By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If all goes well, the Highway 99 tunnel will open in January 2019 – after three weeks with no Alaskan Way Viaduct, and no tunnel.
That’s what Joe Hedges, the West Seattle resident who currently runs the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program for WSDOT, told the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce at its monthly lunch meeting today.
His presentation was introduced by Pete Spalding, the Chamber’s government-affairs committee chair, who also has long served as a member of the Viaduct/Tunnel project working group advisory committee.
Hedges called it a “wonderful treat” to be able to “come home” for the presentation. He’s been running the project for more than a year.
The “most important lesson learned” – “This Viaduct Replacement Program is a couple decades old, and the contribution to it involves a couple thousand people … what’s important is that (all that) is going to transform Seattle for the next couple centuries.”
He didn’t bring a slide deck, saying he just wanted to “catch you up, tell you where we’re at, where we’re going.” Right now: “Out of 32 projects that comprise the program, and $3.4 billion, we’re about 85 percent complete …”
Hedges continued: “… The latest project to finish up was the Dearborn northbound offramp – important because that’s the next-generation bridge. It’s a bridge not just designed to stay standing and safe in an earthquake, but to survive an earthquake. … This is a prototype that will survive and endure … using titanium rebar and some flexible new concrete.”
On to The Viaduct: People are still asking him why it has to come down, and he says he has great memories, of the iconic ride (downtown) – “But here’s the dilemma: It’s going to come down. And we get to choose how it’s going to come down. The plan right now is to take it down, but not just to replace it with the tunnel, but with surface streets and a whole bunch of other stuff … to improve the mobility of Seattle.”
About the tunnel: $1.4 billion, one of the “five top projects in the nation” in civil works, right now. In the tunnel world, it was like “going to the moon … everything in the tunnel is gigantic. Sixty feet in diameter, five stories high. 1436 rings, 10 segments per ring, each segment … weighs nearly 20 tons. Nothing is small. The amount of material removed from the tunnel would fill up the Seahawks’ stadium.”
He recalled the breakthrough event in April – “a tunnel this diameter has never been bored in soft earth before. At breakthrough, our risk profile went (down) – happy day!” What’s left to do: “In this tunnel, we’re building a box -” the roads, emergency exit corridors, utility corridors, ventilation. “Big.” 1.41 billion cubic feet of air per minute can get out of the tunnel.
The northbound lanes – upper deck – is 2/3 of the way done. While the tunneling was happening, construction was happening behind the machine. “Right now, things are going very, very smoothly with the roadway.”
The tunneling machine’s “reward” for finishing the job, he quipped: “Dissection.” And he went into even more detail about how the machine’s being taken apart to be trucked away: “Huge, mammoth task. … It’s hard to describe the demo that’s happening there.”
Most of the heavy steel “will be sold for salvage,” he said – recycling – and added that part of the cutterhead was saved by the Port of Seattle, likely to be “adapted into a monument.”
Extraction is “on a critical path,” he said, to keep things from getting clogged. “What’s in there right now is not the roadway on the lower deck.” They need to take steps including accessing the lower side from the north and closing the “cut and cover” pieces on each end of the deep-bore tunnel. “They need to (be closed) so we can finish off the mechanical and plumbing.”
You didn’t hear much while the machine was tunneling beneath the city, he noted. Seattle Tunnel Partners was “so successful” at controlling how it moved, with very little divergence. “Seattle set the new gold standard for tunneling.” He says interest in tunneling is increasing nationwide, to get people around underground.
He just met with the mayor and city this morning to talk about demolition of the viaduct.
Three weeks or so of permanent Viaduct closure – no tunnel, no Viaduct – they literally “have to rearrange the ends of Aurora – think Water Taxi, like I am.”
The date’s not final yet but: “We’re planning for the tunnel to open sometime in January 2019.”
Some of the preparations will include commissioning – making sure everything related to the tunnel works – “more than 6,000 data points” – a “big, huge job.”
“My optimal would be, tunnel open on a Friday, first demolition of the Viaduct starts on Monday … We have to get rid of the Viaduct to turn that over to the city to (start building) the new surface streets.”
Q and A ensued. Spalding asked about the three-week closure. “So it sounds like that’s going to be during the holidays of 2018?”
Hedges said that’s not certain yet – “I have a bunch of people working on this right now, as to when this date could be.” He hopes it will be before the holidays, though “there’s no perfect time to do this.” And he hopes the Viaduct demolition would be over by summer.
Next question: How much advance notice will people get, once that date is set?
“Lots,” he promised, noting again that he’s a West Seattle resident.
Hedges said they’ll use the same sort of system (Good To Go) that is used now for the Highway 520 bridge, Tacoma Narrows, etc. As for the rate – still a challenge because they’re concerned about diversion – the higher the toll, the more people will look for non-charging alternatives. But he thinks diversion won’t be as much of a problem as some say, because “people just want to get through.” (Who sets the toll? The state Transportation Commission.) Asked what he thinks it will be – “one dollar or a hundred dollars?” – he says he thinks it’ll be “north of a dollar.”
And: Will there be a chance for the public to walk on The Viaduct one last time before it’s demolished? And will part of it be preserved?
To the latter – no. “All of The Viaduct has to come down.” Among other reasons: “It’s in the way.” He joked that he’ll be happy to give anyone a piece of it who wants one. He does anticipate “a huge celebration” when they get ready to open the tunnel and say goodbye to The Viaduct. “Come, explore with your families, what was the old, what’s the new.”
What happens to the Battery Street Tunnel? “Two things … backfill it, or turn it over to the city.” The Environmental Impact Statement for the project binds them to demolish The Viaduct and decommission the Battery Street Tunnel, so they’re looking at how to fulfill that. The decision will be made before the end of this year – “if the city’s going to keep it, the question is what they’ll use it for.”
CHAMBER EVENTS: The Chamber is sponsoring a mayoral forum on July 20th at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and is organizing a forum on homelessness for the fall.
ALSO AT THE CHAMBER LUNCH: WestSide Baby is hoping to collect 300,000 disposable diapers during this year’s Stuff the Bus campaign, important because a big delivery they’re expecting is running late. They’ll have a Stuff the Bus bash at WestSide Baby HQ on July 23rd and all are invited … Local RE/MAX agent Linda Cox updated local trends at the start of the meeting – she warns people to be wary of those letters that are sent, unsolicited, by people who offer to buy your home. You will almost certainly be able to get more on the open market, Cox said. “We are seeing an incredible interest in our properties here” – one recently sold for $205,000 more than the list price. She also advises that prospective sellers/buyers check on the credentials of whomever you deal with … Chamber board president Paul Prentice says WSCofC is surveying businesses in neighborhoods around the peninsula to find out more about their needs. … The Whittaker (WSB sponsor) has fully leased its south tower and is now pre-leasing its north tower … Quail Park Memory Care (also a WSB sponsor) is expecting to move people in around the end of October.