1 year before tunneling, Highway 99 groundbreaking hoop-la today

(Photo via WSDOT’s Twitter feed)
The WSDOT media alert on Tuesday called it a ring, but we agree with those who say it looks more like a hoop (or even an echo of the new waterfront ferris wheel!) – 57 feet in diameter and shown off during today’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the Highway 99 Tunnel “launch pit.” It represents the diameter of the tunnel, which is scheduled to be bored starting next summer. Here’s the lineup of (mostly) politicians past and present at the ceremony:

(Photo via the Seattle City Council’s Facebook page)
West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is at the mike in that photo; locals King County Executive Dow Constantine (behind Rasmussen in the photo) and former mayor Greg Nickels (who was still in office when the state’s tunnel bill became law three years ago) were also there. Today’s groundbreaking represented the start of digging south of the remaining Viaduct, for the spot where the tunnel-boring machine will get started, heading underground and northbound.

SIDE NOTE/REMINDER: Speaking of the remaining Viaduct, the Highway 99 stretch from downtown to the West Seattle Bridge is scheduled for a full-weekend closure later this month, 11 pm June 15 through 5 am June 18, as first noted here last week.

33 Replies to "1 year before tunneling, Highway 99 groundbreaking hoop-la today"

  • mpento June 6, 2012 (3:22 pm)

    So did the current mayor have a flat tire? Seems like those damn tunnel drivers ran him off the road on this one. Or is he waiting in the sidelines for his “I told you so” moment?

  • dbsea June 6, 2012 (3:36 pm)

    Riding by that this morning I wondered if that giant hoop was to represent the size of the new tunnel. But no, I thought. That would be just too goofy for them to bother. Evidently not. Now, how about a 1-1 scale representation that we can actually drive through.

  • Nick June 6, 2012 (5:17 pm)

    Yea can’t wait for every street to be tolled

  • Doug June 6, 2012 (9:38 pm)

    I am still amazed at just how bad the commute to downtown from West Seattle has become. Viadoom was nothing compared to what the reality of daily life has become during the tunnel construction phase. It is true misery just getting across The Bridge– not to mention that the 1st Ave S exit is no longer an option. And it seems City Hall is silent on any help for all of us on the peninsula. Sigh.

  • Godwin June 7, 2012 (12:11 am)

    Re: bad commute. If you like the tunnel, you’ll love a third arena.

  • Rick June 7, 2012 (8:25 am)

    Isn’t that about the size of the hole we’ll be throwing our money down?

  • Fellow WS June 7, 2012 (8:35 am)

    Boy — reading the comments so far, what a bunch of Debbie Downers out there today! (And I thought everyone commenting on the West Seattle Blog Stalinistically wore PC rose-colored glasses!) Yeesh! Guess not on this tunnel thingie, huh? Well, I, for one, am way pro-tunnel (and way pro-arena, too, bubbie.) I think it is visionary and right for a place aspiring to one day become a true world-class city to open its most prime waterfront real estate to the people instead of to greedy private developers. But I guess Debbie Downer wants her dirty, noisy, prime space-consuming, gloomy viaduct instead, Seattle’s shrine to pollution-belching cars… And yes, you downers, you’re right that a tunnel project of this magnitude probably won’t go perfectly smoothly and may well even cost workers’ lives or exceed cost projections, but in the end, it will be good for Seattle. If you think building anything doesn’t carry those risks — well, that’s where you’d be puting on those little rose-colored glasses again! (For example, I forget the exact number, but Chicago lost many workers — mostly poor immigrants — when its subway system was dug; sad as it is, no one cries for them today. And no one says Chicago should have just opted for Rapid Ride or viaducts instead.) Gosh, you anti-progress guys whine whine whine! But finally — PROGRESS IN SEATTLE!! Yay!! You Debbie Downer do-nothings may have many accomplishments you’re proud of — like, most notably, after 40 years of yakking, protesting and stupid public votes — actually MORE than 40 years, you succeeded in killing a smart and fantastic public transportation plan: the monorail. (But don’t worry — I’m sure more surface busses, big Rapid Ride busses, and even more cars and trucks won’t hurt Seattle’s traffic problems or air quality problems at all, right?) Actually taking positive steps toward solving transportation problems with something like monorail would have been awesome. Oh, well. More car and bus pollution and traffic’s all good too, right? But thankfully, at least the tunnel is finally going to really happen. You do-nothing Debbie Downers make my day — when you have to sit by and watch life happen! Whine whine whine all you want; progress will happen becasue most people in Seattle are sick and tired of getting nothing done! So, look for me at the side of the tunnel dig! I’ll be handing out free cupcakes and coffee to workers! Hee hee!!

