West Seattle, Washington
Not far from the most recognizable above-ground Seattle icon, the Highway 99 tunneling machine finished its 9,270-foot journey under watchful eyes this morning, as shown in our as-it-happened report earlier.
Photojournalist Christopher Boffoli was there for WSB and put together these video highlights:
If you noticed the drone – that was operated by WSDOT, which has since published this minute-long highlight reel:
So – now what? First: The tunneling machine, which arrived in pieces four years ago, will be taken away in pieces. After the cutterhead’s appearance this morning, removal of the braces began.
WSDOT elaborates on what’s ahead:
STP will disassemble the machine by cutting it into pieces. The pieces will be removed from the pit by crane and placed on trucks. Due to roadway restrictions, each truckload will weigh no more than 20 tons.
Some pieces of the machine may be reused on other tunneling projects, while others will be recycled. Because the machine is so large, removing it will likely take several months.
And then there’s a lot of work to be done inside the tunnel – digging it, and “building rings” along the way, was just the groundwork. This WSDOT post goes into details of what happens inside, from road-building to systems installation to testing and commissioning.
Once the tunnel is tied into the surface network, as recapped in the Viaduct/Tunnel FAQ (and discussed in WSB comments), here’s how Highway 99 is planned to connect to the south end of downtown:
Outside the tunnel, other matters remain unsettled. A big one: How much will the toll be? $1-vicinity recommendations were made three years ago. The Washington State Transportation Commission is charged with determining the final toll but there’s no date set for a vote yet. And of course you’ve heard a lot about court fights over cost overruns, mentioned again today in Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom‘s look at what’s ahead. (Asked today about the cost overruns, Gov. Inslee said, ““There will be other days to talk about paying for this. We know that our State is going to be insistent that the contractor be financially responsible for the project. We have to get that resolved. I know that will be resolved. And I think there is reason for confidence that the State is going to be held harmless here.” Mayor Murray, asked about a legislator’s proposal to require the city to cover those costs, said today, ” I know we have our annual ‘Let’s bash Seattle’ down in Olympia every legislative session. But again it is a State project and the State will make sure it gets paid. And we will pay for the brand new park that will knit Seattle back to its waterfront.”)
Once the tunnel is open – that clears the way for the remainder of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which opened 64 years ago today, to be torn down. It’s been more than five years since the south mile was demolished.
11:06 AM: Now that WSDOT says Bertha the tunneling machine is in the final foot before breakthrough, we are going to do what everybody else is doing and put up the live stream. What we’re hearing from those on scene: It’s dusty. Very dusty. More to come. (And if you just want to check back later to see how it all came out, so to speak, Christopher Boffoli is there for WSB and we’ll have pics from him.) If you use Twitter, watching tweets with the hashtag #BerthaBreakthrough is a mix of commentary, observations, humor, and memories (WSDOT notes that today is the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s 64th birthday).
11:28 AM: Christopher sends this view of what it looks like where he and other media are right now.
The site was opened to media about two hours ago. And now as we type this – it just happened:
The cutterhead is visible #BerthaBreakthrough
— Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99) April 4, 2017
11:35 AM: Pic from Christopher at the pit:
WSDOT has said it’ll take “weeks” before the machine is in its final position in the pit, to be broken down and hauled away in pieces … which is how it arrived, four years ago, via ship from Japan.
12:07 PM: Just in from Christopher, a new, clear view as the cutterhead continues its slow breakthrough:
And here’s the official news release just sent by WSDOT:
A year ago, SR 99 tunnel crews were about to face their biggest challenge: a trip beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct they were working to replace. Today, with the viaduct and more than 9,270 feet of new tunnel safely behind them, there was nothing left to face but daylight as the SR 99 tunneling machine chewed its way into a pit near Seattle Center.
Bertha’s 1.7-mile drive beneath Seattle came to a successful end Tuesday afternoon, 64 years to the day since the viaduct first opened to traffic. Led by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and designed and built by contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, the tunnel project will move a two-mile section of SR 99 underground when it wraps up in early 2019. Crews will then demolish the viaduct, clearing the way for the city’s new waterfront.
