West Seattle Blog... » Alaskan Way Viaduct http://westseattleblog.com West Seattle news, 24/7 Sat, 29 Nov 2014 02:28:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Traffic-alert update: Northbound Alaskan Way Viaduct open again after closure for cleanup http://westseattleblog.com/2014/11/traffic-alert-alaskan-way-viaduct-crash-debris-cleanup/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/11/traffic-alert-alaskan-way-viaduct-crash-debris-cleanup/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:31:55 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=292522

9:31 PM: This might not last too long but in case you got stuck in the backup or have seen it – a crash on the northbound Alaskan Way Viaduct is requiring a debris cleanup, and traffic is temporarily stopped because of it (live cam here). That includes police blocking the ramp to northbound 99 from the West Seattle Bridge. So if you have to head toward downtown – take note.

9:41 PM: Just got info from Seattle Police via Twitter:

We’re adding the live camera as an image atop this report, so you can see firsthand when it clears.

10 PM: Per scanner, police were trying to figure out how to get cars off 99. In the meantime, they also say a street sweeper will arrive in 10 minutes or so.

10:45 PM: Now open again.

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Highway 99 tunnel: Digging resumes at ‘rescue’ pit site http://westseattleblog.com/2014/11/highway-99-tunnel-digging-resumes-at-rescue-pit-site/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/11/highway-99-tunnel-digging-resumes-at-rescue-pit-site/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 22:40:55 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=290932 2:40 PM: A week and a half after the discovery of shells stopped excavation at the Alaskan Way Viaduct-side pit where the tunneling machine’s damaged cutter head will be pulled out, the digging has resumed. So announced WSDOT this afternoon, saying archaeologists gave the tunnel contractor clearance on Sunday to get going again. According to the announcement, they “believe the shell deposits are the product of commercial shellfish activities carried out by early Seattleites around the turn of the 20th century.” Therefore, they weren’t believed to be “culturally or historically significant,” and work was allowed to resume.

3:37 PM: Any further delay for the timeline? we asked WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn. Her reply: “STP has not given WSDOT an updated timeline. As recently as last month, STP said it expected it would get the front end of the machine up and out of the ground sometime in December, and that it still expected repairs to be finished by the end of March.”

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Highway 99 tunnel-machine rescue pit digging on hold after 3 days http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/highway-99-tunnel-machine-rescue-pit-digging-on-hold-after-3-days/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/highway-99-tunnel-machine-rescue-pit-digging-on-hold-after-3-days/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 01:47:09 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=289704

As reported here just three days ago, WSDOT announced digging had begun for the pit going down 120 feet to rescue the Highway 99 tunnel-machine cutter head. Tonight, WSDOT has announced the digging is on hold. Here’s the entire update:

On Oct. 23, WSDOT archaeologists monitoring the access pit excavation observed a deposit containing shell material that requires further evaluation and may indicate the presence of cultural materials. No artifacts or human remains were found. WSDOT has very strict protocols when archeological material is discovered and those protocols were followed today. Excavation activities in the access pit have stopped and we are now coordinating with the Federal Highway Administration and tribal governments, and the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation to determine the next steps. As more information is available to share with the public, we will pass it along.

The image above is a screengrab from the project’s monitoring cameras, which are online “live” here.

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Traffic-alert update: Alaskan Way Viaduct reopens early http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/traffic-alert-update-alaskan-way-viaduct-reopens-early/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/traffic-alert-update-alaskan-way-viaduct-reopens-early/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 15:47:44 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=289206

8:47 AM: We’ve confirmed by phone with a WSDOT spokesperson that the Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection work ended early, so they will NOT be closing Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and Battery Street Tunnel again today after all. The closure from the tunnel north to Valley St. IS continuing, though, so if you’re using the NB Viaduct, you’ll have to exit at Western Avenue (if not sooner).

SUNDAY NIGHT NOTE: The northern closure ended early, too, so Highway 99 is fully open both ways.

