma February 11, 2014 (2:09 pm)

    I’m all for putting homeless camps down there. They would have some new nice digs.

  • Sam February 11, 2014 (3:27 pm)

    The reason why we have a tunnel and not a new viaduct is the real estate interests. With the “blight” gone, property owners on the waterfront have new view properties which makes them more valuable. I’m also not convinced that new buildings aren’t going to go in where the supposedly reclaimed waterfront land is. Like the man said, follow the money!

  • sna February 11, 2014 (3:53 pm)

    If anyone were serious about turning an abandon tunnel into a homeless shelter, then the Battery St tunnel would be ideal once the new tunnel opens.

  • miws February 11, 2014 (5:00 pm)

    “Aam given ‘er aw she’s got, keptin! i cannae help it she dornt hae a bludy reverse!”



  • Doozer February 11, 2014 (6:20 pm)

    Twobottles, I do have an engineering degree, but I don’t think you need a degree in civil engineering to see what a catastrophe this thing is.
    In other news, NPR was playing highlights from a press conference today with both a state official and a representative for the contractor answering questions. The state official claimed that the steel pipe didn’t have anything to do with their current problems, but the contractor said that they are still considering the pipe as a possible culprit. NPR said that the pipe was put there by a state contractor, which may put us on the hook for paying for these costs if it was responsible for the damage.

  • sna February 11, 2014 (6:58 pm)

    $100 says the cause was excessive deflection of the cutterhead which damaged the seals.

  • robert February 11, 2014 (7:54 pm)

    positive pressure in the bearing housing should have kept any foreign objects[sand] out, unless it wasn’t under pressure in the first place???????? still poor design..

  • WS4Life February 11, 2014 (10:27 pm)

    Finally a new Seattle landmark that truly exemplifys are incompetent political system. A real life example of money down the actual drain aka the tunnel.
    Build a bridge over Elliott Bay and bury Bertha.

  • Mike February 12, 2014 (1:21 am)

    “The reason why we have a tunnel and not a new viaduct is the real estate interests”
    Will the real estate along the water front benefit from not having a viaduct, yes. Is that why the tunnel is the project of choice, no. The tunnel is the ONLY viable option for a replacement of the current viaduct. You could build another viaduct, but you’d have to stop all traffic on the current viaduct for the entire project lifetime AND it would only last 20 years before becoming outdated and needing to be replaced, if an earthquake does not take it down before that. Tunnels are long lasting, strong and don’t have the issue of people trying to exit at really poorly designed locations mid way (Seneca)

  • phil dirt February 12, 2014 (6:26 am)

    I knew this was going to happen, that’s why I voted against it. But, I’m not going to tell you that I told you so. BS, I changed my mind. I TOLD YOU SO!!!

  • Arthur M Skolnik February 12, 2014 (7:08 am)

    Start retrofitting the viaduct before we are left without a downtown transportation corrider.
    Art Skolnik

  • KBear February 12, 2014 (10:01 am)

    Mike, don’t confuse them with facts. Phil still thinks he voted against this project. (Which election was that, Phil? Do tell.)

  • cj February 12, 2014 (10:04 am)

    The tunnel idea was voted down 2 or 3 times I think before it finally got hammered in. I know I voted against it 3 times. Honestly I don’t know why we need a highway over or under the west waterside downtown at this point in time.

  • Autumn Nettey February 12, 2014 (6:59 pm)

    The tunnel is not the only viable option. In fact, way back when at the beginning of this fluster cluck, the tunnel was taken off the table as an unfeasible option but hiz honor x mayor Nickels begged and pleaded and cut a deal with x gov gregiore that seattle would be on the hook for stuff if cost was an issue, blah,blah,blah. It was decided a long time ago that a tunnel was going to be the option to get constructed.Irregardless of anything or anyone. And this is what we are getting. It sure didn’t help that ‘they’ got us all infighting and bickering. But no matter we have what we have and we are pretty much screwed.
    It doesn’t take a civil engineering degree to understand the processes and dynamics of tunneling. To understand the facts and implications of displaced contaminated earth, the amount of clean water used to operate the bore, the polluted water that is a byproduct of the drilling process. To look ahead at the maintenance and operating costs attached to a functioning tunnel. Out of all of the choices, for in the beginning there where some, the tunnel was the worst choice possible. This is not my opinion but stated in the first analysis report that came out in, i can hardly remember now but I think it was 2004 or 06 perhaps. That I would have to look up to confirm. But Yes, we are constructing the solution with the highest expense, the most risk and the least benefit.
    Bravo to us!

  • pupsarebest February 12, 2014 (8:25 pm)

    The “Stranger” article link shared by Helper Monkey is well-worth the read, and Autumn Nettey makes many good points, as well.

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