West Seattle, Washington
5:37 PM: If you’re headed this way, you might want to avoid southbound 99, or wait a while. Texter alerts us to a crash that’s confirmed by SDOT, blocking the left lane of SB 99 in the stadium zone. We’ll update when we hear it’s clear.
6:20 PM: SDOT just tweeted that a tow truck has arrived.
6:41 PM: And it’s clear.
It’s a question still asked fairly often – when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is gone and the tunnel is open, how will you get to downtown from northbound Highway 99? WSDOT has just announced it’s chosen the builder for the ramp that answers the question:
Construction will soon begin on a new flyover off-ramp designed to connect the northbound lanes of State Route 99 to Seattle’s stadiums, Pioneer Square, and downtown Seattle.
The Washington State Department of Transportation awarded the $3.5 million contract to Interwest Construction, Inc. of Sequim to build the ramp to South Dearborn Street that will allow northbound traffic to exit in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood when the new SR 99 tunnel opens.
“The flyover ramp is an important piece of the larger Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program,” said David Sowers, deputy program administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “And drivers should not worry about construction delays, as the ramp will be built in the existing SR 99 work zone near the stadiums.”
WSDOT and Interwest expect to sign a contract giving notice to proceed later this month. Construction activities are expected to start in July and last approximately six months. The new off-ramp will open to motorists at the same time as the new SR 99 tunnel, currently scheduled for 2018.
The latest tunneling-progress report, by the way, is here; as of last Thursday, 2,886 feet tunneled, about 200 feet shy of a third of the 9,270-foot distance.
5:27 AM: Reminder – northbound Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct is now closed from here to the Battery Street Tunnel for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon. The official alert notes that the event could last as long as 3 pm, but the marathon’s own road-closure grid page says the 99 closure could end by late morning, so we’ll keep an eye on advisories and webcams like the one above (you can also use the city’s Travelers Information Map to check live video of the course on the Viaduct at Western – use the “downtown” section of the video camera list on the lower right area of the map page).
10:17 AM: Highway 99/AWV is open again – as verified by the aforementioned cameras. Other marathon-related road closures might still be in effect – see the “grid page” link above for potentially affected areas.
In the middle of the second week post-Viaduct closure, an update on the Highway 99 tunneling machine: After a “break for rest and routine maintenance,” WSDOT says this afternoon, “Seattle Tunnel Partners resumed mining late Tuesday evening.” The machine has now gone more than 2,000 feet in all, which is more than 20 percent of the way along the full tunnel route, shown in the WSDOT-created graphic above. It also shows the machine in Zone 2, which will take it under the Columbia onramp; as explained during the closure, when we asked WSDOT on behalf of a reader, the machine is much further beneath that structure, so a precautionary closure was NOT considered necessary. WSDOT says that from there, the machine will travel under Western Avenue, and they promise twice-weekly updates here.
In a week or so, you might see something unusual on the Alaskan Way Viaduct that has nothing to do with tunneling: The city announced this afternoon that “a major film production” will shoot in Seattle for six days between May 19th and 26th, including filming that will lead to “rolling slowdowns” on the Viaduct. The announcement explains, “Traffic is never completely stopped, but there will be brief periods where it will be slowed to follow the production as it moves along the Viaduct. Production will take place intermittently outside of peak driving hours, between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM on May 19, 2016 – May 26, 2016.” Scenes also will be filmed in Pioneer Square. The city’s announcement doesn’t identify the film; Office of Film and Music spokesperson Joe Mirabella says, “The City’s longstanding policy is to keep the name of the project confidential until after filming is complete.” (We’ve looked around a bit but haven’t found an obvious match yet.)
P.S. Our archives show a mention of similar filming back in 2010.
As of a few minutes ago, the northbound Alaskan Way Viaduct [“live” camera above] has reopened, following the southbound side [“live” camera below] by about half an hour.
And that concludes the almost-ten-day closure, five hours after today’s surprise announcement of an early ending to what was expected to be a shutdown lasting about two weeks. Full backstory in our afternoon report published right after the news broke.
8:18 PM: Carol points out in a comment that the ramp from the EB bridge is still blocked off – the camera verifies – so crews haven’t gotten there yet.
8:51 PM: WSDOT says the ramp is open now. (Here’s the camera view.)
9:18 PM: Thanks again to everybody who helped out by sharing commute reports this past week and a half – and remember that we have long been reporting on the morning commute every weekday, so we’ll be back at it tomorrow (just not quite as early!). And remember, another major project is ahead – overnight closures of the west end of the bridge, starting in a week, for the Fauntleroy Expressway seismic-cushion re-replacements.
9:58 PM: Just in case you missed this earlier: Metro’s plan:
All Metro routes that normally serve the Alaskan Way Viaduct will return to their regular routes and stops at the start of service Monday morning, May 9. … With the start of service on Monday, the bus stop on westbound Columbia Street at Second Avenue will reopen to regular transit service, and Viaduct buses will no longer serve the temporary stops they made in the SODO area on or near S Lander Street during last week’s closure.
All riders should note that Viaduct service will remain on the current reroutes throughout Sunday night and until about 4:30 AM on Monday.
And the Water Taxi will continue its extra West Seattle parking and extra Vashon runs for one last day, tomorrow morning. Then everything is back to normal Tuesday.