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Followup: New details of next weekend’s Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closure http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/followup-new-details-of-next-weekends-highway-99alaskan-way-viaduct-inspection-closure/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/10/followup-new-details-of-next-weekends-highway-99alaskan-way-viaduct-inspection-closure/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 20:14:45 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=288381 Two days after our first report that the next Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection closures are happening next weekend, WSDOT has new details today. Here’s the schedule:

First, a section of 99 on the NORTH end of downtown will be closed all next weekend:

·10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17 through 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 20: SR 99 will be closed between the Battery Street Tunnel and Valley Street for utility and paving work.

Then, it’s the previously announced closure between the West Seattle Bridge and the BSTunnel, daytime only, both days next weekend:

·6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 18 and Sunday, Oct. 19: The SR 99 closure will be extended south to Spokane Street to allow WSDOT bridge inspectors to conduct their semiannual inspection of the viaduct. Preliminary inspection results will be released once they are available.

Two other notes:

*8 am-noon Saturday morning (October 18th) the closure will stretch to North 39th St. for a fundraising walk.

*And while all this is happening on Highway 99 – the 520 Bridge will be closed too (11 pm Friday night, Oct. 17th, until 5 am Monday, Oct. 20), which means I-5 and I-90 will be extra busy.

As always, traffic updates are a priority here, given the peninsula’s transportation challenges, so we’ll have extra weekend coverage during the closures.

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Traffic notes: Crash south of 1st Ave. S. Bridge; tonight’s Highway 99 closure canceled http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/road-work-update-tonights-highway-99-closure-canceled/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/road-work-update-tonights-highway-99-closure-canceled/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 23:39:26 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286702 NEW, 5:09 PM: Since we already have a traffic note atop the page, we’re adding this: If you use the First Avenue South Bridge, beware – a rollover crash is reported south of the bridge, in the southbound lanes. Only one lane reported blocked for starters, but that was before the major emergency response headed that way. (added) One person was in the vehicle, and is reported to be inhurt.

EARLIER TRAFFIC NOTE, 4:39 PM: Update from the road-work plan mentioned in this morning’s traffic watch: Because of the rain, WSDOT has canceled its plan to fully close northbound Highway 99 between the bridge and the stadiums overnight tonight. (You might still encounter lane closures, though.)

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TUNNEL TOUR: Follow along on an 8-flight descent into what’s already been dug http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/tunnel-tour-follow-along-on-an-8-flight-descent-into-whats-already-been-dug/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/09/tunnel-tour-follow-along-on-an-8-flight-descent-into-whats-already-been-dug/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 09:42:18 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=286178 (EDITOR’S NOTE: Even if you agree with the advocacy group that has declared the Highway 99 tunnel a “boondoggle,” nine months after its boring machine stalled, you might be interested in a look at what’s already been done and what’s continuing to progress even before the upcoming repairs. WSDOT invited media to tour the site Thursday, and photojournalist Christopher Boffoli went on behalf of WSB. Here are his photos and narrative of how it went.

Photos, video, and story by Christopher Boffoli
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The meeting point for our tour was an entrance at the end of South King Street just under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After being issued safety clothes (hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, and reflective vests) we were greeted by Chris Dixon, Project Manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners, who led our group of about 7 or 8 journalists over to one of the engineering and orientation trailers.

This was a small meeting room with a lot of colorful schematics and cross-section geologic diagrams on the walls:

Dixon explained that – while the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) is idle – work is advancing at both the north end of the site (where a cut and cover tunnel is being prepared in the area where the TBM will eventually emerge) and the south end of the site, near the stadiums, where the future roadways are being prepared.

There is also a great deal of activity inside the existing tunnel itself. On a whiteboard Dixon drew a cross-section of the tunnel and explained how crews are busy installing structures called corbels along the tunnel floor:

These concrete structures are essentially footings that will bear the weight of the straight interior tunnel walls and the concrete road decks (southbound traffic above and northbound traffic below) that vehicles will drive over.

