(EDITOR’S NOTE: Even if you agree with the advocacy group that has declared the Highway 99 tunnel a “boondoggle,” nine months after its boring machine stalled, you might be interested in a look at what’s already been done and what’s continuing to progress even before the upcoming repairs. WSDOT invited media to tour the site Thursday, and photojournalist Christopher Boffoli went on behalf of WSB. Here are his photos and narrative of how it went.
Photos, video, and story by Christopher Boffoli
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The meeting point for our tour was an entrance at the end of South King Street just under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After being issued safety clothes (hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, and reflective vests) we were greeted by Chris Dixon, Project Manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners, who led our group of about 7 or 8 journalists over to one of the engineering and orientation trailers.
This was a small meeting room with a lot of colorful schematics and cross-section geologic diagrams on the walls:
Dixon explained that – while the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) is idle – work is advancing at both the north end of the site (where a cut and cover tunnel is being prepared in the area where the TBM will eventually emerge) and the south end of the site, near the stadiums, where the future roadways are being prepared.
There is also a great deal of activity inside the existing tunnel itself. On a whiteboard Dixon drew a cross-section of the tunnel and explained how crews are busy installing structures called corbels along the tunnel floor:
These concrete structures are essentially footings that will bear the weight of the straight interior tunnel walls and the concrete road decks (southbound traffic above and northbound traffic below) that vehicles will drive over.
He said that by the time the TBM resumes its digging, they expect to have 450 feet of the tunnel’s interior complete. Dixon said that this work was originally set to happen later but that they have reconfigured the schedule while work is underway to repair the TBM.
We were joined by Matt Preedy, Deputy Program Administrator, WSDOT (and a West Seattle resident).
All of the journalists were issued numbered brass tags which were recorded on a ledger and that we pinned to our vests. As we left the engineering trailer and entered the site, there were a number of large boards with numbered dots painted on them. Dixon and Preedy went to the boards and attached their own brass tags to them.
They didn’t take the time to explain, but those ‘pit tags’ (also called check tags) are a system employed for hundreds of years to keep track of who is working inside a mine, or in this case, a tunnel. One of the first things we saw (at ground level) were piles of curved, pre-cast concrete panels that are arranged in place behind the TBM.
Bolted together into rings, they form the very strong, outer tunnel walls. Their tight-fitting gaskets are designed to keep ground water at bay.
There are ten panels in each ring and there are to be 1,450 rings in the complete tunnel.
We walked out over a concrete gantry from which we could look down on the launch pit below. To the south were the almost completed roadways that someday would carry traffic in and out of the SR-99 tunnel:
Turning around, we could see the entirety of the launch pit and the tunnel entrance at the end of it.
We descended about eight flights of steep, metal stairs to the floor of the site.
Behind us (to the south) was a completed section of cut-and-cover tunnel, with its neat, square walls, unlike the circular structure of the bored tunnel that we were about to tour.
Construction material (mostly rebar) was everywhere:
Along the sides of the pit, workers were busy covering the walls with Spray-Crete, a light, liquid form of cement.
To our right we could see the below-ground part of what we were told would become the South Operation Building. Water also seemed to be ubiquitous, seeping in all over the walls of the site.
Dixon said that, though some of it might be from nearby Elliott Bay, most of it was fresh groundwater.
We descended a ladder to an even lower section of the launch pit, level with the bottom of the tunnel.
Walking inside the tunnel at last, we could see large red concrete forms and workers installing structural re-bar along the bottom sides of the tunnel.
This is the corbel work we were told about.
Beyond the equipment and activity near the entrance of the tunnel, it was only when you walked a bit further into the tunnel that could you appreciate the impressive size of the space.
It was here that you could also appreciate the intricate puzzle of curved concrete panels.
Overhead was a large yellow ventilation shaft that brings fresh air into the deepest part of the tunnel and that can be reversed in an emergency to pull smoke from a fire out of the tunnel. Also above was part of the long conveyor belt on which tailings and slurry are removed to awaiting barges. Dixon explained that, as the TBM advances, sections of conveyor belt are added.
By the end of the project, the belt will be as long as the tunnel itself.
Outside in the open pit we had seen piles of coiled belt sections waiting to be installed in the future.
The first part of the TBM you see is the white-painted, rear superstructure of the
300 foot long trailing section.
Massive wheels support the entire machine, which includes all of the systems of wires and pipes for power and to pump chemicals and grout towards the face of the TBM. As you move forward, you encounter the system that receives the curved panel sections, picks them up, orients them to the proper position and location for installation when they are needed.
