(Added: Image from webcam over tunnel-machine access pit tonight)
No hint of this just two days earlier, when WSDOT released a video update on the Highway 99 tunnel-machine repairs, hours before its quarterly stakeholders meeting, but, late today, the state sent out a very different update, saying it’s suing its contractor:
WSDOT is committed to working with Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) to complete the SR 99 Tunnel Project.
We are also committed to protecting taxpayers.
Today, WSDOT filed a lawsuit against STP in King County Superior Court. This filing was prompted by recent court filings by STP and their insurance companies. Filing this lawsuit ensures WSDOT will have a right to make legal claims in the future. This lawsuit does not prevent STP from pursuing claims under the terms of the design-build contract.
Taking action to preserve WSDOT’s rights in court was a necessary step. Our focus remains on completing the project, and removing the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct. We intend to ask for a stay of WSDOT’s lawsuit until the project is completed and asked STP to join us in this request.
This delay in the lawsuit will allow for work on the SR 99 Tunnel Project to be completed before litigation takes place.
The intent of today’s action is simple: protect the interests of Washington taxpayers.
There will be no further statements on this legal matter.
While WSDOT provided the case number – 15-2-24943-6 – we checked the online files, and no documents are available there yet, just “Case Title: Washington State Department of Transportation vs Seattle Tunnel Partners” on the page. We’ll keep checking.
This follows news earlier this week, first reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal, that WSDOT has told insurers it expects costs to rise more than $78 million because of the tunnel-machine trouble. That in turn came out as part of another lawsuit, one filed in New York state by insurers against STP, which says it’s hoping to get the machine going again in November, almost two years after its underground breakdown.
From today’s quarterly meeting of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Stakeholders meeting:
The dates are set for this year’s semiannual AWV inspection closure – scheduled for Halloween weekend, 6 am-6 pm on Saturday, October 31st, and again on Sunday, November 1st. The Viaduct will be closed both ways between the West Seattle Bridge and Battery Street Tunnel. WSDOT said at this afternoon’s meeting that besides the inspection, they’ll do some maintenance as usual – in particular, fire-suppression systems in the BSTunnel need some work.
Also at the meeting, WSDOT played the video that we featured here earlier in the day, showing what’s been happening with the tunneling machine as work continues to get it ready to start tunneling again later this year. The Viaduct closure that’s expected when the machine goes beneath the structure could last up to two weeks. Assuming everything goes as currently projected, the machine will stop in a long-planned “safe zone” just outside the edge of the structure, so it can get a checkup to see how it’s doing after what would be the first few weeks of digging.
If you’ve wondered what’s happened in the six weeks since the repaired cutterhead was lowered back into the Highway 99 tunneling machine’s “access pit” – and what’s left to do before Seattle Tunnel Partners turns it back on again – that video should answer your questions. It’s provided by WSDOT and narrated by STP’s Chris Dixon, who’s in charge of the project. We’re also expecting to hear a status report at the quarterly Highway 99 stakeholders’ meeting later today. (And yes, according to a recent city doc, transportation officials are still expecting to close the Alaskan Way Viaduct for about a week and a half while the tunnel machine passes directly beneath it. No way to know when that’ll be until the machine again gets going, and stays going – it’s currently “forecast” for February.)
VIDEO: See how the Highway 99 tunneling machine’s lift-and-lower operation went down, and what happens nextAugust 27, 2015 at 12:20 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 1 Comment
That one-minute video shows you how the Highway 99 tunneling machine’s repaired front end was lowered into the pit where the rest of the machine awaited. WSDOT just made it public along with this update on what’s happened since then, and what’s next:
Seattle Tunnel Partners has reconnected the SR 99 tunneling machine’s 2,000-ton front end to the section that remained in the access pit during repairs. With the two sections of the machine now bolted together, crews from Mammoet have unhooked the front-end piece from the massive red crane that performed this week’s lift.
Significant work remains for crews tasked with reassembling the machine. Three large pieces of the machine’s outer shield will be lowered into place for reassembly in the coming days, according to STP’s most recent schedule. Crews also must weld the pieces back together, in addition to the lengthy task of reconnecting the hundreds of wires and hoses that are integral to the tunneling operation. STP and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen will conduct a series of tests following reassembly to ensure the machine is ready to resume mining.
WSDOT has said its contractor’s most-recent schedule anticipates that could happen in November.
(The webcam view 24 hours ago, when part of the repaired front end was still visible above the pit’s rim)
Just in from WSDOT:
Seattle Tunnel Partners and crane crews from Mammoet have successfully lowered the 2,000-ton front end of the SR 99 tunneling machine to a platform at the bottom of the access pit.
Crews will now use the crane to fine-tune the position of the piece. When that process is complete, they will begin reconnecting the piece to the portion of the machine that remains in the ground.