He said that by the time the TBM resumes its digging, they expect to have 450 feet of the tunnel’s interior complete. Dixon said that this work was originally set to happen later but that they have reconfigured the schedule while work is underway to repair the TBM.

We were joined by Matt Preedy, Deputy Program Administrator, WSDOT (and a West Seattle resident).

All of the journalists were issued numbered brass tags which were recorded on a ledger and that we pinned to our vests. As we left the engineering trailer and entered the site, there were a number of large boards with numbered dots painted on them. Dixon and Preedy went to the boards and attached their own brass tags to them.

They didn’t take the time to explain, but those ‘pit tags’ (also called check tags) are a system employed for hundreds of years to keep track of who is working inside a mine, or in this case, a tunnel. One of the first things we saw (at ground level) were piles of curved, pre-cast concrete panels that are arranged in place behind the TBM.

Bolted together into rings, they form the very strong, outer tunnel walls. Their tight-fitting gaskets are designed to keep ground water at bay.

There are ten panels in each ring and there are to be 1,450 rings in the complete tunnel.

We walked out over a concrete gantry from which we could look down on the launch pit below. To the south were the almost completed roadways that someday would carry traffic in and out of the SR-99 tunnel:

Turning around, we could see the entirety of the launch pit and the tunnel entrance at the end of it.

We descended about eight flights of steep, metal stairs to the floor of the site.

Behind us (to the south) was a completed section of cut-and-cover tunnel, with its neat, square walls, unlike the circular structure of the bored tunnel that we were about to tour.

Construction material (mostly rebar) was everywhere:

Along the sides of the pit, workers were busy covering the walls with Spray-Crete, a light, liquid form of cement.

To our right we could see the below-ground part of what we were told would become the South Operation Building. Water also seemed to be ubiquitous, seeping in all over the walls of the site.

Dixon said that, though some of it might be from nearby Elliott Bay, most of it was fresh groundwater.

We descended a ladder to an even lower section of the launch pit, level with the bottom of the tunnel.

Walking inside the tunnel at last, we could see large red concrete forms and workers installing structural re-bar along the bottom sides of the tunnel.

This is the corbel work we were told about.

Beyond the equipment and activity near the entrance of the tunnel, it was only when you walked a bit further into the tunnel that could you appreciate the impressive size of the space.

It was here that you could also appreciate the intricate puzzle of curved concrete panels.

Overhead was a large yellow ventilation shaft that brings fresh air into the deepest part of the tunnel and that can be reversed in an emergency to pull smoke from a fire out of the tunnel. Also above was part of the long conveyor belt on which tailings and slurry are removed to awaiting barges. Dixon explained that, as the TBM advances, sections of conveyor belt are added.

By the end of the project, the belt will be as long as the tunnel itself.

Outside in the open pit we had seen piles of coiled belt sections waiting to be installed in the future.

The first part of the TBM you see is the white-painted, rear superstructure of the
300 foot long trailing section.

Massive wheels support the entire machine, which includes all of the systems of wires and pipes for power and to pump chemicals and grout towards the face of the TBM. As you move forward, you encounter the system that receives the curved panel sections, picks them up, orients them to the proper position and location for installation when they are needed.

Moving forward still, you approach the section of the TBM that is behind the cutting face.

Everything there seems covered with some form of water or mud. There are hazards to footing and low clearances, making it a challenge to decide if you should watch your head or where you step. Everything was lit with fluorescent tubes, giving it a bright – if slightly green – cast. As we arrived to the most recently-installed ring of curved concrete sections, at the very bottom, Dixon and Preedy showed us the enormous pistons that the TBM uses to push against the edge of the course of concrete rings to advance itself forward.

As politicized as the bored tunnel has been and continues to be in Seattle, I must say that standing in the bowels of the machine, it is difficult not to be in awe of the scale and size of the complex machinery, the intricate tapestry of conduits, hoses, pistons, motors, fittings and beams – the sheer audacity of the technology involved in pushing through the earth blindly at 100 feet below sea level.