  • Krm66 June 7, 2012 (9:29 am)

    Rick- yes.

  • K M June 7, 2012 (10:49 am)

    I work as civil engineer and have only lived in the Seattle area for two years (1 1/2 in West Seattle). Am I the only one that is confounded by the tunnel? How is the reduction of 3 lanes to 2 lanes and eliminating the downtown exit an improvement?? I agree that it will “look nicer” than the Viaduct but what about the funcitionality? As far as I can tell, it seems like the decision on what to build went around and around for years, until the Tunnel Partners put up huge $$ and lobbying effort to build the tunnel and the public agreed that finally, a decision had to be made, and hence the tunnel. Please, fellow WS, enlighten me as to what I’m missing. My home town of Denver has been implementing long term planned lightrail lines N-S, E-W, and now to the airport, with a large transportation hub downtown. It’s an easier city to build large transportation projects but it seems like the decision making and planning efforts in this region are dysfunctional compartively. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, really, I’m just wondering what I’m missing and I would love to hear the argument of why a tunnel is our best option.

  • dbsea June 7, 2012 (11:13 am)

    I gots to add that when it’s all said and done much of Seattle will be much happier with the tunnel than the viaduct. Possibly moreso than other options. I knew Boston before and after the big dig. MUCH better after. And every year the whole process and how it used to be in that area becomes more of a distant memory. Look forward to a nicer, quieter waterfront and a, hopefully, smoother commute. Which will just add to the wonderfulness that is West Seattle.

  • cr June 7, 2012 (1:32 pm)


    Just visited Denver, great city, loved my time I spent there, great people too. But you can’t even compare Seattle to Denver, in the least. Denver is a city plopped down in the middle of no where, it doesn’t have to contend with water, or hills, or any other geographical problems the Seattle faces. Seattle grew up quicker than the city prepared for, and our infrastructure is far poorer than yours.

  • K M June 7, 2012 (2:01 pm)

    CR, I agree, Seattle is much more challenging than other cities in how to come up with solutions to address our transportation problems. Just trying to get a handle on how to jump in and help move things forward.

  • K M June 7, 2012 (2:15 pm)

    Dbsea-Thanks for pointing out a success story with the Boston dig. I really hope that the tunnel results in a nicer, quieter waterfront. I’ve been really impressed by how much work the Tunnel Project team has been accomplishing. Sometimes it’s amazing what gets done in one day. So hopefully things continue moving along quickly and smoothly.

  • Nick June 7, 2012 (2:27 pm)

    I get less lanes,tolls,and no mass transit rail in the stupid tunnel. Yea im so excited I can’t afford to pay 5$ in tolls just to drive to Fremont each way.

  • Cascadianone June 7, 2012 (3:43 pm)

    What a depressing sight. Instead of a Light Rail from West Seattle to Ballard with lots of downtown exits, we will get a tolled, low-capacity tunnel with NO downtown exits.

    Our already-faltering housing prices in West Seattle will take another heavy hit from this abject failure of modern planning.

    Traffic is and will remain MUCH WORSE than it was before. Doing nothing at all and chancing all those lives on a crumbling viaduct actually looks better than what we are moving forward on.

    Ten bucks says FELLOW WS is somehow financially connected to the 1% Developers who will be leasing viaduct land and building on it…

    The only upside here is the thing will probably go over budget and when we have another vote, Seattle can refuse to pay for the overages and just kill the project totally at that stage. Backfill the opening and wait for a more enlightened age, I guess…

  • WS commuter June 7, 2012 (6:27 pm)

    KM – why a tunnel? Because we had three (serious) options and the tunnel was by far and away the superior choice. The other options were to (1)rebuild a new viaduct (which would have been substantially larger than the current viaduct, due to modern highway design requirements) at nearly the same cost, and we would have further cut the waterfront off from the City (but still had the two lane Battery St. tunnel we have now) or (2) we could have done a “surface street” option, which would have eliminated the viaduct and not replaced it with anything – if you don’t like the gridlock we have now (and will have for the next 3-4 years during construction), you’d hate that option. The “surface” option was the favorite of the buses and bikes crowd, but not serious otherwise.