The effort to return the tunneling machine’s front end to the 120-foot-deep access pit began early Monday morning. Crews started by vertically lifting the piece, which includes the machine’s cutterhead, motors and the new main bearing assembly. The crane then moved horizontally on its rails to the north. When the piece was above the pit, crews rotated it to a semi-vertical position and lowered it partway into the pit before breaking for the evening. Work resumed early Tuesday morning, with the piece reaching the bottom of the pit Tuesday afternoon.
Three pieces of the machine’s shield that remain at the surface will be lowered and reinstalled in the coming days, according to STP’s latest schedule. After the machine has been reassembled, STP and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen will conduct a series of tests will follow reassembly to ensure the machine is ready to resume mining.
STP has said it hopes to do that in November, by which time it will be almost two years since the machine overheated and was stopped – longer than the tunnel-boring itself is supposed to take.
If you’ve been southbound on the Alaskan Way Viaduct recently, you’ve probably seen the Highway 99 tunneling machine’s repaired/reassembled front end sitting by the “access pit,” as WSDOT’s contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners prepared it to be lowered into the pit for reattachment. This morning, WSDOT says STP has started the process, which could last at least 14 hours:
Contractor crews will use the super crane next to the Alaskan Way Viaduct to:
-Lift Bertha’s repaired cutterhead and cutter drive unit from its surface-level platform
-Move the entire piece horizontally over the access pit
-Rotate it into a vertical position
-Slowly lower the cutterhead and drive unit on to a platform inside the access pit
“Lifting more than 2,000 tons is a long, slow process,” notes WSDOT in its announcement. If you want to check in from time to time, here’s the link to the webcams, whose images update frequently. It’s been five months since the machine’s front end was brought out of the pit to be fixed.
(Late-afternoon screengrab from WSDOT webcam)
Five months after parts of the Highway 99 tunnel machine were lifted out of its “access pit” along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the state says its contractor reports they’re getting close to putting the repaired parts back in. From WSDOT’s update today:
Seattle Tunnel Partners has begun reconnecting the two largest pieces of the SR 99 tunneling machine’s front end. On Saturday, Aug. 15, crane crews from Mammoet lifted the machine’s bearing block into place atop the cutterhead and drive unit. The newly reconnected front end of the machine will remain at the surface while Hitachi Zosen installs its motors. When installation of the motors is complete, Mammoet will lower the 2,000-ton piece back into the pit. … STP’s most recent schedule indicated the lowering of pieces would begin in early August, but some parts had to be remanufactured due to tight tolerances – measured in millimeters – that need to be met as the machine is reassembled. Those new parts have since arrived and been successfully installed. … Once the machine is in the pit, crews will begin the lengthy task of reconnecting wires, hoses and other parts to the portion of the machine that remains in the ground. A series of tests will follow to ensure the machine is ready to resume mining.
So far, WSDOT says, its contractor still “has a plan in place to resume tunneling in late November as scheduled,” but it notes that it “cannot verify the contractor’s schedule.”
(WSDOT-provided photo: Working on machine’s ‘main bearing’)
With a big reminder right in the middle of its announcement – “The state is not able to verify the contractor’s schedule” – WSDOT went public this morning with the newest projected schedule for the resumption of Highway 99 tunneling. It says contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners believes it will be digging again in late November, almost two years after its machine stopped, with a projected opening date of spring 2018. The schedule document made public by WSDOT is dated last month and goes through the tunnel-machine repairs piece by piece; WSDOT’s news release (read it in full here) quotes an STP executive as saying they couldn’t tell how long the repairs would take until they took the machine apart. It also says the cause of the damage discovered after the machine was shut down in December 2013 “has not been determined.” While the repair work continues, so does work on the tunnel’s portals, and WSDOT is showing off south-portal progress to media crews this morning.
5:36 PM: That photo from a Highway 99 project webcam shows a new landmark in progress – two of the four bright-yellow ventilation stacks going up at what will be the “south operations building” for the tunnel. Each one is 40 feet tall, made of 3/8-inch-thick steel, and built in Longview; the other two will be within a day or so, according to WSDOT. The “north operations building” at the other end of the tunnel route will also have a set of stacks like this. Read more about this week’s installation here.
P.S. Still no new schedule for the tunneling machine, so far.
ADDED 6:38 PM: But there will be one soon, WSDOT says tonight: “Today, the Washington State Department of Transportation received a new schedule from Seattle Tunnel Partners, the SR 99 tunnel contractor. We intend to release this schedule information to the public, but first need time for a preliminary review. WSDOT and STP will provide an update on their repair efforts and their schedule sometime next week.”
(WSDOT photo from early June, installing new part for the tunnel machine’s cutterhead)
When will the Highway 99 tunneling machine be ready to resume digging?