(7:01 PM UPDATE: The Viaduct is now open southbound)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 2:14 PM: Just in from WSDOT – The Alaskan Way Viaduct will be reopened in time for the Monday morning commute. The first news release:
After 10 days of around-the-clock tunneling, Bertha’s biggest hurdle is now behind her. That hurdle – the Alaskan Way Viaduct she was built to replace – will reopen for the Monday morning commute, bringing an early end to the much-anticipated #99closure.
Structural engineers with the Washington State Department of Transportation completed a thorough inspection of the viaduct on Sunday. Their inspection confirmed what a team of engineers observed throughout the past 10 days of tunneling: continued stability of the ground and the viaduct.
Contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners estimated that tunneling beneath the viaduct would take approximately two weeks. With the ground holding steady, and the most challenging part of the machine’s drive beneath the viaduct complete, WSDOT made the call to reopen both directions of State Route 99 through downtown.
“Closing a major highway is never easy, and the public deserves a big thank you for their patience and flexibility while this crucial work took place,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “I would like to thank the WSDOT and STP project teams and construction crews on a job well done. To finish this piece of the project almost a week early is commendable. The planning and flexibility of commuters, along with strong coordination between WSDOT and partner agencies, ensured commuters had access to real-time information that helped them plan ahead.”
WSDOT temporarily closed SR 99 through Seattle so crews could more closely monitor the structure as the machine passed beneath. The tunnel team originally planned to keep the highway closed until after the machine had completely cleared the viaduct, but the success of the tunneling operation and the continued stability of the ground led to discussions of an early opening as work progressed.
By Friday, the machine had successfully tunneled through complex soils only 15 feet below the viaduct’s foundation – the closest the machine will come to any structure at any point in its drive beneath Seattle. On Sunday, STP completed installation of the rings beneath this critical location, clearing the way for the final inspection and the early opening of the highway. WSDOT’s 24-hour command center will remain open until the machine has successfully tunneled 385 feet, the distance at which it will be completely clear of the viaduct.
WSDOT worked closely with Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Police Department, King County Metro, King County Water Taxi, Sound Transit, Community Transit and the Port of Seattle to keep traffic moving and provide travel options for drivers during the closure.
“Removing traffic from the viaduct was critical to the success of this work, but we don’t want the closure to last a moment longer than it needs to,” said Acting Transportation Secretary Roger Millar. “I want to thank the WSDOT and STP project teams as well as our local partners for successfully managing the closure of a major highway in our system. And, a special thank you to the community for their patience. I hope commuters saw the value of having several transportation choices, and consider using alternatives to driving alone more regularly going forward.”
Millar said the success of STP’s drive beneath the viaduct will help build momentum for the remainder of the tunnel drive.
“The end of this closure marks a new beginning for the SR 99 Tunnel Project,” he said. “Much work remains, but we are encouraged by the contractor’s performance during this phase of the project. Our shared focus now, as it has been, is on delivering this tunnel to Washington taxpayers.”
ADDED 2:32 PM: The 99closure.org website has some additional practical details about how the closure will end – read the post in full here – some key points:
Water Taxi resumes regular service Tuesday morning, May 10
The King County Water Taxi will continue additional parking options at West Seattle (PDF) and additional sailings on the Vashon route (PDF) through the end of the day on Monday, May 9.
Regular West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxi service will start Tuesday morning, May 10.
Metro Transit returns to regular routing Monday, May 9
King County Metro Transit service will resume regular routing via the Alaskan Way Viaduct with the start of service Monday morning. At that time, the bus stop on Columbia Street at Second Avenue will also reopen.
Current surface street reroutes through SODO and temporary stops remain in effect for the remainder of Sunday, May 8.
Restrictions on city streets lifted for Monday morning commute
With the exception of parking restrictions along Harbor Avenue in West Seattle, temporary city street restrictions put in place for the closure will be lifted before Monday morning.
WSDOT is having a media conference call at 3 pm and we’ll be on it; updates to come.
3:15 PM: Just off that conference call. The big news – the Viaduct actually will reopen TONIGHT, per WSDOT’s Todd Trepanier. The barrier removal will start as soon as 4 pm – they’re calling in crews to get that done.
He said what makes the early reopening possible is the ground stabilization techniques that contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners has been using.
He also said that when the machine gets to the 380-or-so-foot spot, they’ll pause before going on to the next phase – they’ll continue working 24 hours a day until then.
7:01 PM: As reader Kyla reported in comments, the southbound Viaduct is now open. This camera is proof.
(UPDATED 4:54 PM – second eastbound West Seattle Bridge crash of the afternoon has cleared)
FIRST REPORT, 2:07 PM: Two notes on this ninth day of the Viaduct closure – first, a traffic alert:
Collision on West Seattle Bridge EB at 1st Ave S blocking left lane. Use caution and expect delays. pic.twitter.com/c1qh4qdw2M
— seattledot (@seattledot) May 7, 2016
If you’re heading out any time soon (2:07 pm as we publish this), take some extra time. And remember the warnings about all the SCHEDULED events happening as the weekend continues, including Sounders FC vs. San Jose at CenturyLink tonight (7 pm).
2:39 PM UPDATE: SDOT says the bridge crash has cleared.