“This is a historic moment in our state’s transportation history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Innovation and perseverance are the engines that keep Washington in the forefront. There is still more work ahead but this moment is one worth celebrating.”
Crews will spend the next several days removing steel support braces that stand between Bertha and the interior of the 90-foot-deep disassembly pit. When the braces are gone, crews will drive the machine into its final position and begin cutting it into pieces for removal. As owner of the machine, the contractor will determine which pieces could be salvaged for use on other projects or recycled.
“We were always confident that we would successfully complete the tunnel drive,” Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon said. “The dedication and commitment of everyone on the Seattle Tunnel Partners team has been exceptional, and we wouldn’t be at this milestone without the hard work of our crews. We look forward to continuing this outstanding progress through project completion.”
STP still has significant work to complete before the tunnel opens. Crews must finish building the double-deck highway within the circular walls that were built by crews inside the tunneling machine. Mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing and safety features also must be installed.
Even as crews are installing these systems, crews will begin the extensive task of testing and commissioning the tunnel to ensure it’s ready for traffic. Inspectors will individually test more than 8,500 separate components before testing each of the tunnel’s various systems as a whole.
“This truly is a remarkable feat of engineering,” Transportation Secretary Roger Millar said. “There’s still work to be done, but the individuals working on this job should be proud of this accomplishment.”
Over the next several years, the City of Seattle’s Waterfront Seattle project will build new public space and a surface boulevard in the place of the double-deck viaduct, which is scheduled for demolition in 2019.
“Today is a major construction milestone in our plan to reclaim Seattle’s waterfront,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said. “We are one step closer to taking down the viaduct to make way for a reimagined waterfront and surrounding downtown neighborhood. We will build a waterfront for pedestrians, transit and sensible car trips without a freeway wall casting a shadow over our vision of a well-connected 21st century city.”
King County Metro will continue to rely on SR 99 to route buses to Seattle after the tunnel opens, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“The new tunnel will provide fast, reliable travel for transit and freight past downtown traffic, and reunite the city with its waterfront,” said Constantine. “The breakthrough highlights what we can accomplish when we think big, act boldly, and embrace the ‘can-do’ tradition of our region.”
Port of Seattle Commission Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said the tunnel will work with the new waterfront surface street to accommodate freight traffic.
“This Alaskan Way route is essential to a strong port and linking our industrial lands between SODO and Ballard,” Gregoire said. “Strong, vibrant transportation connections are essential to keep our economy growing and creating middle-class jobs.”
Background on tunneling machine repairs
Manufactured in Japan by Hitachi Zosen Corp., Bertha arrived in Seattle in April 2013. The machine was launched from a pit near the stadiums in July of that year. In December 2013, STP stopped mining after measuring increased temperatures in the machine.
After an investigation, STP discovered damage to the machine’s main bearing. Crews completed repairs and resumed mining in December 2015. The cause of damage to the tunneling machine is in dispute and is currently in litigation. Neither WSDOT nor STP is able to comment further on ongoing legal issues.
1:37 PM: Just in case you were wondering, the machine’s movement is done for the day, by the way, Christopher and other media at the scene were told.
4:08 PM: Pending our “what’s next” second wrapup later today, here’s Christopher’s video of highlights from the breakthrough and the comments afterward, including the governor, mayor, county executive, and others:
More later. WSDOT, meantime, says the livestream camera will be up until 9 tomorrow morning.
Four years and two days after the Highway 99 tunneling machine arrived in Seattle, in pieces, after a trans-Pacific trip from Japan, it’s scheduled to finish its part of the tunnel-building job tomorrow. WSDOT announced this afternoon that the machine is on the brink of “breakthrough”:
Crews will spend this evening making final preparations. Then, early tomorrow, the massive machine will begin mining through the wall and into the pit where it will be disassembled. Machine operators will proceed slowly through the wall, so it may take several hours for the cutterhead to emerge.
