TRAFFIC ALERT UPDATE: Viaduct open for rest of the weekend

March 28, 2015 at 7:53 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news, West Seattle traffic alerts | 3 Comments

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.

FOLLOWUP: Why did it take 9 hours to clear toppled truck from Highway 99?

March 25, 2015 at 12:01 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 59 Comments

(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.

UPDATE: Southbound 99 reopens after 9-hour closure caused by overturned semitruck full of salmon

March 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news, West Seattle traffic alerts | 141 Comments


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:

3:22 PM: For those stuck on the Viaduct when this happened, here’s what’s being done:

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:

Here’s the schedule. Meantime:

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:

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:

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:

7:12 PM: After 4 1/2 hours, the truck is right-side up again:

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:

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.

3 pieces up, one big piece to go for Highway 99 tunnel machine

March 23, 2015 at 3:11 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 1 Comment

(WSDOT photo)
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.

Highway 99 tunnel machine’s road to repairs: 2nd piece lifted tonight

March 21, 2015 at 9:28 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | No Comments

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-90

March 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:

Click to read the rest of Traffic alerts for NEXT weekend: Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closures, Highway 99 to the north, I-90…

Bertha goes to pieces, where tunnel-tolling decision stands, and other notes from Alaskan Way Viaduct stakeholders’ meeting

March 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.)

Click to read the rest of Bertha goes to pieces, where tunnel-tolling decision stands, and other notes from Alaskan Way Viaduct stakeholders’ meeting…

TRAFFIC/TRANSIT TODAY: Tuesday updates/alerts

March 10, 2015 at 6:39 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news, West Seattle traffic alerts | No Comments

(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.

Highway 99/Viaduct updates: Lane closures postponed; inspection closure ahead; repair-work update

March 9, 2015 at 11:11 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 7 Comments

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.)

VIDEO: Time-lapse view of tunnel machine moving into repair pit

March 4, 2015 at 9:54 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 5 Comments

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.

Traffic alert: Highway 99 closure north of downtown this morning

March 1, 2015 at 5:13 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news, West Seattle traffic alerts | 3 Comments

One more reminder in case you’re heading north this morning: Highway 99 is scheduled to be closed both ways from the Battery Street Tunnel to N. 47th for the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K, 6 am-11 am.

Speaking of pits: Get a better look at Highway 99 tunnel machine

February 26, 2015 at 11:38 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 1 Comment

The Highway 99 tunnel machine is back on the move, according to WSDOT. It’s protruding further into the repair pit as it moves forward; WSDOT says five more tunnel rings have to be built behind it before it stops short of the north side of the pit. What happens after that is described in today’s update on the Highway 99 project website. You can get the newest view by clicking the camera at center-left on this page (that’s where the image at left is from).

Highway 99 tunnel-machine update: ‘Taking a break’ for cleanup

February 20, 2015 at 5:35 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 12 Comments

(Image downloaded from repair-pit camera after 5 pm today)
22 feet down, 35 to go for the Highway 99 tunnel machine, one day after it broke through the wall of the pit from which its cutterhead will be lifted for repairs. But it’s idle for now, as explained in this late-afternoon update from WSDOT:

After a few days of steady digging, Seattle Tunnel Partners is taking a break from mining so crews can clean out the bottom of the access pit. As expected, a mixture of dirt, concrete and water came into the pit along with the tunneling machine during Thursday’s breakthrough. Crews are using vacuum trucks and other tools to remove the material.

Once Bertha’s cradle is cleaned off, crews will continue moving the machine forward. Bertha must travel an additional 35 feet before STP and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen can begin the disassembly process. Since mining resumed late Tuesday, Bertha has moved nearly 22 feet.

Meantime, the SDOT director’s report we mentioned in an earlier story includes a few related notes. For one, SDOT director Scott Kubly writes, the city’s plan to independently evaluate the Alaskan Way Viaduct is proceeding: “Initial consultant scope, to be completed by early to mid-March, focuses on technical review of 2010-2014 studies of the viaduct and serviceability/safety for use of the viaduct structure.” Later in the report, he writes, “Bridge engineers responded to a report that concrete had fallen off the Alaskan Way Viaduct near Seneca Street. No significant defect was noted and it appears to be the continued minor deterioration of the aging structure.” (The date when this happened wasn’t mentioned.)