    Your complaint that the tunnel will only two lanes is misplaced. The current tunnel is only two lanes – and much narrower/less safe than the new tunnel will be.

    With the tunnel, we get our waterfront back. The surface improvements to Alaskan Way in conjunction with the tunnel will move traffic into and out of downtown, as well as through the CBD at a better rate than either of the other two options. Is it perfect? No. But it is the best choice given the competing needs and goals for this region. The complaints read here about the tunnel being “rammed” through by developers and such is ignorant whining with no basis in fact. But it makes for a mindless rant that feels good to those folks who choose to be uninformed.

    Yes the DBT is the most expensive option, but in the long run, we’ll be better for it. My prediction is that by 2020, when the tunnel and revitalized waterfront are completed, we’ll see why this was a serious choice for a major city that will benefit the greatest number for decades to come.

    I know Denver well – and you can’t remotely compare to here. Denver is essentially flat – it doesn’t have the hills/water/density that Seattle does. Apples and oranges.

  • Nick June 7, 2012 (7:43 pm)

    Cascadianone is totally right. Don’t forget the tolls that will basically keep me in west Seattle. Good point on the home values. No one wants to live in an area boxed in by toll roads. They are talking about tolling surface streets to pay for this stupid tunnel

  • Nick June 7, 2012 (7:53 pm)

    The toll would cost a worker up to 10$ a day someone making minimum wage would basically loose 1 hour of pay each day. You can keep your stupid tourist trap waterfront. Which private developers will exploit. At least the rich condo owners will have a better view of the sound

  • Cascadianone June 7, 2012 (9:09 pm)

    WS Commuter- I suppose you also buy into that hack study that claimed most of the traffic on the Viaduct was BYPASSING downtown, too? You might have had a point about the Battery Street tunnel if it was a choke point for Southbound traffic, but it isn’t. Losing the downtown exits on this new tunnel will CLEARLY cause northbound backups on the already-overloaded Mercer exit. But whoopee, a new Stadium-area exit right before the tolled tunnel will help ultra-congest an already overbuilt area right in time for another taxpayer-funded Stadium to be built. Most people will instead crowd onto 4th Ave and crawl along through more than ten completely un-timed traffic lights, spewing even more pollution. Doing NOTHING was the best option, not this awful tunnel. They DID ram it through by confouding voters with competing initiatives, by rushing permits and survey work before the EIS was completed (knowing as they did that everything would be rubber-stamped!) From everything I’ve read, the Federal Government STILL hasn’t granted permission for a TBM to pass under their building and they may shut the whole thing down in court (I hope!). This city’s ridiculous Rule by Rich Developer might be LEGAL in the most technical sense, but it certainly isn’t JUST or SENSIBLE. Tunnel supporters call this progress, but what we’ve been begging for is grade-seperated electic mass transit that could remove the strain off our roads and bridges. If the only goal was to throw insane amounts of money around in the name of building a world-class city, then you have failed by that standard as well.

  • Nick June 7, 2012 (10:15 pm)

    The Boston big dig did heal a part of the city waterfront. It also went over budget from 5-6 Billion to 20+ Billion, a parting present of Tip O’Neill of most of the NorthEast Federal Highway funds.
    Lucky Seattle Homeowners will be paying with increased property taxes when much to the astonishment of the geniuses at the City Council the tunnel goes over budget.Note that the sea wall replacement that was one of the selling points of the tunnel doesn’t actually happen in the final design, and we’re going to be asked to pay extra for that.
    The tunnel doesn’t serve residents of the city, and the out of city users are going to avoid it to duck tolls. So street traffic will be a mess even before the arena and whatever street lanes McGinn destoys in SoDO for bike paths.