(Added Monday – slide deck from stakeholders’ meeting)
WSDOT told its longrunning Highway 99/Viaduct stakeholders group today that it really has no idea – its contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners still hasn’t provided a new schedule for when it thinks the machine will be fixed and ready to go. So technically, they still only have a schedule that says it was expected to get going around August 1st, said Brian Nielsen, the new deputy program administrator (replacing Matt Preedy, who left for a job at Sound Transit). “Clearly they’re a couple months behind” where they would have had to have been to make that timeline, he said, but they haven’t heard from STP and will let the public know when they do. Once they start up, Nielsen said, they consider the session “a test section” with “essentially a new machine” for the first 500 feet or so, until they get to “Safe Haven 3,” where they’d have to stop down before going under the Viaduct.
We were the only news organization at the stakeholders’ meeting, held in a meeting room at Safeco Field, so we took notes on a few other items of general interest – they’re ahead:
(ADDED 12:11 PM: WSDOT slide deck as presented to City Council this morning)
10:35 AM: The damage to the Highway 99 tunneling machine is “more extensive” than expected, but not more extensive than they were expecting to fix. That’s how it was just announced by WSDOT’s Todd Trepanier during the scheduled periodic Highway 99/tunnel project briefing for the City Council. For as long as the briefing continues, we’ve embedded it above (click the “play” button to access the live Seattle Channel stream). Trepanier specifically mentions machine sealing that’s been “stripped away.” Trepanier says Seattle Tunnel Partners hasn’t said what caused it, and doesn’t have to, under terms of the design/build contract, but councilmembers are pressing the point.
10:42 AM: First among them is Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who wants to know the schedule and says he’s nervous every day the Alaskan Way Viaduct stays open. Trepanier says that the contractor has told them they’ll have a revised schedule next month. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen asks if there’s some deadline for this to get going again; Trepanier says they want the contractor to “take the time that (they) need” but adds on followup that the contract does include deadlines with monetary consequences. Those deadline dates are not close, though, Trepanier says. He tries to move along but O’Brien asks again, do they have any idea what went wrong? Trepanier replies no, that’s between the contractor and the machine’s manufacturer. He continues showing images of the damage (no slide deck provided yet). “If everything is going wrong like this right now, how do we know (it’s OK) before it gets back in the ground (and resumes tunneling)?” asks Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.
Next, it’s on to a report about ground settlement in the area. One report has reached the conclusion that the drawdown of an aquifer by the “dewatering” for the access pit caused November’s settlement. But that has stabilized, Trepanier goes on to say. “That type of settlement is no longer going to continue,” they believe. In all, he adds, three reports related to the settlement are out – and they don’t all agree with each other regarding other points. One specific area, he adds, is believed to be an area “where there’s always been a problem” predating the dewatering.
11:03 AM: Trepanier is showing charts with details of which engineering firm says what. This part of the briefing has lasted much longer than the one about the specific damage has been found in the tunnel machine. After a few minutes of details, he recaps that they disagree with the city over what’s to blame for the Pioneer Square water main that needs to be replaced – “it’s always been a problem” in their view, before the tunnel-project dewatering. He also says that they haven’t found noteworthy structural damage in the area. He also says the aquifer related to the dewatering should eventually have a “rebound effect … when the pump shutoff takes place.”
11:21 AM: WSDOT moves on to an update on what other work is being done while the tunnel machine is being fixed. On this side, the South Operations Building is taking shape, he notes. And WSDOT is writing its response to the city’s evaluation of the Viaduct, Trepanier adds.
11:29 AM: Briefing is over. We’re taking down the live-video window; we’re expecting the slide deck from WSDOT in a bit and will add that when it’s available.
11:43 AM: WSDOT has published its own summary, here.
12:11 PM: And now we’ve received the slide deck, and added it atop this story.
(UPDATED 4:41 PM with new post-incident info from SPD)
11:51 AM: The traffic backup on the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct looks more like afternoon commute right now than lunchtime. SPD says it’s because of a lost load – reportedly a “12-foot spool.” SDOT says it’s at Seneca Street and blocking the right lane. WSDOT describes it as “a truck striking the Seneca St. overpass.” More to come.
11:59 AM: Now SDOT says the southbound Viaduct is closed at the Battery Street Tunnel.
12:04 PM: Update from SFD:
— Seattle Fire Dept (@SeattleFire) April 29, 2015
Here’s a picture from the scene. (Added: Alan sent this photo looking southwestward toward the trouble spot, taken in the early going:)
12:16 PM UPDATE: The Columbia Street onramp to 99 remains open, per SDOT. And they’ve just announced they’re opening a lane beyond that.
12:29 PM: Southbound 99 is being closed again from the BSTunnel and Western – but again, access from Columbia Street is *not* affected. WSDOT now says, “Forklifts from the Viaduct project are going to the semi on the SB 99 Viaduct to help secure the large spools of wire.” (Added: Photo sent by Ben:)
750-1,000 lb spool precariously perched on truck on viaduct. Battery tunnel & Elliot will be intermittently closed pic.twitter.com/ZigTOvVj76
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) April 29, 2015
1 PM: They’re still working to clear the situation.
2 spools on the truck. Authorities working to secure them and get everything moving again pic.twitter.com/HEZgYDhC7x
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) April 29, 2015
1:52 PM: SPD says the semitruck driver will be cited. They’re close to clearing the scene.