VIDEO: Highway 99 tunnel machine breaks through access-pit wall

February 19, 2015 at 11:39 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 29 Comments

11:39 AM: If you’ve been on the Alaskan Way Viaduct this morning and noticed a dust cloud – the Highway 99 tunneling machine is “preparing to break through” the wall of its repair pit, according to a Twitter update a few minutes ago. Earlier this morning, WSDOT published a web update saying the machine had moved 14 of the 20 feet it needs to go to break into its repair pit. It had warned that they expected the machine to overheat and have to stop down, but aside from a stopdown reported last night so other work could be done in the pit, there’s been no word of that happening. WSDOT says it’s switched the pit camera to more frequent updates – every five minutes – so you can check in here (left-center frame).

12:44 PM: And while we were away from the desk for a bit:

Online, WSDOT adds:

This is just the beginning of the repair effort being led by Seattle Tunnel Partners and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen. The machine will continue to move forward in 6 ½ foot increments, stopping to build rings on its way into the pit. When the front end of the machine is fully exposed, crews will begin the disassembly process. STP has told us that taking the machine apart and lifting it to the surface will take significant time and effort.

ADDED 5:22 PM: WSDOT offers this video including the first glimpse of the machine’s cutterhead (most visible around 1:15 in):

Update: Highway 99 tunnel machine now a third of the way to the pit

February 18, 2015 at 9:47 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 14 Comments


9:47 AM: Last week, WSDOT said the Highway 99 tunnel contractor would likely start the process this week of trying to get the tunneling machine to move 20 feet ahead so its damaged cutterhead can be pulled from the 120-foot-deep pit dug next to the Viaduct. This morning, there’s word the process has begun. As of 7 this morning, according to WSDOT’s announcement, the machine had made it about three feet forward:

The machine must mine through 20 feet of unreinforced concrete to reach the pit. The duration of this effort will depend on the machine’s ability to mine through the concrete while operating with a damaged seal system. STP anticipates the machine may overheat, as it has during their most recent attempts at mining. If the machine becomes too hot, they will take a break for it to cool down before resuming.

The image above is from the WSDOT page displaying several “live” construction cameras. (P.S. The south side of the pit, where it’s expected to break through, is on the left side of the photo.)

4:32 PM: WSDOT has just posted another update – saying the machine has now gone six feet.

Highway 99 tunnel-project updates: More viaduct settlement; repair update

February 13, 2015 at 6:34 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 13 Comments

(Added 9:27 pm: New image from camera over ‘access pit’ built to retrieve part of tunnel machine for repairs)

WSDOT has published another update on the Highway 99 tunnel project. You can read the entire update here; we’re excerpting two parts of it, starting with word of more Alaskan Way Viaduct settlement:

Survey crews have confirmed that the Alaskan Way Viaduct between South Main Street and Railroad Way South has settled up to ¼ inch in the past month. Our bridge experts are confident this minor, uniform settlement does not pose any new safety risks to the public. The viaduct remains vulnerable to earthquakes, but it is still safe for everyday use. If we had any reason to believe the structure was unsafe, we would not hesitate to close it.

These latest measurements only apply to this section of the viaduct. We have not measured any similar trends elsewhere on the viaduct, in nearby buildings or the ground surface. We expect the viaduct will continue to experience minor settlement until it is removed. Viaduct settlement has made headlines in recent months, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t a new issue. The viaduct has been settling for years, as you can see in our inspection log. Hundreds of monitors have been installed in the ground and on the viaduct to help us monitor settlement, and we will continue to keep a close eye on the structure’s condition as construction continues.