Moving forward still, you approach the section of the TBM that is behind the cutting face.
Everything there seems covered with some form of water or mud. There are hazards to footing and low clearances, making it a challenge to decide if you should watch your head or where you step. Everything was lit with fluorescent tubes, giving it a bright – if slightly green – cast. As we arrived to the most recently-installed ring of curved concrete sections, at the very bottom, Dixon and Preedy showed us the enormous pistons that the TBM uses to push against the edge of the course of concrete rings to advance itself forward.
As politicized as the bored tunnel has been and continues to be in Seattle, I must say that standing in the bowels of the machine, it is difficult not to be in awe of the scale and size of the complex machinery, the intricate tapestry of conduits, hoses, pistons, motors, fittings and beams – the sheer audacity of the technology involved in pushing through the earth blindly at 100 feet below sea level.
It is a level of technological complexity that I have only before seen when watching a Ridley Scott film set inside of a spaceship. It did not seem like a place that a group of human beings should be standing. And it was even more incomprehensible that people had designed and built it.
We climbed narrow staircases through a maze of passageways to see where the muddy tailings from the cutting face begin their journey out of the tunnel.
On another level we visited the control room with the screens and consoles from which workers can manage and monitor all aspects of the TBM when it is in operation.
Dixon explained that the numbers we saw on the primary displays indicated just over two bars of pressure (regular atmospheric pressure is one bar; most commercial espresso makers operate at 10-15 bars of pressure). Even though the TBM was not running he said that the instruments generally don’t read much more than that. He added that – when in operation – the cutting face of the TBM isn’t even all that loud, though Preedy added that all of the motors that power the conveyor belts for the removal of tailings do make the back of the machine very noisy.
Though the TBM was idle, Dixon said that workers are kept busy “exercising” and maintaining many of the parts of the machine that might atrophy or otherwise fall into disrepair if left sitting for a long time. It wasn’t uncomfortably warm inside the heart of the machine, though Dixon said that when the TBM is in operation it does get quite hot down there as the heat of friction is transferred through the cutting face to the surrounding spaces. Heat played into what went wrong, and what’s being fixed, he explained:
Adjacent to the control room – still inside the heart of the TBM structure – was a break room that, with coffee maker, microwave oven, long lunch tables, etc. would look at home in any factory. It was hard to believe it was at the center of an incredibly complex machine deep underground.
Nearby we saw a collection of cutting heads, each weighing 1500 pounds, that could be attached to an overhead rail for transport to the front of the cutting face for replacement. Various cutting heads are used, depending on the soil conditions.
The “rippers” we saw are best suited for the type of loose glacial soils that are expected in this section of the project.
At the very front of the TBM we could see the large blue motors that individually power each of the cutting heads.
On the same level we could see the central drive shaft, painted light green. And to the sides were large pressure vessels through which men and equipment could safely transition to the pressurized area on the other side of the cutting face, if needed.
With our tour complete we walked back through the various stairways and passages, back down to the tunnel floor at the rear of the TBM’s trailing gear, and out the way we came.
The palms of my light-colored gloves – which had honestly seemed like overkill at the start of the tour – had somehow become darkened.
After we had climbed the fairly treacherous ladders and countless treads of metal stairways, we were led back to the engineering and orientation trailers where, one by one, we turned in our numbered brass tags and were signed out of the ledger.
What happens next in the repair process? Here’s the latest update on the project website. For more on the project’s status, here’s what our partners at The Seattle Times published post-tour.
Just in case you’re not sure: The Alaskan Way Viaduct will be open tomorrow. Highway 99 north of there won’t.August 24, 2014 at 9:49 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 6 Comments
With some simply describing the Highway 99 work as a “4-day closure,” here’s a reminder: For the part most used by West Seattleites, it’s not. The Alaskan Way Viaduct WILL reopen by 5 am Monday, WSDOT says (as will 99 between the AWV and West Seattle Bridge). What will NOT be open (yet) is Highway 99 north of The Viaduct – from the Battery St. Tunnel north to Valley Street on Lower Queen Anne, as shown here:
That section is supposed to remain closed for bridge work until early Wednesday. Though The Viaduct will be open again, it’s still wise to avoid it if you can, since anyone still on 99 past Seneca will have to exit at Western, and that’s likely to back things up. South of there, state crews spent the weekend closure replacing concrete panels; WSDOT’s latest update says, “The final concrete has been poured on these new panels and will cure overnight. Drivers should experience a smoother ride in SODO during Monday morning’s commute.” We’ll be monitoring morning traffic here as usual, with live cameras in our daily update as well as on the WSB Traffic page.