And even once it does, it won’t be done, as WSDOT’s update explains – “it will be weeks until the machine is in its final position in the disassembly pit.” Then, it will be broken apart to be removed from the pit. Live-stream and time-lapse cameras are already embedded on the “Follow Bertha” page, since the public isn’t allowed at the construction site to watch in person. The latest advisory from WSDOT suggests this will happen no sooner than midmorning, but timing is subject to change – the project Twitter account is a good place to watch for updates (and we’ll be tracking it here on WSB too).
Breakthrough will come on the north side of downtown, at the end of a 9,270-foot tunnel route along which there’s still road-building and other work to be done before the tunnel’s projected opening in early 2019 (here’s the newest progress report).
(April 2, 2013, WSB photo by Nick Adams)
SUNDAY NIGHT: If you’re on Highway 99 tunnel watch – the tunneling machine is now down to a double-digit distance, 89 feet as of this morning. WSDOT still is not officially predicting what day will bring the “Bertha breakthrough,” but at this rate (it’s gone 38 feet since Friday), it’s likely to be this week. They’ve said that it will happen in two phases – the machine will reach the wall of the disassembly pit and stop, while WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners explain what happens next. Then, likely on the following day, the machine will be set into motion for a several-hours-long breakthrough process. They continue to promise a live camera will be available, since the pit is in a construction zone and a public viewing area isn’t feasible.
P.S. Checking the archives, we note that today is the 4th anniversary of the tunneling machine’s arrival via ship from Japan.
MONDAY AFTERNOON: So much news today that we haven’t had time to publish an update yet, but WSDOT is expecting breakthrough sometime Tuesday – here’s the latest; full update a bit later.
If the Highway 99 tunneling machine keeps digging at the same pace of the past few days – 61 feet between yesterday’s update and today’s update, and 127 feet to go – next week could bring the breakthrough. Just a reminder that WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners are NOT opening the site for the public to watch it happen, but they’re working on some kind of a live feed. Once the machine gets to the end of the line, it will be broken into pieces, which is why they’re calling what you see above “the disassembly pit.”
We’ve been watching the Highway 99 tunneling-machine update page, now that “Bertha” is getting close to breakthrough, and just noticed that today’s update says 219 feet to go – same as yesterday. WSDOT explains via Twitter that “(Seattle Tunnel Partners) is wrapping up routine maintenance and plans to resume mining tomorrow.” So for those who speculated breakthrough might happen this week – highly unlikely.
The Highway 99 tunneling team has now moved from twice-weekly progress reports to daily progress reports. Not that the tunneling machine is on an “any day now” basis yet, but here’s what WSDOT reports this afternoon:
Seattle Tunnel Partners is making final preparations for the SR 99 tunneling machine’s arrival at the disassembly pit near Seattle Center. Because mining rates will continue to vary as crews approach the pit, we can’t predict when Bertha’s breakthrough will occur. We will continue to provide regular progress updates along the way.
We recognize that there is great interest surrounding this stage of the project, and we are working on ways to share this historic moment with the public. We will be activating a new time-lapse camera as well as streaming video of the disassembly pit prior to breakthrough. These cameras will offer the best view of Bertha’s arrival in the pit. We will also continue to share photos and provide frequent updates via social media, including daily progress updates. For safety reasons, the public will not be allowed in the construction zone during the breakthrough.
Look for more updates soon about the breakthrough sequence, the process for disassembling Bertha and the work that remains before the tunnel opens in 2019.
As of today, WSDOT tweeted, “Today Bertha has 320 feet to go – less than the Mariners 326′ right-field foul line in Safeco Field.” They’ve said that they won’t be setting up an in-person breakthrough-watching event because the pit is in the middle of a construction zone.