1:57 PM: Reopened!
2:18 PM: It did not go unnoticed that all this happened one day after a City Council committee was debriefed on the 9-hour fish-truck crash closure – also on SB 99 – last month (here’s our coverage of the debrief). The mayor’s office just tweeted this:
— Ed Murray (@MayorEdMurray) April 29, 2015
We’re adding, above, some additional images that came in during the operation to clear the spools. Thanks to everyone who sent photos!
4:41 PM: Just in via SPD Blotter, including an update on the Viaduct’s structural status and the fine faced by the trucker:
olice received 911 reports at 11:34 AM that a semi-truck had lost a load of two 12-foot spools—each weighing between 700 and 1,000 pounds—on the southbound lanes of the viaduct, near Columbia Street. At least one of the spools struck the underside of the upper level of the viaduct, dislodging the massive load from the truck’s flatbed trailer.
Officers blocked traffic onto the viaduct between the Battery Street Tunnel and Stewart Street while officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation, Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Fire Department and Seattle City Light worked to bring in heavy equipment to remove the spools.
Crews were able to use a bulldozer to re-load and secure the spools back on the semi-truck, which was moved to a construction area. Officials reopened the viaduct shortly before 2 PM. Today’s efforts to clear SR99 were significantly aided by planning and partnerships developed after another incident involving a semi-truck in March, which led to a nine-hour closure of the viaduct.
The Seattle Department of Transportation Commercial Vehicle Enforcement team cited the semi driver for “no oversized permit,” a violation of a state permit, and for “hitting a structure with impaired clearance.” The driver received $482 in citations, and could potentially face fines totaling thousands of dollars to cover the costs of the efforts to remove the spools. Oversized loads are not permitted on the portion of the viaduct where today’s collision occurred.
Officials have confiscated the driver’s commercial transportation permit, which he will need to reapply for before he can transport the load anywhere.
State officials say the spools—which were reportedly headed for Alabama—appear to have only caused minor damage to the viaduct. They will conduct a further assessment later this evening.
(5:12 PM UPDATE: Just added archived video of meeting – briefing starts about 1 hour, 9 minutes in)
10:38 AM: Click the “play” button to watch,
live, as the City Council gets briefed on the Highway 99 tunnel project. Today’s big focus – as previewed in our morning traffic/transportation-news watch – is on how much settling is happening with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and vicinity. The briefing is accompanied by a sheaf of technical information, from the state and the city, which has done its own analysis (and has already issued a news release declaring that the AWV is safe to use). More to come – we’re adding toplines below, as this continues.
*WSDOT project lead Todd Trepanier reiterates that the Viaduct is safe and that if any information indicated it weren’t, they would shut it down ASAP. But, he later says, data underscores that “this structure needs to be replaced.”
*Daily “automatic surveys” are “recording information all the time”
*So what would trigger a declaration of “this is unsafe”? Councilmember Bruce Harrell asked. Trepanier insisted there is no numerical answer to that, no “x” cracks or “x” inches, but that they keep monitoring and if something looks close to a trigger, they fix it. “It’s complex,” he insists. OK, says Councilmember Mike O’Brien, but “what are they comparing it to?” No numerical answer results. Trepanier mentions “demand and capacity.”
*WSDOT briefer Dave Sowers goes through the slide deck we’ve added below. Says that as long as a specific building, specific water line, etc., settles at same overall rate, it’s OK. Discussion also underscores that multiple entities are monitoring multiple points and not always finding exactly the same thing in (nearly the) same place; Sowers says they’re not yet sure why.
*March 28th inspection for which the Viaduct was closed: WSDOT says quarter-to-half inch of settlement at monitoring spots in Seneca Street vicinity, since last October. CM Sally Bagshaw asks why that area, since not near tunnel pit; WSDOT says they haven’t figured it out yet – it’s not the area where they’ve had settling near Seneca in the past. “Bent 76″ (monitoring point) is where some cracks showed movement, they add, and new gauges have been installed. CM O’Brien asks, is the deterioration getting to any certain point such as, the Viaduct could have survived an X quake a month ago but not now? WSDOT’s very technical answer does not hit a certain magnitude but does mention that despite the “large cracks” they believe it would be OK in a “108-year event” quake.
*Water main on Western in Pioneer Square to be replaced ASAP – design 90% done – will take about 8 weeks
*City’s technical analysis (second slide deck below): Bottom line, the city wants another analysis before tunneling resumes, since some parts of the Viaduct have already hit the inch-or-so of settling that it was expected to be able to withstand. They also would like to know what magnitude of quake the Viaduct is expected to be able to handle, currently, and whether more strengthening might be in order. Are we approaching a point at which the Viaduct would have to be closed? Councilmember Tom Rasmussen asks. Not necessarily, says SDOT.