Before we get to this weekend’s big Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct closure (which continues north of the Viaduct for two days beyond that, WSDOT has announced some nighttime lane closures this week for prep work, starting tonight. Here’s the alert:
Drivers who use State Route 99 through Seattle’s SODO district should plan ahead for possible nighttime delays this week.
Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation will close up to two lanes in both directions between Spokane and Atlantic streets nightly for pavement rehabilitation work.
The southbound lanes will begin closing at 9 p.m., and the northbound lanes will begin closing at 10 p.m. All lanes will be open by 5 a.m.
In addition to the weeknight closures, the eastbound West Seattle Bridge off-ramp to northbound SR 99 will close from 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21 until 5 a.m. Friday, Aug. 22.
The work will help prepare the roadway for the upcoming weekend closure of SR 99 in which 81 damaged concrete panels will either be repaired or replaced. The $10.08 million project on the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will extend the life of SR 99 and provide a smoother, safer ride for drivers.
While everything is status quo with the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99 north of the West Seattle Bridge THIS weekend, WSDOT reminds you that won’t be case by this time NEXT weekend. The map above shows the planned closure – for various reasons you can read about here – starting 10 pm next Friday night, August 22, with the exception of two access points for traffic exiting the Seahawks game until midnight. By Monday morning, August 25th, the WS Bridge-to-Battery St. Tunnel section should reopen, but the tunnel-to-Valley St. section will stay closed two more days:
Again, that all starts NEXT Friday night. And we’ll be reminding you daily in our regular WSB traffic coverage between now and then.
In June, we reported on WSDOT’s plan to close part of Highway 99 (including the Alaskan Way Viaduct) in late August for repair work. Today, new details are out – see them here – since WSDOT has locked in more details. Key points: 99 will be closed both ways from the West Seattle Bridge to Valley Street from late Friday night, August 22nd, until early Monday morning, August 25th; the section from the WS Bridge to the Battery Street Tunnel will reopen then, but the stretch north to Valley will remain closed until Wednesday, August 27th.
P.S. If you have questions about ongoing Highway 99 work, including (or not) the tunnel, WSDOT has a booth here at West Seattle Summer Fest, all weekend long.
ORIGINAL TUESDAY REPORT: New information today about a full Alaskan Way Viaduct closure coming up later this summer. It was mentioned – without a date – when WSDOT‘s Secretary Lynn Peterson and Todd Trepanier spoke to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition earlier this month (WSB coverage here); Trepanier talked about keeping The Viaduct in good shape for its remaining years of usage, and noted a repair closure was ahead. Then this past weekend, chatting at the Morgan Junction Community Festival, Pete Spalding, a West Seattleite on the “stakeholders’ group” that WSDOT convenes quarterly, told us the group had just been given a specific date. We have now confirmed it via WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn:
WSDOT will be replacing or repairing 81 concrete panels on SR 99 between Forest and Holgate during the weekend of August 23. These panels are aging and as a result are cracked, potholed, and some have failed and need to be completely replaced.
The panel work and additional work needed on the North Access portion of the tunnel project will require a closure of SR 99 in both directions from the West Seattle Bridge to Valley Street, just north of the Battery Street Tunnel. We will have more specific details when the work plan is finalized, but your readers should note that SR 99 will be closed from the bridge to the tunnel on the weekend of August 23.
That day is a Saturday; the yet-to-come details, of course, will include specific start and end times. More details about the repair project are here.
ADDED WEDNESDAY MORNING: As a postscript, an update from WSDOT with a few more details, including plans for the north portion of the closure to extend past the weekend:
WSDOT will be replacing concrete panels on SR 99 in SODO and rebuilding SR 99 where it crosses Broad Street north of the Battery Street Tunnel. To complete this work, crews will close SR 99 in both directions between South Spokane Street and Valley Street the weekend of Aug. 23 and 24. Work on SR 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel will continue on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 25 and 26. We are still finalizing the timing and location of this closure and will share information with the public as soon as we have it.
4:03 PM: Thanks to West Seattle Hipster for the tip – confirmed via WSDOT tweet – Northbound 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct has reopened between here and the Western Avenue offramp. But it’s still closed from Battery St. to Valley St., so if you’re heading beyond Belltown (etc.), you’ll still have to detour.
7:08 PM: 99 is fully open, says WSDOT.