We didn’t get a chance to write about this back on Thursday when WSDOT made it public, but here on a quiet Saturday night, we’re mentioning it in case you missed it: A 360-degree video tour of the Highway 99 tunneling machine and the in-progress tunnel. The 5-minute tour is narrated/hosted by Joe Hedges, current Alaskan Way Viaduct Program Administrator. Here’s the update that accompanied the video (including a reminder of how to watch/interact with 360-degree videos, if you haven’t tried it before).
The machine now has less than two blocks left to dig; here’s the page with the latest stats and map. When digging’s done, of course, there will still be a lot left to do – as the machine is broken into what WSDOT describes as “small pieces” over the course of several months, construction will continue in the tunnel, including road-deck-building (part of that, and some preparation, is shown in the video above).
Also yet to be settled before the tunnel opens – currently projected as early 2019 – is what the tunnel toll will be. That remains in the hands of the Washington State Transportation Commission, whose tolling plans for the year ahead are in this report. No date yet for them to make a decision; they meet monthly – next meeting March 21-22, though the agenda’s not up yet.
P.S. The summary of last weekend’s Alaskan Way Viaduct inspection isn’t out yet but should appear soon on this page, where other results are listed.
The Highway 99 tunneling machine is back on the move, and re-aligned after veering a half-foot off course, according to this update late today from WSDOT:
Seattle Tunnel Partners resumed mining today after conducting additional survey work to verify Bertha’s position and to make necessary adjustments to complete the tunnel drive. Crews performed routine inspections and maintenance while mining was stopped, including the replacement of cutterhead tools.
As of this afternoon, Bertha was tunneling north toward the intersection of Denny Way and Sixth Avenue North, less than 1,000 feet from the disassembly pit.
STP stopped mining on February 28 after survey data indicated the tunneling machine may be several inches off the tunnel alignment. Three independent surveys confirmed the 57.5-foot machine was approximately six inches off alignment.
STP designers made a slight change to the tunnel alignment between the machine’s current location and the end of the tunnel drive. Adjustments are common during tunneling, including on this project. STP made a similar adjustment to correct Bertha’s course after the machine mined out of the access pit following repairs.
Crews steer Bertha based on information they receive from its on-board guidance system. The system is now set to the new tunnel alignment. According to STP’s most recent schedule, Bertha will arrive at the disassembly pit in May.
WSDOT says tonight that the Highway 99 tunneling machine is expected to arrive in its “disassembly pit” in May. That news comes as they also announce that Seattle Tunnel Partners has stopped digging to get the machine ready for the “final 1,000 feet of the 9,270-foot tunnel drive.” They’re checking its position because, WSDOT’s update says:
Recent surveys show that Bertha may be several inches off of the tunnel alignment. STP is conducting additional survey work and will make adjustments as needed to complete the tunnel drive.
Adjustments are common during tunneling, including on this project. STP made a similar adjustment to correct Bertha’s course after crews mined out of the pit that was used to access and repair the machine.
Crews will continue to perform routine maintenance on the machine for the next several days. They plan to resume mining next week.
According to STP’s most recent schedule, Bertha will arrive at the disassembly pit in May. The pit is located approximately 960 feet north of the cutterhead’s current location beneath Denny Way and Sixth Avenue North. Mining rates will continue to vary based on maintenance needs and soil conditions.
Crews successfully mined under the final building of the tunnel drive earlier this week. Bertha has traveled a total of 8,310 feet and built 1,270 of 1,426 concrete tunnel rings.
Because the end-of-the-line pit is part of a construction site, WSDOT has said it’s not planning to have a big event for the public to watch the machine break through.
Meantime, yet another reminder – the Alaskan Way Viaduct is scheduled to close for inspection 6 am-6 pm each day this Saturday and Sunday, with a few other events on 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel – full details are here.
Since the last twice-weekly update, the Highway 99 tunneling machine has passed the 8,000-foot mark of its 9,270-foot route. To be specific, as of today, it’s dug 8,132 feet and has 1,138 feet to go – about two more blocks, according to today’s WSDOT update. It’s currently near 6th/Wall and set to emerge at 6th/Thomas.