WSDOT also says the operation to move the tunnel machine into the repair pit could start within days:

Click to read the rest of Highway 99 tunnel-project updates: More viaduct settlement; repair update…

Highway 99 tunnel: Repair-pit digging’s done, says WSDOT

January 30, 2015 at 4:49 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 4 Comments

(At 3:39, WSDOT’s video shows excavation on its final day, today)
Just in from WSDOT, the latest Highway 99 tunnel news: The pit being dug to lift out the tunneling machine’s damaged cutterhead has reached the desired depth, 120 feet.

… Approximately 20,000 cubic yards of material was removed from the ground over the course of excavation, which began in mid-October. With excavation complete, crews can begin construction of the concrete cradle at the bottom of the pit. The cradle will support the machine after it moves through the pit’s southern wall, which is about 20 feet thick.

STP plans to tunnel through the concrete wall. The length of time it takes Bertha to reach the pit will depend largely on her ability to mine through and digest the concrete. If she’s unable to mine through the wall, STP will create an opening from within the pit to give her an unobstructed path forward. Once inside the pit, crews will use the massive red gantry crane … to hoist the front end of the machine to the surface for repairs.

Today’s update also says, “Settlement levels near the pit remain stable.”

(WSDOT photo)
Meantime, for more info on that giant crane – which you’ve likely noticed right next to the Viaduct downtown – check out Seattle Times (WSB partner) transportation reporter Mike Lindblom‘s story from two weeks ago.

Update: Council’s longer-than-expected briefing on tunnel/Viaduct, and the 2 words repeated over and over

January 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 41 Comments

(4:09 PM UPDATE: Archived video of the meeting now added above. The Viaduct discussion starts at 1 hour, 37 minutes in – you can drag the playback bar there)

1:02 PM: The City Council is already an hour and a half past the time it expected to conclude this morning’s “briefing” meeting. WSDOT has been on the hot seat since 11:15 am on the state of the tunnel-repair project and issues including a letter from SDOT in response to a report from WSDOT engineers around the time the repair pit’s status became an issue a month ago. Much discussion focused on the phrase “catastrophic failure” relating to the repair pit work – though it’s been reiterated over and over again that the Viaduct is safe, councilmembers want more assurance. Two more agencies are coming up now – SDOT and Seattle Public Utilities – so we’re putting the live window above, and will be adding the highlights of notes we’ve been taking (plus other coverage links) along the way.

1:29 PM: The meeting just adjourned. Here’s what’s transpired so far:

–Much discussion about the letter sent by SDOT to WSDOT and the engineering report that led to it. As far as we can tell, this was first reported by Sydney Brownstone of The Stranger. WSDOT opened its part of this morning’s meeting by sternly declaring that the city letter took the phrase “risk of catastrophic failure” out of context. This was repeated over and over again; the City Council, however, got stern right back – Councilmember Kshama Sawant, for example, noted that she formerly worked as an engineer, and engineers don’t use that phrase for no reason. Council President Tim Burgess asked WSDOT if it had the December 11th report handy, and when told, “yes,” stopped the meeting briefly so it could be given to a clerk who immediately made copies for the council. We’ve asked WSDOT for the document as well, and will add it here as soon as it comes in. (ADDED: Here it is; the “catastrophic failure” mention comes in the final paragraph. Note that WSDOT says this was a “draft” and has also sent a 12/19 “final” version [added]- here’s that one.)

Later in the meeting, WSDOT suggested that because of this “out of context” quoting, it might restrict city access to a system in which it keeps these reports, and several councilmembers voiced disbelief at that.


Click to read the rest of Update: Council’s longer-than-expected briefing on tunnel/Viaduct, and the 2 words repeated over and over…

Speaking of pits: Hwy. 99 tunnel-machine-access digging resumes

January 8, 2015 at 3:30 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 7 Comments

For the first time in more than two weeks, we have an official update on Seattle’s most closely watched pit – the one intended to reach the Highway 99 tunnel machine, so its cutterhead can be retrieved and repaired. WSDOT published the update this afternoon, saying that its contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners resumed digging today, and that: “Settlement levels near the pit have remained stable for more than six weeks.” The pit is 3/4 of the way to the 120-feet depth at which STP says it will pour a platform for the front of the machine to rest on, after it is turned back on to advance a short distance into the pit. Timeline? Nothing new yet, says WSDOT; you might recall, the most recent ballpark-guess tunnel-opening date was August 2017.