*Here’s the WSDOT presentation:
*Here’s the city’s technical-analysis presentation:
*Here’s the Seattle Public Utilities presentation (including the water-main-replacement plan):
OTHER PROJECT-RELATED POINTS:
*Seattle Tunnel Partners is making progress on machine-repairing project, says WSDOT, but “still too soon” to set or guess at dates for resumption of tunneling. Won’t be the “budget-breaking project” (some have feared), Trepanier says
*No rescheduling yet for the sign-related work that WAS going to shut down 99 lanes north of the Battery Street Tunnel for a while
WSDOT has gone public this morning with a summary of what was found during the twice-yearly inspection that closed the Alaskan Way Viaduct a week ago Saturday. Toplines:
Survey crews measure 1/8 to 1/4 inch of additional settlement near Seneca Street. Some widening of existing cracks noted. Additionally, crews note two new cracks on columns near Yesler Way. New crack gauges and focused monitoring in these areas. Other crack measurements are stable.
Despite the new cracks and added settling, WSDOT says, “The viaduct remains safe for everyday use.”
SIDE NOTE: The West Seattleite who has delivered so many briefings on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project – going back years pre-tunnel, too – is leaving WSDOT after 23 years. Deputy program administrator Matt Preedy announced last Friday that he’s moving to Sound Transit later this spring. In his announcement, forwarded to us by a recipient, Preedy wrote to his colleagues, in part, “Together, we have overcome a number of obstacles and challenges on this very complex construction project. No one ever said building a tunnel under downtown Seattle would be easy but I am confident we have the right team to see it through. … The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program will always remain the highlight of my career at WSDOT and I plan to celebrate with you at the ribbon-cutting.”
SPEAKING OF THE TUNNEL: The latest “expert review panel” report on the project is out – read it here.
(From WSDOT’s project-site cameras)
After getting a day-and-a-half ride up from the pit and over to the cradle, the Highway 99 tunneling machine’s 2,000-ton cutterhead is now in place for repairs. The big red crane isn’t done with its work, though, according to the newest update on the project website:
… Crews will continue disassembling the machine’s 2,000-ton front end in the coming days, using the massive red crane that completed yesterday’s lift to arrange pieces on the repair site. Repair work will take place south of the pit beneath a large canopy that will soon be moved into place to protect the workers and machine pieces from the elements. …
No snags reported in the lifting process; if repairs are snag-free too, tunneling could resume by late summer.
2:54 PM: In case you haven’t already heard – the last and biggest to-be-repaired part of the Highway 99 tunneling machine is on its way up. Here’s the latest from WSDOT; you can check out the construction cameras here, but nothing spectacular is visible right now – this will be going on, slowly, for hours to come. We’ll update!
4:15 PM: Via Twitter:
— Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99) March 30, 2015
Mike Lindblom, transportation reporter for The Seattle Times (WSB partner), says the cutterhead is expected to be all the way up and out by 7.
4:42 PM: Newest photo via Twitter:
— Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99) March 30, 2015
9:07 PM: The cutterhead is out, and horizontal, facing down. Just took this screengrab from the WSDOT camera:
MIDNIGHT: WSDOT says Seattle Tunnel Partners has stopped for the night and will “wait until morning to place the SR 99 tunneling machine’s front end on the repair platform. The piece will remain suspended above the platform until a fresh crew arrives in the morning to complete the lift.” Meantime, West Seattle photographer Paul Gordon was at the site as the cutterhead came into view, and shared this image:
If the repair work goes the way they hope it will, STP says tunneling could resume in August – 20 months after it stopped.
7:53 PM: WSDOT says the Alaskan Way Viaduct not only has reopened for tonight, it will NOT have to close again tomorrow – the inspection work is all done. But that *only* affects the stretch between the West Seattle Bridge and the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel; north of the tunnel, it remains closed until Monday morning, so if you head northbound on 99, you’ll have to exit by Western. Read the full announcement here.
9:55 PM: As of a short time ago, the “Viaduct Closed” lights are still flashing on signs approaching the bridge – but the road really is open.
(UPDATED 6:07 PM after followup conversation with SPD)
(Reader photo texted shortly after the crash)
12:01 PM: “Why did it take 9 hours?” is the big question today, one day after a truck full of fish went sideways on southbound Highway 99 in the stadium zone, leading to a 9-hour shutdown that clogged traffic citywide. We have some early answers from Seattle Police:
Lincoln Towing responded to the scene with two large tow trucks and one standard-size tow truck.
Eventually Lincoln Towing personnel were able to raise the overturned trailer. However, the load of fish in the trailer’s container had shifted, causing the truck to become unstable. At this point the trailer was upright, but still blocking all southbound lanes. Lincoln Towing determined the trailer’s cargo of would have to be off-loaded in order to stabilize the trailer.
City officials ultimately had to rely on personnel from Seattle Tunnel Partners, and used their heavy equipment to off-load a portion of the container. Once about half of the container’s cargo was removed, the trailer was deemed stable enough to be moved from the viaduct.