BACK TO ORIGINAL REPORT: Meantime, a tunneling update:
Highway 99 tunneling crews continue to work 24/7, and WSDOT is publishing updates 7 days a week, too. This morning’s update via 99closure.org: 246 feet tunneled, of the ~385 feet that will get the machine clear of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s underside; if you look at the map/graphic here, it’s already starting to get past the area in which the entire machine was beneath the Viaduct. Though it’s been monitoring and inspecting the structure throughout the process, WSDOT says it will do one more major inspection – similar to the ones for which it closes the Viaduct for a day or so each spring and fall – once it gets word the machine is completely clear of the ~385-foot stretch.
3:04 PM: WSDOT has just posted today’s second tunneling update – 266.5 feet now dug, of the beneath-Viaduct ~385 feet. That’s more than two-thirds of the way.
3:15 PM: Another crash on the eastbound West Seattle Bridge, this time in the left lanes just before the 4th Avenue exit. Thanks to the texter who sent us first word. We confirmed it via the live camera from the SDOT Travelers Map.
3:19 PM: SDOT has it now:
Collision on West Seattle Bridge at 4th Ave blocking the EB left two lanes. Use caution and expect delays. pic.twitter.com/i2N5uOyXCB
— seattledot (@seattledot) May 7, 2016
3:30 PM: Here’s some video recorded off the SDOT Travelers Map’s live camera (not embeddable so far as we know, so we had to resort to recording off our laptop screen):
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) May 7, 2016
4:54 PM: SDOT confirms that crash has cleared.
From today’s media conference call about tunneling and traffic as the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure continues:
TUNNELING PROGRESS: 214 of 385 under-the-Viaduct feet as of late morning. Any prediction of how much longer it will take? “Still too early to start projecting when we’re going to open up The Viaduct,” WSDOT’s Dave Sowers said. They have to get past the closest call under The Viaduct – 15′ beneath “96 East” under Yesler – “before we can even start thinking about that,” Sowers reiterated. Later, asked about the tolerance levels of Viaduct settlement or movement as the tunneling machine continues moving beneath it, he said that’s been “negligible.”
The biggest point of the call was regarding traffic “surprises” this weekend and next week related to special events and seasonal activities:
BUSY WEEKEND AHEAD: Jon Layzer of SDOT wanted to make sure the events coming up this weekend are on everyone’s radar (we mentioned them in this morning’s traffic/transit coverage). “Plan ahead, take alternatives where you can, use (the online info) to plan your trips.” Travis Phelps of WSDOT mentioned lane reductions north of Marysville, and the Mariners‘ homestand that starts next Monday. WSDOT’s Laura Newborn noted a “free parking” promotion on the downtown waterfront this weekend – find out more on the Downtown Seattle Association website.
ALSO NEW THIS WEEKEND – ‘HOMEPORT’ CRUISE SHIPS: We asked if there’s anything going under-reported. One response was from Peter McGraw of the Port of Seattle, pointing out that the first “homeported” cruise ships are here this weekend, which means a lot of additional traffic as thousands of passengers end and start their journeys here, and as trucks arrive and depart to provision the ships. Both Pier 66 downtown and Smith Cove in Magnolia will have ships – here’s the schedule; Pier 66 has a ship on Saturday, Smith Cove has one ship a day on Saturday and Sunday. (The schedule gets even busier in a few weeks.) McGraw says they’re coordinating with the trucking community “to get in early” and also urging departing passengers to add lots of extra time to arrive at the terminal.
We’ll be covering the Friday pm commute starting around 4 pm, with incident-specific coverage if anything of note happens before then.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 11:58 AM: As of less than an hour ago, the Highway 99 tunneling machine is close to the halfway point of the 385-foot stretch from one side of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s underside to the other. The latest tunneling tally is 182 feet, as shown on the updated WSDOT graphic above. Meantime, we’re just off today’s conference call for media. Participants today: Dave Sowers, WSDOT’s tunnel-project administrator; Jon Layzer from SDOT; and Travis Phelps from WSDOT (regarding regional traffic).
We asked Layzer about the two traffic situations that dominated discussion in our channels this morning.
Regarding the truck backup on East Marginal, Layzer said, “The port had been opening the gate at Terminal 46 at 3 am, an early opening instead of 7 am – but (for) today, they had evaluated projected volumes of containers … and decided not to open early – that obviously had a significant impact. We are in communication with the port, asking them to strongly consider opening at 3 am for the duration of the Viaduct closure.” (We are now checking with the Port to see how they’re handling this request.)
ADDED 4 PM, PORT’S RESPONSE: The reply to our inquiry, from port spokesperson Peter McGraw:
A number of factors with traffic this morning. I understand there was a train loading that blocked traffic longer than usual, along with heavier traffic.
We will continue to work with the terminal operator on traffic issues.
There will also be truck holding areas adjacent to T-46, along with additional gates for trucks to access the terminal.
The terminal opens at 3 am on its busiest days of the week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The operator already added one day this week and will do so again next week—at their own expense.
It also operates a regular day shift on Saturdays. So there are four additional shifts to take trucks off the road during commute hours.
Unfortunately, truckers are not using the early shifts to the full extent possible, and it’s not always possible to open the terminal at 3 am five days per week.
We will send out a request to the trucking community to use the 3 am gates for the duration of the closure.
