BERTHA BREAKTHROUGH, REPORT #2: What’s next


(Photos and video by WSB’s Christopher Boffoli unless otherwise credited)

Not far from the most recognizable above-ground Seattle icon, the Highway 99 tunneling machine finished its 9,270-foot journey under watchful eyes this morning, as shown in our as-it-happened report earlier.

Photojournalist Christopher Boffoli was there for WSB and put together these video highlights:

If you noticed the drone – that was operated by WSDOT, which has since published this minute-long highlight reel:

So – now what? First: The tunneling machine, which arrived in pieces four years ago, will be taken away in pieces. After the cutterhead’s appearance this morning, removal of the braces began.

WSDOT elaborates on what’s ahead:

STP will disassemble the machine by cutting it into pieces. The pieces will be removed from the pit by crane and placed on trucks. Due to roadway restrictions, each truckload will weigh no more than 20 tons.

Some pieces of the machine may be reused on other tunneling projects, while others will be recycled. Because the machine is so large, removing it will likely take several months.

And then there’s a lot of work to be done inside the tunnel – digging it, and “building rings” along the way, was just the groundwork. This WSDOT post goes into details of what happens inside, from road-building to systems installation to testing and commissioning.

Once the tunnel is tied into the surface network, as recapped in the Viaduct/Tunnel FAQ (and discussed in WSB comments), here’s how Highway 99 is planned to connect to the south end of downtown:


Outside the tunnel, other matters remain unsettled. A big one: How much will the toll be? $1-vicinity recommendations were made three years ago. The Washington State Transportation Commission is charged with determining the final toll but there’s no date set for a vote yet. And of course you’ve heard a lot about court fights over cost overruns, mentioned again today in Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom‘s look at what’s ahead. (Asked today about the cost overruns, Gov. Inslee said, ““There will be other days to talk about paying for this. We know that our State is going to be insistent that the contractor be financially responsible for the project. We have to get that resolved. I know that will be resolved. And I think there is reason for confidence that the State is going to be held harmless here.” Mayor Murray, asked about a legislator’s proposal to require the city to cover those costs, said today, ” I know we have our annual ‘Let’s bash Seattle’ down in Olympia every legislative session. But again it is a State project and the State will make sure it gets paid. And we will pay for the brand new park that will knit Seattle back to its waterfront.”)

Once the tunnel is open – that clears the way for the remainder of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which opened 64 years ago today, to be torn down. It’s been more than five years since the south mile was demolished.

11 Replies to "BERTHA BREAKTHROUGH, REPORT #2: What's next"

  • CS April 4, 2017 (9:20 pm)

    Thanks so much for the great coverage!

  • dsa April 5, 2017 (11:54 am)

    I used to work on and in large projects, and hated it when the politicians came and took credit for the successes leaving my bosses completely out of the picture.

  • Vanessa April 5, 2017 (4:15 pm)

    Everyone else got to wear masks……….

  • zephyr April 5, 2017 (4:26 pm)

    Looking at the picture I see an off ramp for Alaska Way.  Does this mean one can take 99 from say Spokane Street Viaduct and then get off on Alaska Way and not pay a toll?  Wondering where the tolling starts and if you can drive sections to go around the tunnel and not pay the toll.  

    Also has there been a date set for when we have to stop using the Viaduct?  I have 2018 (no month) vaguely in my mind.  Thanks.

    • WSB April 5, 2017 (4:49 pm)

      Yes. The exit to surface Alaskan Way is before the tunnel, which is currently expected to open (therefore replacing The Viaduct) in early 2019. Other untolled ways to get downtown include the 1st and 4th Ave. exits from the Spokane St. Viaduct., the low bridge to Marginal or wherever you choose to turn off surface Spokane St. …

  • zephyr April 5, 2017 (4:57 pm)

    Thanks for the clarification on being able to exit to Alaska Way.  I see that you are saying this opens in early 2019.  So am I misunderstanding the time frame or can we still use the Viaduct through 2018?  Did they set a time for the last day to drive it?  Maybe this is not yet known or announced.  Maybe it’s dependent on other factors as yet incomplete.  And such a final date is a moving target.  

    • WSB April 5, 2017 (5:36 pm)

      Unless something unforeseen happens (God forbid, earthquake or …) the current plan is that this replaces The Viaduct. They haven’t announced granular details such as “we’ll close The Viaduct two days before opening the tunnel” or “we’ll run them side by side for a while” but so far there is no plan that would arbitrarily close The Viaduct some period before the tunnel opens. Were you here when the southern mile was torn down and replaced? It was somewhat incremental. But we’ll ask to see what kind of planning and outreach is under way …

  • zephyr April 5, 2017 (6:17 pm)

    Thanks for that explanation and your thoughts on how it might go roll out.  That helps. 

    WSB wrote:  Were you here when the southern mile was torn down and replaced? 

    Yes, I was here, but it didn’t affect me too much since I wasn’t commuting at the time.  I can’t even remember what year that happened.   I remember when they took down the Duwamish River bridge in South Park.  Can I get partial credit for that?  ;)   

  • BlairJ April 6, 2017 (11:24 am)

    I don’t think they can operate the viaduct once the tunnel opens, since the existing southbound lanes cross on the surface what will be the northbound entrance into the tunnel.  Seems like they would have to have a least a few days of neither operating.

  • zark00 April 7, 2017 (11:01 am)

    There will likely be several months of both the viaduct and tunnel being closed.  If all were to go exactly according to plan, there would have to be a short period where both are closed to get everything stitched together, get the equipment out of the way, and test the road surfaces.

    Of course this project is a keystone cops cluster – so we’re prob looking at 6 months of no viaduct AND no tunnel.  It’s gonna be fun times.

    I also plan to continue to use 99 and skip the toll or using the tunnel whenever at all possible.  I still feel ripped off by this whole debacle.   I also don’t think the tunnel will be safe – but I don’t really have any basis for that other than it was built by a bunch of clowns.

    Seattle Tunnel Partners are the same group that did the “Big Dig” in Boston – that tunnel is leaking, has collapsed in places, has parts popping off of it – that’s what we ordered up for Seattle – a bigger, more untested, version of the same; built by the same people no less.

    They successfully sued Boston for $80M more as well – so get ready for Tutor Perini and Dragados to sue for more of your money.  $223M over budget as of now and they haven’t started building the deck yet.

    “In the end, the judge said Massachusetts and its taxpayers were
    responsible for those cost overruns, not the Tutor Perini joint venture.”  – sounds familiar – just replace Massachusetts with Washington.

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