P.S. Reminder that seawall-and-tunnel-related work downtown will result in access changes at Colman Dock and Water Taxi Pier 50 starting tomorrow.

Tunnel updates: Opening no sooner than August 2017; access-pit digging on hold again; new ‘settling’ info

December 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 75 Comments

(Added: New screengrab from tunnel-machine-access-pit camera)
2:35 PM: Even if nothing else goes wrong with the Highway 99 tunnel project, it won’t be open for use any sooner than August 2017.

That’s an estimate made by the contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners BEFORE the recent discovery of “settling” in the area; WSDOT just disclosed the date today, as part of a general pre-holiday update. The update also says that while no new settling has been detected near the pit being built to retrieve the cutter head of the broken-down tunneling, machine, settling elsewhere “is greater and farther reaching than anticipated. Engineers are still evaluating whether other factors are involved that could explain the discrepancy. We will continue to conduct daily inspections of the viaduct and watch the survey data closely as STP moves forward with their work. As we write this, we’re on a conference call with other reporters and reps from WSDOT and STP – we’ll be adding more details shortly.

ADDED 3:19 PM: The conference call is over; from WSDOT, it included project executive Matt Preedy and spokesperson Laura Newborn, and from Seattle Tunnel Partners, executive Chris Dixon, plus local/regional/national reporters.

Among the many points of note:

-The August 2017 date that debuted today was described as coming from the “October update” by STP. We asked why it wasn’t mentioned before, not even during the official stakeholders’ briefing (at which we were the only news org on hand) in early December. STP explained that these updates – which WSDOT now plans to make public – take several weeks to assemble, so the “October update” is just being parsed now. (Which means, they acknowledged, we won’t know full details of the “November update” – which would still not include this month’s turbulence – until January, and so on.)

-The schedule will remain “dynamic,” said WSDOT’s Preedy, until the tunneling machine is back in operation. (In other words, even the new August 2017 date is nowhere near set in stone.)

-Excavation of the pull-the-cutter-head-out-for-repairs pit is on hold now for two weeks, and not expected to resume until early January. Digging stopped on Friday, about three days after WSDOT had said it could resume. Some non-structural pilings, explained in the official online update, are being pulled out before they start going to the next level. STP’s Dixon explained that digging had been done in stages, about six feet at a time, before an evaluation of where everything stood. At the completion of the most recent stage – to 90 feet in pit depth, aka “-74 in elevation” – they decided to pause for piling removal.

-Would it have been quicker, in hindsight, to approach the tunnel-machine repair project from the south/interior? STP insisted it’s happy with its choice to build the pit to try to hoist the cutter head out, even though it’s of a magnitude that has never been done before, given the machine’s record size, etc., and has “been more difficult than anticipated.”

-The settlement of the Viaduct itself, when recalculated as explained in the online update, will likely be a bit less than estimated, but the settlement causes in the area remain a mystery, and an investigation continues.

-As for the big issues – who pays for all this unanticipated work? – the state continues to point out that this is a “design-build contract” and that STP is expected to do whatever it takes to fulfill that. Pressed on certain specifics, WSDOT’s Preedy said he didn’t think it “appropriate for either party to speculate” on how it’s all going to be worked out.

-About the “70 percent complete” recent proclamation, today’s answer seemed to mostly boil down to, that’s the percentage STP has been paid.

P.S. To see the “October schedule” from which the August 2017 open-to-traffic projection was pulled, go here. WSDOT also has published the September schedule, which also seems to project that same month (albeit a couple weeks earlier than the Oct. “schedule”).

