Viaduct misperceptions tackled: SW District Council report #1

(WSDOT photo via Flickr: Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond signs tunnel contract Thursday)
Even as the Alaskan Way Viaduct Central Waterfront Project marked a milestone – signing the tunnel design-build contract – a team from the AWV front lines debunked some misperceptions in Q/A during an appearance before the Southwest District Council Wednesday night, hours before the signing. First and foremost: No, this does NOT mean the tunnel is “no going back” final, and it does NOT mean construction is about to start, as some may believe. The construction that’s starting now is a separate phase of the project, its Holgate-to-King-Street segment (formerly known as South End Replacement Project). After the jump, the Q/A/myth-debunking on that:

Leading the update were Matt Preedy, the West Seattleite who is in charge of the south-end project for WSDOT, and Mike Johnson from SDOT. They had last visited the SWDC six months ago. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the past six months,” Preedy began.

But what’s on a lot of minds right now is the work that has just begun in the stadium area, since it’s affecting traffic on 1st Avenue South. It was noted that some people have the mistaken impression that this is the start of work on the tunnel – but it’s not.

Here’s what it is: Construction of the detour roads that will be used while construction of the viaduct’s south-end replacement – a separate project from the tunnel or whatever else will replace the Central Waterfront section of Highway 99.

“What’s north of Royal Brougham Way is a temporary detour; what’s south of Royal Brougham Way is permanent,” Preedy summarized, as is, he said, the surface-street work. Here’s what it’s all supposed to look like as of April 1st:

As you’ve probably heard, that date is set because this phase needs to be done before Mariners season fills the area regularly with extra traffic. The last big flourish will be in mid-February, when the northbound 1st Avenue South onramp to 99 closes for up to six weeks so it can be rebuilt and connected to the detour. The company doing the work gets a $20,000/day incentive for finishing in less than six weeks, Preedy said: “They’re very optimistic about getting a couple weeks of incentive.”

The prelude to all this, the lane reductions that kicked in a few days ago, aren’t causing many problems so far, he added.

That’s when the talk segued to tunnel points of clarification. Southwest District Council co-chair Susan Melrose of the West Seattle Junction Association asked, “Once we sign that contract, the tunnel is signed, sealed, delivered?”

“No – the contract is, but there are several out clauses,” Preedy replied, with the reminder that the environmental review of the tunnel isn’t complete yet. The contract for the design-build team with the winning bid is meant to get the design for the tunnel as far along as the other two options that technically are still in the running, though the tunnel is designated the “preferred option.” (If you’ve forgotten, those two are explained here.) “That way, all three options are at the same level by the time we get to the record of decision in July.” That’s when the tunnel decision could become final – and if it does, Preedy explained, construction would start, with an expected completion date of 2015.

Again, he stressed after another question, “Is anything a done deal? No – we still have a process we have to go through, but there is a lot of momentum at this point. … We have a safety issue out there and an obligation and a responsibilty to provide the public with safe and reliable transportation facilities … to go back to square one at this point in the game is, we don’t feel in the public’s best interest.”

After that explanation – it was a flurry of various questions and suggestions. South Seattle Community College‘s Candace Oehler suggested the Viaduct project information should be on Facebook. Melrose wondered about the much-discussed cost-overrun possibility. “We are going to manage the heck out of this job so there won’t be (any) … but it IS construction, and things CAN go wrong,” noted Preedy.

Vlad Oustimovitch of the Fauntleroy Community Association, who is on the current South Portal Advisory Group and was on the original Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee, suggested the project still needs to do a better job of educating people on the final result – particularly how West Seattleites will get downtown when the proposed tunnel has no downtown exit. (You can take a closer look at elements of the project through this online simulation.)

SWDC co-chair Tony Fragada of the Alki Community Council suggested the Viaduct team return in six months for another update – which will be right around that “record of decision.”

3 Replies to "Viaduct misperceptions tackled: SW District Council report #1"

  • DP January 7, 2011 (5:05 pm)

    MEGO = My Eyes Glazed Over

  • Adrian January 8, 2011 (11:55 am)

    I can’t believe they have no plan for a northbound exit from the tunnel to downtown!

  • redblack January 8, 2011 (5:33 pm)

    hey, adrian. where do you propose an exit from 50 feet below ground enters the downtown street grid?
    maybe there could be an elevator. :D

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