  • ILoveWestSeattle June 8, 2012 (8:28 am)

    Cascadianone is 100% correct on all counts.
    Studies indicated that a vast percentage of Viaduct drivers choose that route expressly to exit to downtown.
    Additionally, the idea that the land formerly occupied by the Viaduct will now become a pristine park for “the people” is laughable.
    Life for West Seattle residents will NEVER be the same, and not in a good way.
    This fiasco will haunt Seattle forevermore.

  • sun*e June 8, 2012 (9:19 am)

    Once it’s realized/recognized that the tunnel wasn’t the perfect solution we can push for a light rail to be built over the top of it, starting from West Seattle….good luck with that!

  • Anette June 8, 2012 (9:20 am)

    Typical pro tunnel arguments, name calling, belittling, sarcasm. I am adamantly opposed to this tunnel. I would love to be proven wrong. Let’s watch and see what happens. But this I know; the cost of maintenance for this beast is astronomical.
    Why is this? It is to try to mitigate or lessen the effects of fire. Tunnel fires, horrific and wholly preventable by not building a tunnel. An elevated or ground option did not come with this risk or expense to mitigate. Irresponsible is this endeavor.
    But the waterfront will be so quiet. Quiet yeah, when we’ve bottle necked the entire region. Lest we forget a major transportation corridor runs through Seattle and we are effectively reducing one of the only two north/south options. But, whatever, like I said earlier I’m just observing at this point.
    If you are pro tunnel, that’s great more power to you, but hey no need to call me names. I am here to debate an issue not get in a personal argument.

  • dbsea June 8, 2012 (9:22 am)

    I’m pretty surprised that some of us are absolutely certain how this will all work out and affect the city and West Seattle. My crystal ball is in the shop so I’m no judge.

    This won’t be the last major transit project and it may not even be built exactly as advertised. Not saying it’s the best or worst but it’s not the only thing that will change with regards to roads, trains etc.

    As for our property values, I feel better about mine (except for the corresponding tax increase) than I would in many other areas. We’re close to downtown. It’s beautiful. We have great parks and Alki. I can bus, boat or ride my bike and never have to drive downtown. I’m lucky that way because I work downtown but lots do and always will. Our location, waterfront setting and somewhat separate atmosphere will keep West Seattle an extremely popular destination for lots of prospective homeowners.

  • Anette June 8, 2012 (9:51 am)

    Quote from WS Commuter, “The complaints read here about the tunnel being “rammed” through by developers and such is ignorant whining with no basis in fact.”
    Its like the African proverb says, when you point your finger at someone you have three fingers pointing back at you.

    Those of us who oppose the tunnel can tell you specifically why with fact based evidence and legitimate concerns. The major of the concerns has to do with structural integrity, safety,the amount of safety exemptions given, and its cost and probability.
    And yes, this project is going forward without important documents, namely something called a value engineering study.Wasn’t done. The process was rigged from the beginning. And actually its not your word against mine, who can come up with the most clever insulting thing (although you won’t find me participating in that game)but honest observation.
    I love seattle and west seattle and I love the viaduct and the waterfront and all neighborhoods. I have a vested interest in keeping our home beautiful for all of us (not just tourists)and have been actively observing this situation since the 2000 earthquake. From what I’ve observed is that the whole process stinks. Rotten from the onset and I am deeply disappointed in our local politicians and those who run our agencies that are supposed to build and maintain for the people not for various developers and corporate pockets.
    The tunnel is the worst way forward and that’s what getting done.
    Yea for seattle.

  • WS commuter June 8, 2012 (10:24 am)

    Cascadiaone By all means, have your own opinions – good for you. But please do offer some actual facts to support them. Who are these mysterious developers, etc. who have “rammed” this down our throats? What is your evidence that this occurred?

    I respect that you prefer the “do nothing” option. From an anachronistic, minority-anti-car-perspective, it is a legitimate position to take. Good for you.

    Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed. The tunnel is, in fact, the best transportation alternative from a regional perspective. As parochial as we W. Seattle-ites might be, the viaduct is not “our” exclusive highway – it is a state highway. Through-put north/south is its primary function; not providing W. Seattle with the Seneca St. exit.