Just last week at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s monthly meeting (WSB coverage here), top WSDOT executives answered a few questions about the stalled tunnel machine and its pending repairs. Today, the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is out with its official repair plan, and animation (above) showing what’ll happen during its phases. According to the timeline toward the end of the plan, they’re still expecting to resume tunneling in late March of next year.
Viaduct closures, tunnel travails, and more: State transportation boss Lynn Peterson @ West Seattle Transportation CoalitionJune 11, 2014 at 12:33 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 14 Comments
(WSB video of the entire WSTC appearance by WSDOT’s Secretary Lynn Peterson and Todd Trepanier)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition usually has something topical to discuss at its monthly meetings, with no shortage of transportation-related challenges lately.
For example, last night, the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct had been closed for five hours because of a crash investigation when the WSTC meeting began. Coincidentally, the long-scheduled guest was the woman in charge of the Viaduct and other state highways – Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.
In her second year on the job, she offered lots of background information and big-picture observations, but the discussion invariably turned its most intense focus on the Viaduct Replacement Project and the present/future of the stalled tunneling work. In Q&A, she also addressed other topics such as whether any Fauntleroy-bound ferries would be diverted downtown, since much of the vehicle traffic heads that way anyway.
9 AM: For all the talk about the stuck Highway 99 tunnel machine, we’ve had a tough time visualizing exactly where it is. A new set of a dozen renderings made public by the state has fixed that. It’s part of a new online update from WSDOT; at the lower right of the rendering shown above, that’s Pier 50, where the West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxis dock downtown. Work has begun underground on the 120-foot-deep “access pit,” according to the WSDOT update – scroll through the renderings to see how that is supposed to unfold. The WSDOT update also points to an added webcam showing the work zone on the surface (top right of this page). Bottom line, though, no change in the timeline, which still projects that tunneling will resume in/by “late March 2015.”
12:23 PM: We followed up with WSDOT regarding some questions that came up in comments. Spokesperson Laura Newborn says the utility-relocation cost is part of the repair work and: “The cost associated with the entire fix, is, in WSDOT’s opinion, STP’s responsibility. Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities have done a remarkable job in helping us relocate these utilities, which should be wrapped up by next week.”
In case you haven’t heard – there’s new timetable for getting the Highway 99 tunnel going again. Digging is expected to resume in “late March 2015,” according to the latest update from WSDOT’s contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners. That would be 15 months after the tunnel machine’s December 2013 stall. At one point, the tunnel was supposed to open by the end of 2015. The state says 2016 might still be possible.
Though it’s a state project, Mayor Ed Murray brought up the Highway 99 tunnel trouble during his keynote speech at the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce awards breakfast today (full story, with video, in the works). “Bertha is broken,” he noted, and said that if he had to make a guess, he’d say the tunneling won’t resume for at least 9 months. Later in the day, WSDOT published an update on the preparations for tunneling-machine repairs, including:
Drivers on SR 99 in Seattle will soon see a noise-blocking wall rise out of the ground near the spot where crews will dig a pit to reach and repair Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. The double-plywood wall, which will be as tall as the lower deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is designed to shield neighbors from construction noise associated with the repairs. It will stretch along the west side of the viaduct between South Jackson and South Main streets. Construction of the wall should take about two weeks.
WSDOT also published some conceptual renderings of what’s in the works; see them here. The tunnel contractor, says the state, is still finalizing the repair plan.
(“Live” cam at south end of remaining elevated AWV, from the WSB Traffic page)
The Alaskan Way Viaduct “follow-up inspection” is over and Highway 99 is open again, WSDOT has confirmed. From its announcement:
… During today’s inspection, WSDOT engineers took a closer look of areas previously covered in ivy on the 60-year-old highway and installed monitoring devices to gather data over several weeks.
Next steps: Late-night drivers could see some single-lane closures in coming weeks, while repair crews fill cracks with epoxy.
It will take months for engineers to analyze the information from the newly installed monitoring devices, which could shed more light on the cause of the cracking along the elevated highway and if a more robust fix is needed.
P.S. The SDOT Blog website featured some interesting background this week on AWV traffic volume and why the numbers seem to have changed recently.
Two traffic updates, both about Highway 99 closures: First, WSDOT‘s Kris Olsen tells WSB there will be NO 99 closure tonight – the next one is tentatively scheduled for 9 pm Wednesday night-5 am Thursday, East Marginal to Atlantic for Spokane St. Overcrossing re-striping/realignment. Also, WSDOT’s Laura Newborn confirms that the time frame for Saturday’s Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection-followup closure is 4:30 am-7 pm.