It is a level of technological complexity that I have only before seen when watching a Ridley Scott film set inside of a spaceship. It did not seem like a place that a group of human beings should be standing. And it was even more incomprehensible that people had designed and built it.

We climbed narrow staircases through a maze of passageways to see where the muddy tailings from the cutting face begin their journey out of the tunnel.

On another level we visited the control room with the screens and consoles from which workers can manage and monitor all aspects of the TBM when it is in operation.

Dixon explained that the numbers we saw on the primary displays indicated just over two bars of pressure (regular atmospheric pressure is one bar; most commercial espresso makers operate at 10-15 bars of pressure). Even though the TBM was not running he said that the instruments generally don’t read much more than that. He added that – when in operation – the cutting face of the TBM isn’t even all that loud, though Preedy added that all of the motors that power the conveyor belts for the removal of tailings do make the back of the machine very noisy.

Though the TBM was idle, Dixon said that workers are kept busy “exercising” and maintaining many of the parts of the machine that might atrophy or otherwise fall into disrepair if left sitting for a long time. It wasn’t uncomfortably warm inside the heart of the machine, though Dixon said that when the TBM is in operation it does get quite hot down there as the heat of friction is transferred through the cutting face to the surrounding spaces. Heat played into what went wrong, and what’s being fixed, he explained:

Adjacent to the control room – still inside the heart of the TBM structure – was a break room that, with coffee maker, microwave oven, long lunch tables, etc. would look at home in any factory. It was hard to believe it was at the center of an incredibly complex machine deep underground.

Nearby we saw a collection of cutting heads, each weighing 1500 pounds, that could be attached to an overhead rail for transport to the front of the cutting face for replacement. Various cutting heads are used, depending on the soil conditions.

The “rippers” we saw are best suited for the type of loose glacial soils that are expected in this section of the project.

At the very front of the TBM we could see the large blue motors that individually power each of the cutting heads.

On the same level we could see the central drive shaft, painted light green. And to the sides were large pressure vessels through which men and equipment could safely transition to the pressurized area on the other side of the cutting face, if needed.

With our tour complete we walked back through the various stairways and passages, back down to the tunnel floor at the rear of the TBM’s trailing gear, and out the way we came.

The palms of my light-colored gloves – which had honestly seemed like overkill at the start of the tour – had somehow become darkened.

After we had climbed the fairly treacherous ladders and countless treads of metal stairways, we were led back to the engineering and orientation trailers where, one by one, we turned in our numbered brass tags and were signed out of the ledger.

What happens next in the repair process? Here’s the latest update on the project website. For more on the project’s status, here’s what our partners at The Seattle Times published post-tour.

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Just in case you’re not sure: The Alaskan Way Viaduct will be open tomorrow. Highway 99 north of there won’t. http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/just-in-case-youre-not-sure-the-alaskan-way-viaduct-will-be-open-tomorrow-highway-99-north-of-there-wont/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/just-in-case-youre-not-sure-the-alaskan-way-viaduct-will-be-open-tomorrow-highway-99-north-of-there-wont/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 04:49:31 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=283565 With some simply describing the Highway 99 work as a “4-day closure,” here’s a reminder: For the part most used by West Seattleites, it’s not. The Alaskan Way Viaduct WILL reopen by 5 am Monday, WSDOT says (as will 99 between the AWV and West Seattle Bridge). What will NOT be open (yet) is Highway 99 north of The Viaduct – from the Battery St. Tunnel north to Valley Street on Lower Queen Anne, as shown here:

That section is supposed to remain closed for bridge work until early Wednesday. Though The Viaduct will be open again, it’s still wise to avoid it if you can, since anyone still on 99 past Seneca will have to exit at Western, and that’s likely to back things up. South of there, state crews spent the weekend closure replacing concrete panels; WSDOT’s latest update says, “The final concrete has been poured on these new panels and will cure overnight. Drivers should experience a smoother ride in SODO during Monday morning’s commute.” We’ll be monitoring morning traffic here as usual, with live cameras in our daily update as well as on the WSB Traffic page.