(BACK TO ORIGINAL 11:58 AM REPORT) Regarding the clog at Avalon, Layzer said, “We did send Metro and SDOT folks out to observe performance yesterday and this morning … we do have parking-enforcement officers lined up to do a sweep of that corridor. We evaluated a request to extend the bus lane further south, but didn’t feel that was needed. We’ll continue to monitor that. (Also), we spoke to someone yesterday about the left turns (onto Avalon from the exit off the bottom of the Admiral Way hill) and don’t have a status on that.” But he did say they’re also evaluating the pavement markings. (He also expressed appreciation for the community collaboration here on WSB sussing out some of the West Seattle-side trouble spots – so thanks again to everyone who’s been reporting in.)
Layzer also was asked about train traffic in SODO leading to delays of motor-vehicle traffic, and replied that SDOT has “reached out to Burlington Northern and asked for their assistance to avoid peak periods for their train-building activities in particular” but they “don’t have any confirmation that (the train line) will adjust.” He said SPD officers also have been dispatched to 1st Avenue S. in SODO to monitor the situation.
Back to tunneling progress, it was repeated twice that it’s still “too early for us to start speculating when they’re going to open,” said Sowers. Also, they are close to going under the spot where the machine will be within 15′ of the underside of a Viaduct column.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 12:20 PM: Almost didn’t make it to today’s multi-department briefing on Viaduct-closure traffic … because of the traffic. The bridge was still backed up to the crest at 10:30 am, and 1st Avenue S. was bumper-to-bumper. First highlight, the daily late-morning tunneling update:
149 feet of the 385 to get the machine clear of the underside of the Viaduct. But, Dave Sowers of WSDOT told us and the other media at this morning’s briefing (held as usual on the downtown Water Taxi dock, because of the Viaduct backdrop), they don’t want to predict when they’ll be done with the under-the-Viaduct phase – let alone speculate on whether there’s any chance of finishing that sooner than the “about two weeks” timeframe. The ground remains stable around and over the machine, Sowers said, and everything “looks great.”
No Seattle Tunnel Partners rep at this briefing (unlike the one via phone yesterday, which was focused on tunneling), since this was supposed to be about traffic and transit. We asked Victor Obeso from Metro if the afternoon problems headed this way were going to lead to any changes in the southbound routes that have been getting stuck behind trains at Lander. Short answer: No. Longer answer: They’re continuing to monitor and evaluate.
More to come in a bit. We also recorded it all on video so you can watch for yourself once we have it uploaded. (UPDATE: Here’s the video:)
ADDED 1:36 PM: Other toplines – unlike the Water Taxi, where passengers can be very precisely counted, other modes of travel can only estimate trends since the closure began. Bus usage in general is estimated to be up a single-digit percentage overall, Metro says, but they ran more than 70 extra trips the first three days. Sound Transit, 10 percent for light rail, 15 percent for Sounder trains. Something else that’s up: Jon Layzer of SDOT noted a big increase in “blocking incidents,” although deployment of Incident Response Teams and other people to help clear them has been helpful.
Anything they’ve learned so far that will be kept post-closure? he was asked. While he didn’t commit to anything, he did promise they would have an “after-action report” to look at such things.
(Added: Newly released WSDOT video recorded by a drone inside the tunnel and tunneling machine)
12:06 PM: “Tunneling is going very well.” So said Chris Dixon of Seattle Tunnel Partners, the state’s contractor on the Highway 99 tunnel, during a media conference call wrapped up a short time ago. He said there’s been no problems – “no adverse effects, no settlement, no movement” either with the machine or with the ground through which it’s tunneling and the first Viaduct “bent” under which it’s gone. As for the distance they’ve gone – 117 feet so far, of the 380 that will get them to the other side of the Viaduct’s underside – he said it’s about what they’ve expected. We’ll have full details in a bit.
12:30 PM: More details from the call: They’ve now mined 17 “rings” since leaving “Safe Haven 3,” the stop before going under the Viaduct. The “bent” under which the machine has gone is numbered 98W – “W” for west, and it’s now under 97W, with 96E next, “the column in the intersection of Yesler and Alaskan Way … after we pass that, (they go under) 95E, the foundation on the east side.” The next one is the one to which the machine gets within 15 feet, as much mentioned prior to this phase of tunneling. They’re expecting to average about 4 rings a day but Dixon warned not to be alarmed if a day shows less progress than that, because they are stopping the machine here and there along the way for maintenance and for replenishment of the soil conditioners they’re using while moving ahead – the first day of this phase was 1 ring, then three on the 30th, seven on the 1st, and six yesterday.
Its average speed, Dixon said, is 30 millimeters per second, with the capacity to go twice that fast, and indeed they expect to go faster once the machine is past this phase – averaging six rings a day in the next phase. In response to another question, he stressed again, “we’re right where we anticipated we would be.” And he said they’re far enough out of “Safe Haven 3” that there’s no longer any concern of a sinkhole or other disturbance atop that area.
No traffic updates, since this focus was on the tunneling itself, but WSDOT did say, don’t get complacent and go back to your old ways – “please find different ways to be out there ‘off peak’.”
P.S. We’ll again have special afternoon/evening commute coverage here on WSB, starting around 4 pm. In the meantime, the commute conversation continues in comments following our Tuesday morning coverage.