Washington State Department of Transportation bridge engineers have scheduled an additional in-depth inspection of the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct on Saturday, March 22.
During the viaduct’s most recent inspection on March 1, engineers observed new cracks, as well as movement and widening of existing cracks along girders and supports near Spring and Seneca streets. While the viaduct remains safe for travel, engineers need a second inspection to gather more information about the cracks before they can make repairs. The inspection requires a one-day closure that will take place Saturday, March 22. Details of the closure will be available soon.
During the March 22 inspection, engineers will conduct an in-depth evaluation of the area, perform tests to determine how the cracks respond to heavy loads on the viaduct, and look for other issues. They will also install monitoring devices on the columns to track the movement and growth of the cracks over time. They will use this data to help identify potential repairs. If additional work is needed, such as filling the cracks with epoxy, further closures will be required.
This section of the viaduct is more than a half-mile north of the current location of the SR 99 tunneling machine. While the cause of these cracks is still to be determined, it is not related to tunneling activity.
No other significant changes to the viaduct were observed during the March 1 inspection. …
Inspection work on Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel is done for the weekend, so that stretch will NOT close again on Sunday. We just confirmed that with WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn. However, until about noon Sunday, 99 will remain closed north of the tunnel – until 6 am, to Valley Street for construction work, and then for the rest of the morning, to the Woodland Park Zoo area for the Hot Chocolate 15/5K.
(More cams, and other info, on the WSB Traffic Cameras page)
The orange sign in that “live” view of the eastbound West Seattle Bridge is a reminder that until 6 pm, Highway 99 is closed both ways from here to Valley Street. At 6 pm, the stretch between the bridge and the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel reopens, but the closure zone north of that continues; at 6 am tomorrow, the bridge-to-Battery-St. section closes again until 6 pm Sunday, and in the middle of that, the Sunday morning closure extends to Woodland Park Zoo because of the Hot Chocolate 5K. Got all that? It’s all explained here. Metro reroutes can be found here. During all this, the viaduct gets its twice-yearly inspection, and the results will be out later in the week.
(More cams, and other info, on the WSB Traffic Cameras page)
Good morning! One note for the Friday morning commute – a crash investigation on 4th Avenue S. at Bennett in Georgetown (map); our friends at KING 5 say the closure is between Dawson and Lucile. Otherwise, one major weekend reminder:
HIGHWAY 99/ALASKAN WAY VIADUCT WEEKEND CLOSURES: Saturday and Sunday, 6 am-6 pm both days, the twice-yearly inspection will close Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct between the West Seattle Bridge and Battery Street Tunnel. But if you drive 99 north of there, you need to know that both directions will be closed from the tunnel north to Valley Street from 10 pm tonight to 6 am Sunday for more work – and then from 6 am to 11 am Sunday, the closure will stretch further north for a 5K run. WSDOT explains it all here. For Metro reroutes resulting from the closure – go here.
9:06 AM: From the scanner – stalled/broken-down vehicle blocking the bus lane and part of another lane on northbound 99 at Lander.
10:26 AM: And now from the scanner, a stalled vehicle blocking at least one lane on the eastbound West Seattle Bridge near/at the Delridge onramp. Also, Debora mentions a stall on the northbound Viaduct’s right lane in the stadiums, causing a backup; not sure if that’s the same one we mentioned at 9:06 am, but you are now forewarned, if you’re heading that way any time soon.
(TUESDAY UPDATE: SDOT has added more details to its rundown of what’s happening)
Next weekend’s Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99 closure – NOT related to the tunnel trouble, just the semi-annual inspection closure – is NOT the basic “entire stretch from Battery Street Tunnel to West Seattle Bridge closed from late Friday to early Monday” scenario. Here’s how next weekend will break down, according to WSDOT:
Friday, Feb. 28 – Sunday, March 2
Both directions of SR 99 will be closed between Valley Street and the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel from 10 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.
Both directions of SR 99 will be closed between Valley Street and South Spokane Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Both directions of SR 99 will be closed between Valley Street and the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel from 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday.
Both directions of SR 99 will be closed between North 48th Street and South Spokane Street from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday.
Both directions of SR 99 will be closed between Denny Way and South Spokane Street from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
If you like planning ahead – note that the next full-weekend Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closure is on the schedule, though not formally announced yet: According to the Construction Lookahead page jointly published by SDOT and WSDOT, it’s two weeks away – late Friday night February 28th, through early Monday morning March 3rd. Again, this is the regular twice-yearly inspection closure, not related to the tunnel construction.