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Another traffic alert: Nighttime lane closures on Highway 99 http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/another-traffic-alert-nighttime-lane-closures-on-highway-99/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/another-traffic-alert-nighttime-lane-closures-on-highway-99/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 01:58:23 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=282925 Before we get to this weekend’s big Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct closure (which continues north of the Viaduct for two days beyond that, WSDOT has announced some nighttime lane closures this week for prep work, starting tonight. Here’s the alert:

Drivers who use State Route 99 through Seattle’s SODO district should plan ahead for possible nighttime delays this week.

Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation will close up to two lanes in both directions between Spokane and Atlantic streets nightly for pavement rehabilitation work.

The southbound lanes will begin closing at 9 p.m., and the northbound lanes will begin closing at 10 p.m. All lanes will be open by 5 a.m.

In addition to the weeknight closures, the eastbound West Seattle Bridge off-ramp to northbound SR 99 will close from 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21 until 5 a.m. Friday, Aug. 22.

The work will help prepare the roadway for the upcoming weekend closure of SR 99 in which 81 damaged concrete panels will either be repaired or replaced. The $10.08 million project on the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct will extend the life of SR 99 and provide a smoother, safer ride for drivers.

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Traffic-alert reminder: Viaduct/99 closure NEXT weekend http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/traffic-alert-reminder-viaduct99-closure-next-weekend/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/08/traffic-alert-reminder-viaduct99-closure-next-weekend/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 14:52:29 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=282723

While everything is status quo with the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Highway 99 north of the West Seattle Bridge THIS weekend, WSDOT reminds you that won’t be case by this time NEXT weekend. The map above shows the planned closure – for various reasons you can read about here – starting 10 pm next Friday night, August 22, with the exception of two access points for traffic exiting the Seahawks game until midnight. By Monday morning, August 25th, the WS Bridge-to-Battery St. Tunnel section should reopen, but the tunnel-to-Valley St. section will stay closed two more days:

Again, that all starts NEXT Friday night. And we’ll be reminding you daily in our regular WSB traffic coverage between now and then.

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West Seattle traffic alert: New details about Highway 99 closure next month http://westseattleblog.com/2014/07/west-seattle-traffic-alert-new-details-about-highway-99-closure-next-month/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/07/west-seattle-traffic-alert-new-details-about-highway-99-closure-next-month/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 22:09:13 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=279006 In June, we reported on WSDOT’s plan to close part of Highway 99 (including the Alaskan Way Viaduct) in late August for repair work. Today, new details are out – see them here – since WSDOT has locked in more details. Key points: 99 will be closed both ways from the West Seattle Bridge to Valley Street from late Friday night, August 22nd, until early Monday morning, August 25th; the section from the WS Bridge to the Battery Street Tunnel will reopen then, but the stretch north to Valley will remain closed until Wednesday, August 27th.

P.S. If you have questions about ongoing Highway 99 work, including (or not) the tunnel, WSDOT has a booth here at West Seattle Summer Fest, all weekend long.

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Early warning: Alaskan Way Viaduct repair closure in late August http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/early-warning-alaskan-way-viaduct-repair-closure-in-late-august/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/early-warning-alaskan-way-viaduct-repair-closure-in-late-august/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 20:03:18 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=277370 ORIGINAL TUESDAY REPORT: New information today about a full Alaskan Way Viaduct closure coming up later this summer. It was mentioned – without a date – when WSDOT‘s Secretary Lynn Peterson and Todd Trepanier spoke to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition earlier this month (WSB coverage here); Trepanier talked about keeping The Viaduct in good shape for its remaining years of usage, and noted a repair closure was ahead. Then this past weekend, chatting at the Morgan Junction Community Festival, Pete Spalding, a West Seattleite on the “stakeholders’ group” that WSDOT convenes quarterly, told us the group had just been given a specific date. We have now confirmed it via WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn:

WSDOT will be replacing or repairing 81 concrete panels on SR 99 between Forest and Holgate during the weekend of August 23. These panels are aging and as a result are cracked, potholed, and some have failed and need to be completely replaced.