11:49 AM: We’re just off what will likely be a daily media conference call with WSDOT and others as the Highway 99 tunneling closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct continues. Topline: The tunneling machine has now made it through 78+ feet of the 380+ feet that it will take to get to the other side of the underside of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and that’s getting close to twenty percent of the way, points out WSDOT’s deputy program administrator, Dave Sowers. Its cutterhead is indeed beneath The Viaduct, between columns 98 and 97, to be specific.
12:06 PM: WSDOT asked reporters to hold off on most technical tunneling questions until tomorrow’s conference call, when they expect to have contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners represented on the call. So that left traffic. They’ve made “a lot of little adjustments,” said a WSDOT traffic engineer, not only the ones mentioned in yesterday’s online progress report – more parking restrictions on 4th to keep more of the roadway open for traffic flow, and protected left-turn signals on 1st at Horton and Hanford – but also changes in signal timing today on 1st and 4th.
Aside from the Water Taxi numbers we’ve been reporting firsthand from Seacrest today, they don’t have any other data yet on how many more people are using transit, but, said Jon Layzer of SDOT, they are “trying to get information.” Overall, the assessment: “So far, progress is encouraging at the moment,” but they say it’s too soon to try to estimate or speculate whether the under-the-Viaduct tunneling will be done early, on time, or otherwise.
8:45 PM: The evening tunneling update is up – 91 feet now, and 14 rings. Next update, around 4 am, and WSDOT plans to continue updating one to three times a day here. We have updated the graphic atop this story to the WSDOT map that shows the new numbers.
Just in from WSDOT, the update for Alaskan Way Viaduct Closure, Day 3, with tunneling-machine progress and traffic-flow changes:
Welcome to day three of the #99closure. After a slow and deliberate departure from the planned maintenance stop near Yesler Way, Seattle Tunnel Partners’ tunneling crews picked up speed in accordance with their plan for tunneling under the viaduct. As of 2 p.m. Sunday, Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, had mined 39 feet of the approximately 385 feet of tunnel that must be completed before the viaduct reopens to traffic. STP determines the appropriate rate to mine safely and mining rates will vary as the machine passes underneath the viaduct.
Visit our tracking page to see a map showing Bertha’s progress.
Expect a more challenging commute Monday since Mondays are a traditionally heavier traffic day than Fridays. Go to our maps and resources page or see our travel alternatives handout to explore options other than driving. WSDOT continues to run a 24-hour-per-day command center with constant, real-time communication taking place with other agencies. And WSDOT’s Transportation Management Center also has extended hours with up to 12 additional Incident Response Teams ready to clear state roads of incidents as quickly as possible.
The Seattle Traffic Operations Center examined Friday’s commute and is adjusting by extending parking restrictions on Fourth Avenue South from peak periods only to all-day restrictions to help transit and traffic flow. In addition, the Seattle Department of Transportation added protected left turn signals at First Avenue South and South Hanford Street as well as First Avenue South and South Holgate Street to improve traffic flow.
SDOT will continue to work with the Seattle Police Department to monitor and adjust signals as necessary to maximize flow.
4th was a major trouble spot on Friday, according to commute reports from commenters during our morning and afternoon/evening coverage. We’ll be starting traffic/transit coverage early again tomorrow, 5 am.
On the second full day of the two-weeks-or-so Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, a “precaution” until the Highway 99 tunneling machine finishes going beneath the AWV, here’s the brief update WSDOT just published:
After completing the first ring, STP crews have been preparing the machine to move out of the concrete of the maintenance stop. The transition from concrete into soil is an important part of tunneling under the viaduct and STP crews have been working to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. Once the machine is fully prepared to mine through this transition, crews will advance slowly and deliberately.
So as of this update, no additional distance has been added to the first-day 6.5-foot tally. Next update is expected about this time tomorrow; still almost 380 feet left to go to get all the way beneath The Viaduct.
Looking for traffic cams/infolinks? Go here
That map is from the first official progress report on the Highway 99 tunneling machine since the Alaskan Way Viaduct closure began. Here’s the WSDOT announcement we just received:
As of 6 p.m. Friday, Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, had dug 6.5 feet of the approximately 385 feet of tunnel that must be completed before the Alaskan Way Viaduct reopens to traffic. This pace is what we expected. The machine will proceed slowly and deliberately throughout the first few days. Visit our tracking page to see a map showing Bertha’s progress.
Bertha must dig through a few more feet of concrete to exit the maintenance stop before she starts to dig through the soil near the intersection of Yesler and Alaskan Way. Look for another progress update Saturday afternoon.
WSDOT has said that the machine will be digging around the clock while it goes beneath The Viaduct. Tonight’s full update, including the afternoon traffic overview, is here. Here are our coverage links from Day 1:
11:49 AM: Just wrapped up on the King County Water Taxi dock downtown: One last media megabriefing before the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s two-weeks-or-so closure, now a little over 10 hours away (onramp closures start at 10 pm, so don’t count on using The Viaduct after that). Those on hand for brief statements followed by Q&A included Dave Sowers from WSDOT, Jon Layzer from SDOT, Paul Brodeur from the King County Marine Division (Water Taxi), Victor Obeso from Metro, Bruce Gray from Sound Transit, and Peter McGraw from the Port of Seattle.