STP is WSDOT’s contractor for the Highway 99 tunnel project. All of the above is from a long update published a short time ago on SPD Blotter; it also includes a dispatch-log timeline and aggregated tweets (some of which were featured in our as-it-happens coverage Tuesday afternoon/evening) about the incident.
We also have an inquiry out to Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Transportation Committee and has pursued extensive followups on earlier incidents, most notably last June’s 4-mile, 5-hour shutdown after a head-on crash on 99 just south of the West Seattle Bridge. Some of the changes promised in this September followup report/”after-action plan” (embedded below) were clearly in effect yesterday – SPD/SDOT communication, longer hours for the SDOT traffic-management center communicator(s):
But Tuesday’s truck mishap was a completely different type of incident, without a major criminal investigation to complicate things, so it brings up different questions. We’ll update this report with anything more we find out today.
P.S. We’ll mention again that SDOT leaders including director Scott Kubly were already booked for tomorrow night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, 6:30 pm Thursday at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center, if you want to ask your own questions and/or hear the answers firsthand.
4:30 PM: Councilmember Rasmussen says he has the same info that you see above from SPD, plus, “I have already requested that SPD and SDOT prepare reports for the Council. We will be scheduling a presentation of their reports to the Council and are working on that date and time now.”
5:26 PM: We talked a short time ago with SPD’s media-relations/public-affairs Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, seeking answers to several followup questions:
First: Commenters asked, couldn’t they just drag the trailer/truck off the highway? No, says Sgt. Whitcomb, there was no way to do that. They tried towing it, dragging it, pushing it; it just wouldn’t work, it wasn’t stable enough, so finally they tried Seattle Tunnel Partners’ heavy equipment. “It was an engineering problem – getting the damaged, jack-knifed truck up on its wheels, stabilized, just took a great deal of time and consideration … determining that additional tools were needed was part of the problem-solving process.”
Could STP have been involved sooner? Maybe, but, “at the heart of it, this was a towing operation,” said Sgt. Whitcomb. The circumstances “would be hard to replicate – complicated by the damage (to) and the position of the truck. It was fortuitous that (STP) were just right there and could help when needed – a spirit of partnership between the state and the city.” (STP is WSDOT’s contractor for the tunnel project.)
He said it was cleared as soon as possible, in the end, and they were at one point afraid it could have taken even longer – “there was a two am conference call planned” at one point, to see what the prospects were for the morning commute. The mayor’s office was notified early on, and the information loop went all the way to the top at SPD, including consultation with Deputy Chief Carmen Best, #2 in command. Originally, he said, they had hoped it would be cleared by the evening commute, but at some point, everyone but those directly involved in the towing/clearing were “spectators.”
Sgt. Whitcomb didn’t have details handy on whose truck it was or what happened to the fish, though he recalled a truck spill in the past (full of Mountain Dew) in which the contents of the trailer had to be disposed of because once there had been a mishap, the items weren’t salable.
So what now? In addition to the reports about the 9-hour closure, the collision remains under investigation, Sgt. Whitcomb said. No indication of DUI, but, he pointed out, generally “somebody will be cited … ‘accidents’ don’t just happen, it’s either mechanical failure or operator error – a rule of the road has been violated and somebody will be cited.” And when it comes to commercial vehicle operation, that kind of ticket is “a big deal,” he notes.
(SOUTHBOUND 99 IS OPEN AGAIN AS OF 11:40 PM)
All lanes of the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct at Atlantic Street are closed for a collision. Use alternate routes pic.twitter.com/Fzu0tQYz3E
— seattledot (@seattledot) March 24, 2015
2:39 PM: All lanes of southbound Highway 99 are blocked by an overturned semi-truck in the stadium zone. More to come.
2:55 PM: The southbound Viaduct is now closed at the north end of the Battery Street Tunnel, so if you are headed that way from north of downtown, you’ll have to exit on Denny Way. Otherwise, to head south from downtown, you’ll need to take I-5 or surface streets such as 1st or 4th. We’ll keep updating this since we’re heading into the pm commute.
3:14 PM: This is affecting buses too:
Transit Alert – The SB Alaskan Way Viaduct and the stop on WB Columbia St are closed; use the stop on SB 3 Av north of Cherry St.
— King County Metro (@kcmetrobus) March 24, 2015
3:22 PM: For those stuck on the Viaduct when this happened, here’s what’s being done:
SPD turning traffic stuck on SB SR 99/viaduct around and directing drivers off at Columbia & Elliott. pic.twitter.com/bkfg0xdC4d
— WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) March 24, 2015
We have another view of that courtesy of Chi Krneta:
3:43 PM: Still closed. And southbound I-5, we’re told, has a stall on the south side of downtown. Another alternative for getting back to West Seattle: The Water Taxi. Its afternoon schedule is just now starting up:
@westseattleblog water taxi has lots of room for first sailing of the afternoon
— axleyjc (@axleyjc) March 24, 2015
Here’s the schedule. Meantime:
Here's another look at the overturned semi blocking all lanes of SB SR 99 at Atlantic. **Avoid SB 99 in Seattle** pic.twitter.com/34ydE2x3cF
— WSDOT Traffic (@wsdot_traffic) March 24, 2015
And a view texted to us:
We’re still trying to find out if there’s any ETA for this being cleared. For now, just assume it’ll be hours, and plot your homeward alternative (or don’t leave until you hear it’s clear).