The panel work and additional work needed on the North Access portion of the tunnel project will require a closure of SR 99 in both directions from the West Seattle Bridge to Valley Street, just north of the Battery Street Tunnel. We will have more specific details when the work plan is finalized, but your readers should note that SR 99 will be closed from the bridge to the tunnel on the weekend of August 23.

That day is a Saturday; the yet-to-come details, of course, will include specific start and end times. More details about the repair project are here.

ADDED WEDNESDAY MORNING: As a postscript, an update from WSDOT with a few more details, including plans for the north portion of the closure to extend past the weekend:

WSDOT will be replacing concrete panels on SR 99 in SODO and rebuilding SR 99 where it crosses Broad Street north of the Battery Street Tunnel. To complete this work, crews will close SR 99 in both directions between South Spokane Street and Valley Street the weekend of Aug. 23 and 24. Work on SR 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel will continue on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 25 and 26. We are still finalizing the timing and location of this closure and will share information with the public as soon as we have it.

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Traffic-alert update: Northbound 99 open again http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/traffic-alert-update-northbound-99-open-again-to-downtown/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/traffic-alert-update-northbound-99-open-again-to-downtown/#comments Sun, 22 Jun 2014 23:03:11 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=277251 4:03 PM: Thanks to West Seattle Hipster for the tip – confirmed via WSDOT tweet – Northbound 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct has reopened between here and the Western Avenue offramp. But it’s still closed from Battery St. to Valley St., so if you’re heading beyond Belltown (etc.), you’ll still have to detour.

7:08 PM: 99 is fully open, says WSDOT.

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How Highway 99 tunnel machine will be dug up, broken down, put back underground http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/how-highway-99-tunnel-machine-will-be-dug-up-broken-down-put-back-underground/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/how-highway-99-tunnel-machine-will-be-dug-up-broken-down-put-back-underground/#comments Mon, 16 Jun 2014 20:57:05 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=276656

Just last week at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s monthly meeting (WSB coverage here), top WSDOT executives answered a few questions about the stalled tunnel machine and its pending repairs. Today, the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is out with its official repair plan, and animation (above) showing what’ll happen during its phases. According to the timeline toward the end of the plan, they’re still expecting to resume tunneling in late March of next year.

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Viaduct closures, tunnel travails, and more: State transportation boss Lynn Peterson @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/viaduct-closures-tunnel-travails-and-more-state-transportation-boss-lynn-peterson-west-seattle-transportation-coalition/ http://westseattleblog.com/2014/06/viaduct-closures-tunnel-travails-and-more-state-transportation-boss-lynn-peterson-west-seattle-transportation-coalition/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 19:33:12 +0000 WSB http://westseattleblog.com/?p=276140

(WSB video of the entire WSTC appearance by WSDOT’s Secretary Lynn Peterson and Todd Trepanier)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition usually has something topical to discuss at its monthly meetings, with no shortage of transportation-related challenges lately.

For example, last night, the southbound Alaskan Way Viaduct had been closed for five hours because of a crash investigation when the WSTC meeting began. Coincidentally, the long-scheduled guest was the woman in charge of the Viaduct and other state highways – Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.

In her second year on the job, she offered lots of background information and big-picture observations, but the discussion invariably turned its most intense focus on the Viaduct Replacement Project and the present/future of the stalled tunneling work. In Q&A, she also addressed other topics such as whether any Fauntleroy-bound ferries would be diverted downtown, since much of the vehicle traffic heads that way anyway.

Peterson, who came here from Portland, introduced herself by explaining her background as a traffic engineer who found herself organizing her neighborhood to get a traffic circle installed, and then “suddenly I was running for City Council” – listing achievements including getting light rail extended while she was on the County Commission in the Portland area. “I’m very multi-modal,” she summarized. “I don’t see the world as one mode or the other, I see land use as the need to be served (otherwise) we’ve lost sight of the job we’re supposed to be doing.” She also said: “We will always have cars” – whether they are small and electric, or something more.