P.S. If you missed it earlier today, WSDOT has announced the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s next weekend maintenance (etc.) closure will be March 4-5.
Last weekend, we noted that the Highway 99 tunneling machine was in the zone where it would pass beneath the Battery Street Tunnel and the Seattle Center Monorail. This afternoon, WSDOT reported that it’s gone beneath the former and on its way to the latter. The machine is now 115 feet beneath the surface and climbing upward, 100 feet higher than the tunnel’s deepest point. WSDOT also reports that roadbuilding continues and is already halfway down the 7,692-foot path that’s been dug – here’s a document with updates on that and other parts of the project. WSDOT adds, “Work has also begun on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems within the tunnel. Crews began installing these systems near the stadiums last week …” Read today’s full tunneling update here.
Somebody asked us how the Highway 99 tunneling machine is doing. While WSDOT hasn’t had many major updates lately, it’s continuing the routine of publishing distance updates on this page on Mondays and Thursdays, and according to the newest number – 7,499 feet dug, of the 9,270-foot route – it’s now more than 80 percent of the way to the end. The zone it’s in now goes below the Battery Street Tunnel, which will be decommissioned when the new tunnel opens, and beneath the foundation of the Seattle Center-to-downtown Monorail.
WSDOT just published that new video about working hyperbarically with the Highway 99 tunneling machine as it continues a maintenance stop before moving on to dig the final 25 percent of its 9,270-foot path – explaining, among other machines, that the machine is underwater as well as underground and is therefore something of “a submarine.” During the maintenance work that’s been under way since January 5th, crews have replaced 250 cutterhead tools, like these:
(Map showing the zone where the tunneling machine is now, from WSDOT’s update page)
Among those taking time off for the holidays, the Highway 99 tunneling-machine crew. Here’s the last update of the year from WSDOT, with a bit more than one-fourth of the way to go on the tunnel route:
Seattle Tunnel Partners crews built their final concrete tunnel ring of the year on Tuesday before stopping for the holidays. The remaining days of 2016 will include a break for crews, followed by scheduled maintenance on Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling the machine.
In the year since STP restarted tunneling, Bertha has traveled approximately 5,700 feet and built almost 900 rings. Along the way, crews continued to control the ground as they mined beneath streets and structures, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
When mining resumes early in the new year, Bertha will be less than 2,500 feet from the pit near Seattle Center where she’ll emerge at the end of her journey. STP will continue to inspect and perform maintenance on the machine as needed.
Bertha’s cutterhead is located approximately 160 feet below Third Avenue between Blanchard and Bell streets. Progress updates are posted on Mondays and Thursdays at our Follow Bertha page. You can also follow Bertha on Twitter @BerthaDigsSR99.
Happy holidays from the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. We’ll see you in 2017.
Current estimate is for the tunnel to open in early 2019. That’ll be almost a decade after the waterfront ceremony formalizing the plan; at that time, the hope was for a 2015 opening.
That time-lapse video shows road-building inside the under-construction Highway 99 tunnel, and it accompanies WSDOT’s latest update on tunneling progress. The tunneling machine is now more than 70 percent of the way along the 9,270-foot route, according to WSDOT, which included the video in this update published today. It’s the second update of the week – this one details progress at the tunnel’s “south portal.” It’s been almost a full year since tunneling resumed on December 22, 2015, two years and two weeks after the machine stalled.
While the Highway 99 tunneling machine hasn’t made much news lately, it’s continuing to dig steadily along, says WSDOT. Their latest twice-weekly update, published this afternoon, says it’s more than two-thirds of the way down the route – 6,337 of 9,270 feet. It’s already gone past the deepest point on the route and is starting to climb back toward the surface, currently in the zone beneath Belltown. The current estimated opening date remains early 2019, and as noted in this tweet, Viaduct demolition would follow over much of the rest of that year.