4:07 PM: SPD says a tow truck’s on the case – but that still doesn’t mean it’ll clear fast:
Tow truck working to clear SR-99 after overturned semi blocks all southbound lanes. More updates as we get them.
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) March 24, 2015
4:19 PM: Keep in mind that there’s a domino/spillover effect in many other places. For example, if you click around on the live video cameras in the general downtown area accessible via the SDOT Travelers’ Map (lower right) – you’ll see scenes such as vehicles STILL clearing off the Viaduct backward – right now at the Columbia onramp, a bus can be seen backing toward 1st, and someone is directing traffic. Also, via Twitter, SDOT says they’re hoping to have at least one lane open within a half-hour or so.
5:40 PM: SPD now says two tow trucks are on scene.
5:45 PM: And the problem has finally been explained – “a very large load of fish” is what the semi was carrying.
6:11 PM: The Sounders FC/Club Tijuana match has been pushed back to 7:23 pm. And SPD has an update on the semitruck’s driver:
Driver of overturned fish-filled #SR99 semi taken to HMC w/non-life-threatening injuries. SPD investigating for any violations or citations
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) March 25, 2015
6:33 PM: Latest tweet from the scene – “Responders have separated the tractor from the overturned trailer and are attempting to put the trailer back on its wheels again now.”
6:57 PM: Making progress:
UPDATE: Almost back on its wheels. They have a tractor ready to haul it away, if the effort is successful. pic.twitter.com/YwuClVTnFw
— seattledot (@seattledot) March 25, 2015
7:12 PM: After 4 1/2 hours, the truck is right-side up again:
Truck is back on its wheels once more. We are getting closer to opening the roadway. pic.twitter.com/Xmnrd4Ki2O
— seattledot (@seattledot) March 25, 2015
7:47 PM: Now they’re moving on to cleanup.
8:19 PM: And that’s not so easy, tweets SDOT: “Trailer contents have shifted, making it unstable to transport. They will detach trailer from truck and pull it off roadway.”
9:30 PM: Now going on 7 hours since this happened. The trailer has to be unloaded before it can be moved. We asked via Twitter, just out of curiosity, what kind of fish? Answer: Salmon.
10:05 PM: Still closed while crews work with the trailer.
10:47 PM: According to discussion just monitored via scanner, the problem is that the trailer remains unstable. It’s about a third empty now and they might try to move it again once it’s half empty. We are now in hour 9 of the total southbound 99 closure from the Battery St. Tunnel southward.
11:34 PM: They’re about to start reopening southbound 99, now that the truck and trailer have been moved successfully. They’re reopening starting at Denny, and then from Columbia.
11:40 PM: Official confirmation, 9 hours after the closure began:
Thank you all for your patience. Contractors have cleared the semi and SR-99 has reopened for traffic.
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) March 25, 2015
That’s almost twice as long as the much-dissected 5-hour closure in June of last year following a head-on crash south of the West Seattle Bridge. Different circumstances here – no life-threatening injuries, but the wreckage posed a major challenge to clear. Some of what was promised in reports following the June incident (most notably this one) has been implemented, notably longer coverage hours in the city’s Traffic Management Center. We’ll be following up on this tomorrow, and certainly we won’t be the only ones.
11:16 AM WEDNESDAY: We did indeed inquire with SPD this morning. No direct response but they’ve published a long report on SPD Blotter which includes photos and tweets from yesterday (some of which we featured in real-time in this report) – we’re writing a separate story on this.
A third big piece of the Highway 99 tunneling machine was lifted up from the repair-access pit today – and that means just one BIG lift to go, the cutterhead, for which Seattle Tunnel Partners will use that large red assembly you’ve been seeing next to the Viaduct. It’s shown in this bext photo shared with WSB by Gatewood photographer/pilot Long Bach Nguyen (taken before today’s lift):
The previous two lifts were on Thursday – with the big half-circle piece you see toward left center of the LBN photo – and on Saturday. No exact date announced yet for the cutterhead to be brought out. STP has said that if repairs go well, it hopes to be tunneling again in August.
From the archives of the camera that peers into the pit from which pieces of the Highway 99 tunneling machine are being lifted for repairs, the view above shows the second part to be brought up. It happened early this evening and was just announced by WSDOT:
Seattle Tunnel Partners has successfully hoisted the second piece of the SR 99 tunneling machine to the surface for repairs. This evening crews lifted one of the machine’s upper sections, which weighs less than 100 tons.