Traffic alert: Crash on southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct

December 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 2 Comments

If you’re heading this way from downtown or points north – note that there’s a backup on the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct from just before the stadium zone, because of a one-vehicle crash. Kim reported it via Twitter:

No emergency vehicles at the time, but now they’ve been dispatched and reportedly will be checking a toddler for possible injuries.

Today’s Viaduct/Tunnel update: Long FAQ including declaration of disappointment, threshold for ‘mitigation,’ more

December 17, 2014 at 5:39 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 38 Comments

Today’s WSDOT update on the Viaduct/Tunnel project, posted late today, is a new, long FAQ attempting to answer some of the questions that have come up since the December 5th disclosure of “settling.” Read it in its entirety here. Some of what caught our eye on first look include:

Our contract with STP allows up to two inches of viaduct settlement before mitigation is required. Should it be necessary, a number of techniques could be used to strengthen the viaduct and keep it open to traffic until the new SR 99 corridor is completed. These techniques could include strengthening columns or other areas of the structure to provide additional support. We could also reinforce the viaduct’s foundation as we did in 2008.

Regarding the plan to reach, lift, and repair the tunnel machine’s cutter head, WSDOT writes, “We’re disappointed with STP’s progress to date …” while noting the pit is now three-fourths of the way to the expected 120-foot depth, and expressing optimism that even if the current rescue plan has to be abandoned: “At its core, this is an engineering problem, one that can no doubt be solved.” The FAQ reiterates, “No significant settlement has been observed in the area since Dec. 5.” And as for the biggest concern of all:

Our bridge experts have confirmed that the viaduct remains safe for day-to-day use. If we had any reason to believe it wasn’t, we wouldn’t hesitate to close it. It’s important to remember, however, that the day-to-day safety of the structure does not change the fact that the viaduct remains vulnerable to earthquakes. That’s why it’s being replaced.

Today’s Highway 99 tunnel-project update: Pit-digging to resume

December 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 15 Comments

(WSDOT photo from last week – assembly of what’s meant to lift tunnel-machine head from pit)
After Monday’s City Council session looking at the latest tunnel-related troubles (WSB coverage here), council president Tim Burgess declared it’s too late to turn back now. So, with no new settlement reported, onward it will go. WSDOT‘s tunnel update for today, just published here, says their contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners has the go-ahead to continue digging the pit from which they hope to pull up the tunnel machine’s damaged cutter head:

Excavation was stopped at WSDOT’s direction on Dec. 12. While no significant ground settlement had been observed since Dec. 5, we suspended excavation to give our team time to gather more survey data and review STP’s contingency plan for turning off the dewatering wells, should that become necessary. We have now reviewed STP’s plan and gathered additional data from the weekend that shows the recently measured settlement has stabilized.

The digging stopped about three-quarters of the way down to where they hope to reach the machine. The red lifting device is under construction (photo above) feet from the Viaduct, roughly parallel with King Street.

Alaskan Way Viaduct & vicinity briefing @ City Council: ‘No continued settlement’

December 15, 2014 at 9:41 am | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | 22 Comments

(ADDED: Video of this morning’s entire meeting, above)
9:41 AM: Ten days after concerns about “settling” related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project, WSDOT reps are briefing the Seattle City Council right now. Transportation secretary Lynn Peterson says there appears to be “no further settlement” since what was reported a week and a half ago, and no damage to buildings in the area. She says that while this is a “tense moment” in the project, WSDOT firmly believes it’s “less risky” to proceed than to rely on the earthquake-vulnerable Viaduct. She also vows that the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is being and will be held accountable for what they’re expected to do. And she says they can’t commit to any kind of timeline right now for completion, because the cutter head has to be retrieved for repair first: “This is a design-build contract and we have purchased a tunnel … the fix .. is the responsibility of the contractor. We do not own the machine nor the method” STP chooses to fix it.

WSDOT’s Todd Trepanier tells the council STP was asked to stop excavating, at least temporarily, on Friday, until getting a green light for resumption. He’s getting into more technical points; here’s the slide deck just added to the agenda.