If you’re following the saga of the Highway 99 tunnel-machine trouble – another update this afternoon, including word it’s likely that a dig from the surface will be needed so the machine can be fixed from its front end:
Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) informed WSDOT today that they expect to receive a plan on potential repairs to the SR 99 tunneling machine from the machine’s manufacturer Hitachi Zosen by the end of this month. This will include a schedule for how long the repair work would take. Earlier this week, STP told us the plan may be completed by the end of the week, but said today more time is needed for the Hitachi to prepare it.
It appears likely that repairs will be made by digging a shaft from the surface so the machine can be entered from the front. Entering the back of the machine would require removal of more equipment and likely take longer. STP will begin work next week on the design of the shaft so if that option is selected, some of the necessary work will already be underway.
This past Monday, as reported here and elsewhere, we got first word it will be “months” before tunneling can resume. The tunnel originally was expected to open by the end of 2015, with Viaduct demolition following its opening; no schedule revision’s been announced yet.
(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.
Another notable update this morning from WSDOT regarding the Highway 99 tunneling machine: It did go a few more feet this week – and then “above-normal temperature readings in part of the machinery” led to a decision to stop it, again. So now what? Says the update: “Over the next week, outside tunneling experts brought in by WSDOT will meet with the WSDOT and STP project teams to review the situation and determine the best path forward.”
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.
While WSDOT and its contractor deal with the issue of why the Highway 99 tunnel machine is stalled and how to get it unstalled – another matter is moving forward: Deciding how the tunnel will be tolled. The committee working on the issue met Tuesday afternoon, somewhat overshadowed by a major transportation announcement made elsewhere, so we followed up today.
The materials from the meeting are now available online. A final recommendation won’t be voted on until next month’s committee meeting, but right now, this slide deck and this text document lay out the case for this potential draft recommendation: $1 midday, overnight and weekends; $1.25 during peak periods, 6-9 am and 3-6 pm weekdays. To reduce “diversion,” they’re also looking at dropping it to 75 cents in the off-peak daytime hours, with a possible one-hour extension to weekday pm peak.
This would raise $1 billion over 30 years. Here’s how that might break out:
The committee is described as concerned with the cost of collecting the tolls – fully a third of what they bring in. And it’s looking at other ways to discourage diversion, including recommending studies of “regional tolling.” This may still evolve between now and next month’s meeting, February 19th.
(Photos courtesy WSDOT, shared via Flickr)
That’s one of three photos WSDOT shared late today along with an update on what’s being done to figure out how to get “Bertha,” the Highway 99 tunnel machine, going again, one month after it got stuck. The update says the steel and boulder are some of the items that passed through Bertha and onto its conveyor belt before it stopped moving forward in early December; this section of pipe was removed, too. They still aren’t sure the widely reported pipe is the whole problem. So they’re drilling to continue investigating, as you might have noticed to the west what’s left of the Alaskan Way Viaduct:
Read the entire update here. What this will cost in terms of time and money has not yet been determined, since they say they don’t know yet what it’ll take to get tunneling back on track, but KIRO TV quotes the state Transportation Director as suggesting the tunnel contractor could be held responsible for not clearing the way first.
While WSDOT says they’re not saying this is the only thing that stopped the tunnel-boring machine four weeks ago – they’ve gone public this afternoon with a discovery. No, not a huge boulder, or train car, or UFO, or whatever your favorite guess might have been. According to this brand-new update, they have found a pipe that was submerged by WSDOT itself more than a decade ago. From the update:
On Jan. 2, the water pressure was low enough and enough soil was removed from the excavation chamber to inspect the top 15 feet of the chamber.
This inspection showed an 8-inch-diameter steel pipe protruding through one of the many openings in the cutterhead. We believe the steel pipe is a well casing installed by WSDOT in 2002 after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake to better understand how groundwater flows through this area. The location of this pipe was included in reference materials in the contract.
We also believe at least some of the obstructions found by the exploratory holes are pieces of the 2002 steel pipe, which could be a contributing factor in the delay of boring.
So while the tunneling contractor and WSDOT are taking pains to say this might not be the ENTIRE problem, they are also figuring out now how to remove that pipe for starters. As the full update says, they don’t know yet what this means to the schedule, which had projected tunnel completion by the end of 2015 and Alaskan Way Viaduct teardown starting after the tunnel opened.
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