“Modal integration” is vital, she said, making sure there are not gaps between transportation modes “so the system works.” She talked about modernizing WSDOT – “we just haven’t been training our people,” and with many WSDOT workers in mid-career, “things have changed since they were in school.” Community engagement, in particular, is big, she said – “one of the ways that’s very public right now is the ferry director hiring process,” noting that the two finalists are in Bremerton at a “meet-and-greet” event right now. She says she believes in getting stakeholders involved in the beginning, rather than getting to the end and having people wonder how whatever happened, happened. “You have to represent everybody who’s in the room and everybody who’s not in the room,” she said.

Also high on her list – “smart technology … we still need to find efficient ways to move people,” and that involves getting lots of data out, and adding more technology into WSDOT operations. “.. Maybe we’ll be one of the states that gets the automated vehicles out there faster.” Those cars will be able to travel with less of a gap because they’ll be able to “react faster,” she noted.

As you know if you were there, or you’ll see if you watch our video above, Peterson is clearly a storyteller – bringing up anecdotes from her past, talking about technology that could even change the lane structure of a road or dock, through LED changes – “endless opportunity … that’s what keeps me going every day. … The biggest thing I thought I would let you know is 10 reforms that go along with strategic goals we have … ‘how do we not make the mistakes of the past’….” She also expressed enthusiasm for “practical design” such as using safety data to plan roadway features. And she showed a “strategic plan” that fits on a card (we tweeted the photo during the meeting, after it was handed around):

Twenty minutes in, she was speaking about how speeds were set for curves – based on testing many decades ago with the Model T Ford. “As technology moves on, so should we.” … “When we go out into the public right of way, we want to feel safe.”

Then it was on to current specifics. Todd Trepanier, who’s in charge of the entire Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project – which, keep in mind, is more than the tunnel – had joined the meeting, and she handed it over to him for most of the questions about the project, after a qualifier: “I came in just over a year ago,” she qualified, talking about the differing opinions with which she met. “(The tunnel) was controversial, I get it.” (but) “It is our duty to carry out (the) direction (of voters and elected officials).” She noted the “land-use tension” with the port right nxt to downtown.

“The machine is the contractors’, and they need to fix the machine.” The contractor still has an obligation to provide a tunnel, she said – (but) “we don’t know exactly what date we’re going to be opening that tunnel now.” There are deadlines for the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, she explained – “for every day after January 2nd, 2016, we will be deducting $50,000 a day from any bill they send us and from every day after November 9th, 2016, we will be deducting $100,000 a day.” That latter date is when they expect the tunnel to be open to traffic – that’s why the bigger fine, if it’s not.

But, she insisted, “We are confident that they are going to come through” because they have reputation and it’s in their best interest to continue to attract other customers “with this kind of technology.”

Even while the tunneling machine remains stalled beneath ground, Peterson noted, “In the meantime there’s a lot of good stuff going on (above ground) and a lot of congestion that results from all that work.”

Trepanier said they are also focused on “keep(ing) the Viaduct operational until the tunnel is completed.” Asked about the new cracks that appeared recently, Peterson:vowed, “If it’s unsafe, we’re going to shut it down.”

Speaking of shutdowns, they revealed that one is coming up later this year:

Trepanier talked about an expansion-joint problem on the Viaduct, saying cracks could/would be filled with an epoxy “actually stronger than concrete.” But a major repair closure is coming up in the fall – no date yet – but likely a time “when we’re already closing it because of something in the north end – (it will be closed) over a four- to five-day period.” This will be announced well in advance, with a major publicity campaign, and “people will be encouraged to take alternative modes,” he promised. He also reiterated that it is not urgent, and they’re working on the contract for this repair work now.

Overall, Trepanier said he believed nothing would take the Viaduct permanently out of commission before it’s ready to be retired – WSDOT believes “we’ll be able to nurse (the viaduct) along until we get the tunnel open.”