You can watch the briefing live here. After WSDOT reps are done explaining, and answering council questions about, the “settling” situation, city reps are scheduled to talk about the status of plans in place in case a Viaduct closure was needed. We’ll have toplines of that later; you can preview the slide deck (which involves a 2005 plan centered on “what ifs” in case of an earthquake) here, plus a new city update on the “settling” situation here.

11:26 AM: The meeting, originally scheduled for about an hour, has now lasted for two and isn’t likely to end any time soon – again, it’s live at Councilmembers continue to press for more specifics on Viaduct safety – a moment ago, Councilmember Kshama Sawant was asking what size of earthquake would take the AWV down; WSDOT says it doesn’t want to speculate but notes they all believe the structure “is vulnerable.”

11:30 AM: City reps are now coming to the table to discuss the status of plans in case it was determined the Viaduct had to be closed – not just transportation, but utilities.

SDOT director Scott Kubly says the “unified command structure” has been meeting at least once a day to talk about the situation. Seattle Public Utilities says it’s been monitoring utility lines and pipes in the area – they’re using a hydrophone to “acoustically” detect water leaks, as well as using closed-circuit video to watch the sewer lines. The presentation embedded above this paragraph shows all the utility info they’re presenting, including what types of lines are in the Viaduct/tunnel-pit area, as well as the transportation plan that SDOT will discuss shortly.

11:46 AM: Now it’s SDOT director Kubly’s turn, after a council question asking SPU who covers the cost if there are utility problems – answer: the state. Meantime, he says that they are in “good shape” if a Viaduct closure was necessary, because the 2005 plan is updated each year. The “variable message boards” on paths to The Viaduct would be called into action, as would equipment like barricades etc. which he says are “pre-loaded” onto vehicles and ready to go at a moment’s notice, if needed. He is followed by Seattle City Light with its plans. Meantime, the Department of Planning and Development hasn’t heard yet of any buildings that would be deemed unsafe, but if settlement was “a lot steeper in areas,” they have authority to “do various things depending on how much damage we see … (including) ordering vacation of (a) building.”

11:58 AM: Councilmember Tom Rasmussen asks how Metro works into this plan if the Viaduct had to close. Kubly says Metro is “at the table” and they are looking at “how would we speed buses” and “what detour routes would be in place … how (to) add service would depend on length of the closure.” Could the plan deal with all 60,000 people/vehicles that would not be able to use the AWV? Kubly says it would address elements such as possible restrictions on “non-essential construction,” changes in deliveries, and looking at ways to get more people carpooling, using transit, etc. (The funding for extra transit is “already gone,” the council is told.) WSDOT’s Trepanier is asked to come back to the table to answer some questions, such as what if there’s a long-term gap between the Viaduct going out of service and the tunnel coming into service. He says the Legislature made the decision not to use any more project money toward “transportation mitigation” (such as transit).

12:13 PM: The Viaduct discussion is over and the council has moved into a preview of its 2 pm meeting, which will include the White Center annexation proposal. When the video of this meeting is available, we’ll add it to this story.

3:18 PM: Just added the video.

8:18 PM: Mike Lindblom of The Seattle Times (WSB partner) reports on the downtown water main that needs replacement.

Today’s Viaduct/tunnel pit update from WSDOT: No new ‘significant settlement’; no voids under King St. crack

December 12, 2014 at 6:28 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Safety, West Seattle news | 15 Comments

One week has now gone by since WSDOT disclosed new “settling” of, and near, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the hole being dug to reach the Highway 99 tunneling machine for repairs.

After the ensuing week of various updates, discoveries, and concerns, today’s update is out, and in it, WSDOT says “to date, no significant settlement has been observed beyond the initial settlement we reported publicly on Dec. 5. The viaduct remains safe for travel.” The update also says that so far, ground-based radar hasn’t shown any “voids” under the crack scrutinized on King St. in Pioneer Square on Thursday. (E-mail from WSDOT to reporters adds, “The crack in the middle of King Street has been there for some time, as seen in a Google Maps picture from 2011. Given the absence of prior settlement data on this particular street, it may take a while to fully understand what may have caused pavement to shift.)