We have it all on video and will upload as soon as we’re back at HQ (1:45 pm update – here it is):
Nothing dramatic but a few points of interest we hadn’t heard much about before:
*SDOT mentioned that the “maritime community” has indeed been asked to try to minimize bridge openings during the closure, but as Layzer acknowledged on our followup question, all they can do is ask – maritime use has priority, particularly for the West Seattle “low bridge” (formally the S. Spokane St. Swing Bridge) – UPDATE: Here’s what SDOT is asking the Coast Guard about, for bridges including ours:
The Seattle Department of Transportation would like to request that the US Coast Guard send out a notice to mariners requesting voluntary compliance at each of the following bridges for the period of 12:01 am on April 29, 2016 to 11:59 pm on May 12, 2016:
Ballard Bridge: Weekday voluntary compliance one hour before and one hour after the existing restrictions (i.e. In addition to the existing restrictions, 7-9 am and 4-6 pm weekdays, we are asking for mariners to try and limit the number of bridge openings between 6-7 am, 9-10 am, 3-4 pm & 6-7 pm, whenever possible).
Fremont Bridge: Weekday voluntary compliance one hour before and one hour after the existing restrictions (i.e. In addition to the existing restrictions, 7-9 am and 4-6pm weekdays, we are asking for mariners to try and limit the number of bridge openings between 6-7 am, 9-10 am, 3-4 pm & 6-7 pm, whenever possible).
University Bridge: Weekday voluntary compliance one hour before and one hour after the existing restrictions (i.e. In addition to the existing restrictions, 7-9 am and 4-6pm weekdays, we are asking for mariners to try and limit the number of bridge openings between 6-7 am, 9-10 am, 3-4 pm & 6-7 pm, whenever possible).
Lower Spokane Street Swing Bridge: Weekday voluntary compliance between 6-10 am and 3-7 pm (there are no existing restrictions on this bridge).
*A temporary stop is being added so that WS bus riders can connect to light rail in SODO – it’s marked on the reroute maps (second page of this PDF shows the West Seattle routes)
*If you want to connect to light rail, the Water Taxi is also an option, it was pointed out to us in conversation with the Marine Division reps after the briefing, since you can walk a few blocks east and get to the transit tunnel (King Street Station, also served by Sounder rail, isn’t far either)
*We asked what happens when they get word that the tunneling machine has made it the full 385-foot distance beneath The Viaduct, to the other side. Sowers says WSDOT would then do one more inspection of The Viaduct, along the lines of what they do twice a year, to check it thoroughly for cracks, settling, etc., before deeming it safe to reopen for traffic.
More to come when we’re back at HQ.
1:45 PM UPDATE: We’ve added the briefing video above. Also, since the briefing, WSDOT has added an online update with yet another reminder plus some news that wasn’t part of the briefing. See the full update here; below, the sections that followed the general reminder:
Seattle Tunnel Partners tunneling operations
Seattle Tunnel Partners is making final preparations for their tunnel drive beneath the viaduct. They have told us that the overnight crew will spend the early hours of Friday restarting and testing Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. Tunneling is expected to begin sometime during the day shift on Friday.
STP expects to start slowly as Bertha digs out of her planned maintenance stop, which is essentially a block of concrete buried in the ground near Yesler Way. The machine must dig through approximately 10 feet of concrete to exit the maintenance stop and enter the soil near the intersection of Yesler and Alaskan Way. Initially, trucks will carry away the excavated material. Crews intend to proceed deliberately throughout the weekend, carefully monitoring the machine’s performance and the surrounding ground as Bertha inches forward.
STP expects to pick up speed early next week. The tunneling operation – tunneling forward, building rings and doing maintenance on the machine – will continue around the clock throughout the closure.
You can track Bertha’s tunneling progress here. We’ll be updating the progress graphic twice each day.
Barging operations to resume
The suspension for cause that has restricted barging operations since January was lifted this week. That means that STP will be allowed to remove excavated soil from the work site via barge using new procedures they developed over the past two months. Having the barging operation back online allows STP to remove excavated material more quickly than trucking the material offsite.
Check out our construction cameras page to get a closer look at the barging operation when tunneling begins on Friday.
Again, we’ll have an update when the closure begins late tonight, as well as expanded coverage of morning and afternoon/evening traffic/transit starting Friday.
With just one day left until the two-weeks-or-so Alaskan Way Viaduct closure starts, a precautionary closure while the tunneling machine goes under the structure, a few points to mention/reiterate tonight:
*WSDOT says the onramps will “start closing” at 10 pm Thursday night. Having driven on The Viaduct to and from a meeting north of downtown in the past few hours, we can confirm that the signage we saw at ramps tonight all carried that message, as does the official infopage at 99closure.org.
*The closure is expected to be in full effect by midnight Thursday night. (Some messaging says 11:59 pm Thursday, some says 12:01 am Friday, but basically, it’s midnight tomorrow night.)
*Surface streets/sidewalks/paths under The Viaduct are expected to remain open.
*WSDOT says it’s expecting to update its “tunneling progress” webpage around 11 am and 8 pm weekdays, 2:30 pm weekends, during the closure. Its contractor plans to tunnel 24/7 while going under The Viaduct. But, as photojournalists were told during Monday’s tunnel photo-op, it’ll be slow going at the start.
*If you still have a question, it might be answered on WSDOT’s FAQ page. If not, please comment, and we’ll chase down an answer (reps of every agency involved, and then some, are having another megabriefing tomorrow morning).