The Highway 99 tunneling machine has passed the one-mile mark as of this morning, according to WSDOT. It’s also made a new video showing how the machine is steered along its designated path underground, considering there’s no GPS:
The machine is at its deepest point – around 200 feet underground – with just under 4,000 feet remaining on the route, which is shown on this map, along with the machine’s approximate current location. The most recent timeline says that absent any further major problems, the tunnel will open in 2019.
WSDOT is out with its latest twice-weekly progress report on the Highway 99 tunneling machine. As of today, it’s dug 4,955 feet of the 9,270-foot tunnel route, and could pass the 5,000-foot mark within days. The most-recent maintenance stop turned out to be a short one, and it’s been tunneling again since October 12th, currently toward the north end of the Union-to-Stewart-Street zone.
While the Alaskan Way Viaduct is closed this weekend for its twice-yearly inspection, the machine digging its replacement will be taking a break for inspection too. WSDOT announced this afternoon that the Highway 99 tunneling machine has made its third maintenance stop of the year and will likely be stopped for about a month.
It’s currently stopped about 190 feet under First Avenue, north of Pike Street, and has now gone 4,721 feet, more than half the 9,270-foot tunnel route. You can read WSDOT’s update in full here; in short, crews will be inspecting and changing some of the machine’s 700+ cutting tools. This year’s two previous maintenance stops were March 12-April 29, just before the machine went under the Viaduct, and June 23-July 18. The newest schedule revision says the tunnel will open in early 2019.
P.S. Above ground, the Viaduct inspection closure is scheduled for 6 am-6 pm Saturday and Sunday. These often end early, and we’ll let you know if/when this one does.
WSDOT announced this afternoon that the Highway 99 tunneling machine is back on the move after a two-week stop to change cutterhead tools. Above is a photo of a used “tooth,” taken by Vlad Oustimovitch, a West Seattle resident who is a longtime member of the citizens’ advisory group and shared photos with WSB after a tour of the machine toward the start of the stopdown. Today’s WSDOT update says that as of lunchtime, “crews were tunneling north approximately 170 feet below First Avenue, just north of Union Street” and that the contractor “replaced a total of 14 large cutting tools during the two-week maintenance period. Bertha has moved from clay to a mixture of sand and gravel that wears down cutting tools more quickly. … The tools STP changed during this maintenance stop are the first parts of the cutterhead that contact the ground, making them crucial to the machine’s ability to excavate soil. STP will continue to inspect and replace these tools as needed during the course of mining. … The machine has tunneled more than 4,135 feet and is nearing the halfway point of its 9,270-foot-long journey.”
(UPDATED 9:36 PM WITH PHOTOS FROM TOUR TODAY)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 4:26 PM: Since its last maintenance stop ended in mid-July, the Highway 99 tunneling machine has dug 1,000 feet. Another 500, and it will be at the official halfway mark. But right now, WSDOT says, the machine is stopped down “to inspect and replace some of the larger cutterhead tools on the front end … STP chose to check the tools – and change them as needed – because Bertha has moved from clay into a mixture of sand and gravel that will more quickly wear them down. Replacing the tools now will preserve the machine and ensure it continues to function well as it mines toward STP’s next planned maintenance stop.” You can read the full update here, and you can go here to see where the machine is now – that’s also the page that tracks its progress, currently listed as 4,135 feet along the planned 9,270-foot tunneling route.
ADDED 9:36 PM: A West Seattleite who has long represented our area on Viaduct/Tunnel advisory groups, Vlad Oustimovitch, is sharing photos tonight from a tunnel-project tour earlier today. First photo shows a used drilling tooth that was replaced today, as part of the work mentioned above:
Next, you’re looking at “giant rollers” that hold up the tunnel-building part of the machine:
Here are the pistons that push the machine forward once rings are in place:
Another view from inside the tunneling machine:
Here’s the control room:
And “the tail end” of the machine:
Back outside the machine, in the already-built 4,135 feet of tunnel, here’s a look at the upper deck:
Oustimovitch was one of “about eight” people on today’s tour.