Two more pieces of the machine will be removed from the pit as part of STP’s repair plan, which this narrated video explains in detail. Up next, crews will lift the right side body section of the machine, which weighs approximately 90 tons. The final lift will bring to the surface Bertha’s massive cutterhead and main drive unit, which weigh a combined 2,000 tons.
Here’s the view after tonight’s lift was done:
If you haven’t seen the time-lapse video of the first lift on Thursday, check it out here.
By the way, this gives us another chance to remind you the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be closed for its twice-yearly inspection next weekend, 6 am-6 pm Saturday and 6 am-6 pm Sunday. A section of Highway 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel, meantime, will be closed throughout next weekend, late Friday through early Monday.
Traffic alerts for NEXT weekend: Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closures, Highway 99 to the north, I-90March 20, 2015 at 12:00 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news, West Seattle traffic alerts | 1 Comment
A week and a half after first mention, the official alert about next weekend’s Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closures is out, including details of other Highway 99 work PLUS another westbound I-90 constriction (a similar closure a few weeks ago backed up I-5 just north of the bridge, so beware). Read on for details from WSDOT:
Bertha goes to pieces, where tunnel-tolling decision stands, and other notes from Alaskan Way Viaduct stakeholders’ meetingMarch 17, 2015 at 9:49 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 18 Comments
(Screengrab taken this morning from camera pointed into the tunnel-machine repair pit)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Much has happened since the Alaskan Way Viaduct (Highway 99) project stakeholders met three months ago.
Just days after their early December meeting (WSB coverage here), the “settling” was revealed.
For the first time since then, the stakeholders’ group (membership listed here) convened Monday afternoon in a lower-level meeting room at Safeco Field, and WSB was the only news organization there. Among other things, the group was told that the ground has stabilized, and that the partial deconstruction of the Highway 99 tunnel machine (aka Bertha) is likely to hit a milestone this week.
Other topics tackled included the work that’s out of sight but not out of mind, updates on related projects including the seawall, and what’s up with the decision-making process on tunnel tolling. (Here’s the full slide deck.)
(Four WS-relevant views; more cams on the WSB Traffic page)
Good morning! We start the day with updates …
47TH/ADMIRAL SIGNAL WORK BEGINS: As noted here last night, SDOT says prep work for the 47th/Admiral signal (and new crosswalks and curb ramps) starts today.
99 LANE CLOSURES POSTPONED: If you missed the news at midday Monday, WSDOT heeded the suggestions that it postpone the Highway 99 lane closures that were supposed to start tomorrow and run for weeks north of downtown, since the work is for something that won’t even be needed until the tunnel is finished.
NEXT INSPECTION CLOSURE, MARCH 28-29: Same link as above – the morning briefing also included word that the next Viaduct inspection closure (the kind they’ve been doing twice a year dating way back before the tunnel project) is set for March 28-29. We’re still waiting for the hours – whether it’ll be an all-weekend closure or a “daytime only” as had been done recently.
From a two-part briefing on the Highway 99/Viaduct project (and side issues) that just concluded at this morning’s Seattle City Council meeting:
99 LANE CLOSURES POSTPONED, BUT TONIGHT’S CLOSURE STILL ON: The big breaking news came mid-briefing – WSDOT apparently has heeded the observations that the work that was going to lead to weeks of lane closures north of downtown is NOT urgent, and they’ve decided to postpone it TFN. The work was to pour foundations for signs that won’t even be needed until the tunnel opens. However, tonight’s overnight closure of NB 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel, in order to remove the “Mercer wiggle,” IS still on.
Also on the subject of closures:
INSPECTION CLOSURE: When WSDOT started its part of the briefing, it was revealed that the next major inspection closure of the entire Viaduct will be the last weekend of this month, March 28-29. We’re checking to see if that will be a wall-to-wall all-weekend closure, or a “6 am to 6 pm each day” closure.
TUNNEL MACHINE UPDATES: WSDOT’s Matt Preedy went through the steps of how the machine’s cutterhead will be dissembled.
(Added: 11:38 am screengrab from repair-pit camera)
The main piece is likely to be lifted toward the end of this month, and if all goes well, the machine could restart in August, he said. (See the WSDOT slide deck here.)
CITY BRIEFING: The council-meeting discussion began with an SDOT update on the in-progress “what if the Viaduct had to be closed before the tunnel is open?” SDOT leaders stressed that this is NOT intended to make people think a closure is expected, just that they are continuing to make sure the city is ready just in case. One unsettling point, though – the amount of bus service that would be needed to help mitigate a longterm Viaduct shutdown would take two years to ramp up. (See the SDOT slide deck here.)
Following up on this morning’s news that the Highway 99 tunnel machine had made it as far into the repair pit alongside the Alaskan Way Viaduct as it needed to go, WSDOT has released the 1:14 time-lapse video embedded above. According to this morning’s update, taking its cutterhead apart to be lifted out for repairs is expected to take weeks.
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