But what happens if, for example, another major earthquake renders it unsafe? “Then we just have to implement other plans … those plans are in existence. … It’s a pretty comprehensive plan; everyone is involved; everyone’s a player in this – knock wood, that’s not going to happen … we don’t dwell on it every day because we’re also trying to make sure STP’s getting that machine going.”

Moderating the discussion, WSTC’s Michael Taylor-Judd asked if the plan/status reports are available for public inspection, so that people are truly informed about the structure’s status and how things would work if it were out of the picture. He talked about the South Park Bridge shutdown order four years ago seemingly coming out of nowhere. “What happens if (the tunnel project) gets longer and longer and an inspection happens and” the Viaduct has to be taken fully or partially out of service?

Peterson asked Trepanier if they could put together a one-pager explaining what those steps would be so that people would be forewarned (he noted some elements are visible day in and day out, such as the “earthquake gates“). “We interact so routinely with the county and city on everything, that it would happen pretty quickly.”

Also mentioned: As first reported here, a closure is expected once the tunnel machine goes beneath the Viaduct. Trepanier said it would likely be about 10 days long, and they expect they would have/give at least two months’ warning.

The tunnel project came up one more time before the meeting was over, with Trepanier confirming that WSDOT is closely monitoring the machine-repair process: “When they get to (the point of) restarting the machine, we’ll be asking a lot of questions .. asking them to submit a lot of things to us” so that WSDOT is confident it’s good for the rest of the way. (But) “This is their (STP’s) nickel, so they get to decide how to do it.” And after the tunnel project is over, the machine still belongs to STP, not to WSDOT, so its future will be up to that group – it might be usable for some other project the partners seek.

Asked when the Viaduct would come down, assuming the tunnel is indeed completed, the WSDOT reps said “within 18 months” of the tunnel’s opening – that would be May of 2018, if the November 2016 opening-date expectation is indeed made. (Side note: Trepanier declared, “This machine is not stuck” – it can move.)

From the Q&A on non-Viaduct topics:

Another question of major West Seattle interest, regarding the traffic through West Seattle going to and from Kitsap County and Vashon Island via the Fauntleroy ferry dock: With Colman Dock remodeling, “are there any plans to move some or all of those ferry runs … into downtown?” asked Taylor-Judd, “or divert peak-hour ferries into downtown?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” said Peterson. She cited cost. She said that a coordinated conversation with King County (regarding the Vashon Island Water Taxi‘s role) would be in order to address the overall concerns: “How do we make sure the transit connections are working?”

WSTC’s Marty Westerman brings up trains at rush hour, blocking key vehicle routes. Trepanier said they “don’t have the answer to that.”

The topic of 99 getting bollixed up by even seemingly minor incidents, like one a few months back, came up as well – couldn’t an Incident Response Team crew be stationed on the Viaduct? There was no simple answer. Or, WSTC’s Deb Barker asked, could WSDOT take over Highway 99 traffic coordination until the project is over? Peterson said they would have to check to see “what the protocols are now.”

(Side note – As of publication time for this story, we are continuing to follow up on the specifics of Tuesday’s decision to close 99 far to the north of the crash-investigation scene – we have several responses and interviews already but are awaiting one key point of information before finishing the report.)

Again, to see and hear the entirety of the hour-plus conversation with Peterson, Trepanier, and WSTC, watch the video clip above. The WSTC meeting adjourned shortly thereafter; other business included the announcement of which board members hold which leadership positions, following the recent election of a permanent board:

Chair & Communication Chair: Joe Szilagyi
Co-Chair & Action Chair: Amanda Kay Helmick
Co-Treasurer: Alon Bassok
Co-Treasurer & Research & Solutions Chair: Tod Rodman
Co-Secretary: Martin Westerman
Co-Secretary: Vicki Nelson

We are still looking for an Outreach Committee Chair!

Next month, the centerpiece topic for WSTC is Sound Transit; they’re still awaiting confirmation of who ST will send, but you can mark your calendar for the meeting, second Tuesday in July, 6:30 pm July 8th, at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center.

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