Before the Highway 99 tunneling machine starts its dive beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, closing it for two weeks or so starting early Friday, WSDOT gave local news media one more chance for a look inside what’s been done so far. Christopher Boffoli was there for WSB.
Monday afternoon’s hour-long tour was his first visit to the tunnel in more than a year and a half, since September 2014 (see his report here), nine months after the machine stalled (eventually restarting just before last Christmas).
This time, tour participants were NOT taken up to the tunneling machine, which has gone 1,560 feet so far.
The trip to get beneath and clear of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be almost exactly a fourth of that distance, 385 feet.
While WSDOT promises online progress reports at least once a day once the tunneling machine is on its way, it also is warning not to expect much at the start – the one-sheet given to those on today’s news-media tour says contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners told WSDOT that “mining will be SLOW at first” as the first 10 feet will go through the protective concrete block built at “Safe Haven 3” where the machine has been stopped for six weeks.
More tunnel facts: 232 tunnel rings, each weighing 10 tons, are installed so far; reaching the end of the planned tunnel route will require about 1,450 of those rings.
Christopher says today’s tour “was much more limited than the last one” (the September 2014 tour mentions above) – “this time we were simply walked down to the end of the tunnel and taken about midway under the machine (into the area where all of the trailing gear brings the concrete sections forward for placement) and then were walked back out.”
By the way, WSDOT has completed 400 feet of roadway inside the 1,560 feet of tunnel that’s done so far.
We don’t know yet exactly what time The Viaduct will be shut down on Friday morning – WSDOT says it depends on when Seattle Tunnel Partners are ready to start up the machine. But the plan is for it to be long before the morning commute. If you still haven’t figured out how you’re going to get around without The Viaduct, find all the closure-related info at 99closure.org.
11:55 AM: We’ve just left the downtown waterfront, where media reps were invited to an update and Q&A with city, county (Metro and Water Taxi), and state transportation reps on the first weekday since the big announcement that the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunneling-related closure will start April 29th. We recorded it all on video that we’ll add here when uploaded (12:54 pm update – here it is):
(Also), here are a few toplines beyond what we and others already have reported:
*Extra Water Taxi parking: The biggest added temporary lot off Harbor Avenue will be Pier 2, with its entry across from the 7-11 in the 2400 block of Harbor and room for 200+ cars. It will be open for vehicle entry/exit 5:45 am-9:15 am weekday mornings and 4 pm-7:15 pm afternoon/evenings – it’s a secured lot so at midday, it’ll be closed and you won’t be able to get to your vehicle, so it’s not a good choice unless you are headed out for a full workday. It’s also expected that 120 cars will be able to park along Harbor south of Seacrest, on the water side, because of temporary overnight parking restrictions. And about 40 spaces will be available on the SW Bronson Way street end south of Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor).
*Larger Water Taxi shuttles: In addition to a special shuttle that will run continuously during those hours between the Pier 2 parking lot and Seacrest, the WT shuttle buses on routes 773 and 775 will be upsized to 39-passenger buses.
*Speaking of Water Taxi shuttles: A commenter had asked why the Morgan Junction leg of the route is only at midday. The King County Marine Division says that’s the only time of day they can run it because of the gap between Water Taxi runs from Seacrest.
*Special Viaduct-closure-related brochure with West Seattle Water Taxi-specific info: See it here.
*In case more buses are needed: Metro will have 11 more buses with 22 scheduled operator shifts, and a potential of 135 added hours, depending on how things go.
*UberHop: This new vanpool-type alternative will have a pickup/dropoff point at Don Armeni Boat Ramp, the county says.
*The biggest message: Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. And if you possibly can shift out of commuting during the usual peak hours – via a temporary schedule change, working from home, whatever – please do. And even if the first day doesn’t seem so bad (it won’t, because people really will try something different), don’t just go back to your old ways on day 2 or day 3. They’re continuing to promote 99closure.org as the multi-agency with info you need to plan, now and when the closure’s under way.
We also asked the SDOT rep why, now that the date is set for this, they aren’t considering delaying the Fauntleroy Expressway-related bridge and lane closures until the Viaduct closure is over. SDOT’s rep first said they didn’t think there would be a problem because the bridge closures are at night only. We noted that the surface Spokane St. lane closures UNDER the west end of the bridge include some daytime work and he said he would “take that back” (to HQ) for consideration.
12:54 PM: Video of the briefing/Q&A, unedited, is now added toward the start of this story. As the closure approaches, we’ll continue with previews and updates, and if you have questions, we’ll do our best to get and publish the answers.
(See this map on the WSDOT site by going here)
JUST IN, 1:59 PM: WSDOT promised we’d get two weeks notice of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s two-weeks-or-so tunneling shutdown, and that notice just arrived: The state says the closure will start before the morning commute on Friday, April 29th. Here’s the full announcement.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW: We’ll be adding to this over the next hour or so – backstory plus useful info links.
*How to lessen the pain (advice and links)
*As you’ve probably already read in previews here and elsewhere, specific plans include:
• WSDOT and SDOT will actively monitor highway and street traffic, adjusting signal timing, updating electronic message boards and
deploying additional incident response teams as needed.
• King County Metro is rerouting 12 routes and deploying 22 buses to help maintain schedules.