Meantime, the City Council‘s agenda for next Monday morning has been revised to start with WSDOT execs’ updating the council on the “settling” at 9:30 am, followed by a 9:50 am discussion with state and city officials about what would happen if the Viaduct had to be closed, short term or long term. The agenda section for the latter item includes this existing document that discusses closure in the context of an earthquake.

Today’s Viaduct-and-vicinity updates: See the ‘settling’ map; King St. crack in Pioneer Square

December 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, Transportation, West Seattle news | 30 Comments

(SCROLL DOWN for newest updates)

2:58 PM: That map (click the image to see the full-size version) is the main Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99 Tunnel update so far today, six days after first word that some areas in the vicinity have “settled” more than an inch. You might have seen a version of the map on Publicola this morning; the version released by WSDOT this afternoon has added context and a slightly different color scheme. It shows settling of almost an inch and a half in some areas, but does not show the areas of “uneven” settling, says WSDOT, and the text of their update makes it clear this does not show what’s happened on The Viaduct itself:

Crews from WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners are conducting ongoing surveys of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and ground to determine whether settlement is continuing near the SR 99 tunnel access pit. In general, the surveys include:

Twice daily manual measurements at the bottom of both the east and west columns of the viaduct.
Approximately every other day measurements of deep survey points. These are survey points more than 80 feet underground.

Ground surveys of sidewalks and streets from Alaskan Way to Second Avenue and from Yesler Way to South King Street. Some areas are surveyed twice a day; other areas are surveyed once every two to three days.

Surveys of some buildings. Data is collected both manually and automatically and monitored daily.

The data from the ground surveys and deep survey points are represented on a survey point data map. This map does not represent data from building surveys or the surveys of the viaduct.

The map is a computer-generated approximation to show visually the survey results that were shared with the public on Dec. 5, which indicates approximately 1.4 inches of ground settlement near the access pit and a lesser amount of settlement in the surrounding area. It does not show differential settlement, which is uneven settlement that occurs underneath a particular building or structure.

Lastly, the map does not present conclusions about the effect of dewatering. Additionally, the colors have been modified to better show the change in settlement from high to low.

We asked WSDOT earlier today if the tunnel contractor was continuing with access-pit digging, estimated two days ago to have another day to go before they reached a point where they’d stop to evaluate. The reply said only that the December 9th update still applied. We’ve been watching the “live” construction camera, and the excavation equipment does seem to have been in action as the day goes on.

ADDED 4:15 PM: New development – a crack in King St. downtown, not far east of the “rescue pit.” A briefing by the mayor is expected soon.

Tunnel-project update: Still digging ‘access pit’ – for at least 1 more day

December 9, 2014 at 3:27 pm | In Alaskan Way Viaduct, West Seattle news | Comments Off

(Access-pit camera’s image from 3:20 pm today)
Again today, with the stalled Highway 99 tunnel project under the microscope more than ever before, WSDOT has just published a new update. This time, they’re clarifying the status of the access-pit dig intended to get to the tunneling machine’s cutter head:

Excavation continues on the circular pit (pdf 2.5 Mb) that will be used to access and repair the SR 99 tunneling machine. Seattle Tunnel Partners’ engineers have determined that continuing excavation to 84 feet, an additional 3 feet from the current depth, will not affect when and how the dewatering wells could be turned off. We anticipate excavation to this elevation will take approximately one day, at which time STP will inspect the shaft walls per their quality assurance procedures. Once they reach 84 feet, STP will review survey data and consult with their engineers and WSDOT prior to determining next steps. …

The update (which you can see in its entirety here) also mentions that work continues on the crane intended to lift the damaged machinery from the pit, and on the 1,000 feet of tunnel dug before the machine stopped work one year ago. The latter two points were also reviewed at the project stakeholders’ meeting we covered one week ago downtown, just a few days before WSDOT disclosed last Friday the “settling” that was causing concern, following up with a Sunday update, and then a City Council briefing yesterday.

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