[See page 2 of this PDF for West Seattle specifics including a larger version of the map above.]
• Police officers will provide manual traffic control at key chokepoint intersections.
• King County Water Taxi will add five extra round trips to its Vashon route and will provide additional parking and connector shuttle capacity for West Seattle route passengers. [See this brochure for info on extra parking, etc.]
We also will beef up our regular traffic coverage for closer watch of West Seattle-tailored alternate routes and more during the closure. At least one alternate route is available for this, that wasn’t available for 2011’s “Viadoom” 8-day closure – the South Park Bridge.
BACKSTORY: It was almost exactly 3 years ago that we first reported a Viaduct closure was possible when the tunneling machine went beneath it, thanks to a tip from West Seattle Bike Connections president Don Brubeck.
REMINDER: As announced earlier today, that’s not the only closure West Seattleites will be dealing with – the Fauntleroy Expressway bearing-pad-re-replacement closures will start two days earlier.
10:10 AM: During the City Council meeting that just got under way – as we’re reported and previewed – councilmembers are due to get an update on the Highway 99 tunnel project and the upcoming related Alaskan Way Viaduct closure. However, it doesn’t appear the long-awaited closure start date will be part of that briefing. WSDOT has just published the first official update in a week in a half and it again reiterates that date “isn’t yet known”:
Seattle Tunnel Partners has now completed more than 100 shifts of hyperbaric work inside the SR 99 tunneling machine. One of their biggest tasks – inspecting and replacing cutting tools on the machine’s face – is now complete.
Cutting tools are expected to wear down over time, and replacing them is a normal part of tunneling. Because most of the machine’s tools were replaced during the repair effort, STP chose to replace only 11 of the more than 700 tools they inspected in the weeks since the machine reached its planned maintenance stop near Yesler Way.
STP still has some routine maintenance left to complete. They have told us that the machine is functioning as intended and will soon be ready to tunnel beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct. WSDOT will close the viaduct for approximately two weeks to allow the machine to pass beneath the structure. We will provide the public with advance notice of the closure, but the start date isn’t yet known. It will depend on how long the remaining maintenance takes to complete.
The update published on the WSDOT website also includes a reminder of the closure-plans website 99closure.org.
Meantime, we’ll update here when the council briefing gets under way (scheduled for 10:25 am – about 15 minutes from now) and will add any additional news that emerges.
10:28 AM: The briefing is starting – you can watch live via Seattle Channel, seattlechannel.org or cable channel 21.
(ADDED TUESDAY: Seattle Channel video of entire briefing)
They’re leading off with a “litigation update” – saying they’re “negotiating with STP about issues in dispute on the project,” so they might not be able to answer all questions.
WSDOT’s Todd Trepanier mentions STP bringing in new top managers from an overseas project and Councilmember Mike O’Brien breaks in to say “that we haven’t had the A-team on this since day one just kinda blows my mind.”
Back to what’s happening now, in addition to what WSDOT said this morning (see top of this story), Trepanier says, “(The contractors) still have quite a bit of work to do within the machine at the Safe Haven 3 location” where it’s stopped now.
10:48 AM: Now the briefing has moved to the closure preps, which have included weekly coordination meetings, WSDOT says. They reiterate that they’re committed to giving two weeks notice once the date has been chosen, which hasn’t happened yet, because as mentioned earlier, there’s still a lot to do. “Within the next month” remains their target. They’re reiterating that it’s a precautionary closure but its potential benefits would include quick access to the Viaduct if necessary.
It’s been reiterated, also, that the Viaduct itself is the only thing planned for closure – surface streets/sidewalks will remain open, though if something requires those to be closed, they have a contingency plan for that too. Meantime, the tunneling will continue around the clock during the trip under the Viaduct, with two 12-hour shifts instead of two 10-hour shifts as has been the contractor’s practice.
Trepanier says they will have a 24-hour command center open during the under-the-Viaduct tunneling, including city reps, as they make decisions bout managing traffic as well as tunneling operations. And they’re planning three conference calls a day.
11:05 AM: For the city, SDOT director Scott Kubly is speaking. The city will have incident-response teams and additional messaging signs. He also says that besides working with Metro and the Water Taxi, the city is “encouraging and working with” Uber and Lyft regarding their carpooling services. Council President Bruce Harrell asks followup saying city must be careful not to show favoritism over legacy taxi services, etc. Kubly says the city will add signal-timing engineer in Transportation Ops Center 6:30 am-8 pm during closure so there can be quick responses if intersection problems emerge. “It’s going to be a challenging commute … removing 60,000 vehicles and 30,000 transit riders off the Viaduct,” he says. Councilmember Lisa Herbold asks who’s in charge of the public notices regarding all this; she’s told the communications overview is coming up.
11:12 AM: Now it’s Metro’s turn. As previously announced, northbound reroutes are going on 4th Avenue. Herbold asks if the 5th Avenue busway was considered. “There’s a limited capacity (on that),” is the reply.
Councilmember Lorena González (a West Seattle resident) asks about the plans for getting people to the dock to use the Water Taxi without getting caught in the parking crunch down there. Though it hasn’t been detailed during this briefing, that’s mentioned toward the end of the slide deck (which you can see here). And the briefing wraps at 11:22. (We’ll add the archived meeting video atop this story once Seattle Channel has it up, likely by end of the day.)