    You might want to learn a bit about what will happen, surface street-wise, when the project is done. The new widened, 6 lane SR 99 coming from the south will give drivers a choice of going into the tunnel, or feeding on to the new Alaskan Way, which will in turn, feed the access east-west streets downtown. With the viaduct gone, we will actually gain access up several grade-level streets that will ameliorate the loss of the dedicated Seneca St. exit. My guess is drivers will discover this is much quicker than 1st or 4th Ave.

    Your point about light rail is misplaced. SR 99 has to be a through highway for commerce and shipping as much as for individual drivers. And it is simply delusional to think that if light rail were built, all those cars would go away (I say this as an enthusiastic supporter of Sound Transit and light rail). The surface street option would cripple us, due to the abysmal decision made 50+ years ago to build I-5 into its own choke-point through downtown. We’re living with that epic error and we can’t fix it.

  • Nick June 8, 2012 (11:33 am)

    Does wscommuter live in fantasy land or what. There was an option with light rail and the same amount lanes. By the way it obviously its a state row but that does not exclude the fact that Seattle residents are primarily paying for it. I hope the feds cancel this big mistake. I would agree with it if it included mass transit . You call building an expensive tunnel for cars progressive. I call it stupid. I would pay a fare for light rail. I m not paying a toll to drive on a tunnel that was unnecessary in the first place. Funny how most people agree with anti tunnel perspective on here probably because its common sense

  • Theresa June 8, 2012 (3:26 pm)

    Wow, I had no idea there was going to be a toll for the tunnel! Maybe because I always voted against it and pro-viaduct, I didn’t learn much about it. The only time I see the Seattle waterfront is when I’m driving on the viaduct. I’ll miss that.

  • denise June 8, 2012 (9:25 pm)

    WS commuter really? I hope you are right, but I don’t think so. I hope I live long enough to see how all this pays out. Right now, it is a really bad play.

  • ja June 9, 2012 (8:59 am)

    as a lifelong seattleite I am going to miss driving on the viaduct and looking at the waterfront – you all that think it is a great plan – good for you – but those of us that are true seattleites will truly miss this landmark. It is like getting rid of the spaceneedle to me.

  • Achtung June 9, 2012 (10:34 am)

    As a lifelong seattleite I am not going to miss all the distracted drivers who cant keep in their lane on the viaduct who think it’s there for the view. If you want to look at the bay and mountains go to one of the many gorgeous parks, otherwise keep your eyes on the road. Getting rid of the viaduct is like getting rid of the rotten old building in the junction that houses the rocksport – an improvement. Fortunately all true seattleites agree.

  • Kathleen June 9, 2012 (3:06 pm)

    I’m looking forward to getting beyond the construction zone(s) and to using the tunnel. I hate the toll, but as that’s the only way things get funded these days, that’s what I’ll have to pay. I don’t know what studies are being quoted, but I use the viaduct to get to north of downtown to Ballard, and use the freeway for everything else (Downtown and Northgate on north).
    As far as downtown access goes, access will be determined by how well they integrate the 99 exit with the surface streets going into town. Right now a bunch of streets end at first because of the viaduct. I think it’ll be much better than it was.
    I’m also looking forward to a quieter, more pedestrian friendly waterfront. I’m hoping they reserve a little of the viaduct and make a park with elevator access so we all can get up there and look at the view.
    Things change. That’s what happens in a vibrant, healthy city. Be happy!

  • WS Tom June 11, 2012 (10:34 am)

    It’s obvious that there’s lots of strong feelings on both sides of the tunnel debate. And as with many/most? hot topic issues these days, I suspect that most folks came into the discussion with one viewpoint and basically did a death-grip grab on whatever piece of data supported their original perspective and never budged an inch. I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if only 10% or so of the people who have an opinion actually had an open mind about the options and potentially changed that opinion based on what they heard as the options were played out over the months, years. What does that say for our capacity to make quality decisions as a society? Heck, even a neighborhood? Personally, I think change is the only constant. I’d like to think that we can learn from both our own mistakes and the good things that other cities create when they try to solve these difficult issues. Look around. What places do we admire? What environments make us feel good? What makes us proud? Those places took chances to become that way. If not, we’d all still be living in caves. Just because you make a step forward, doesn’t mean you have to leave all the good stuff behind. Sure, I wish Luna Park was still around but it outlived its usefulness and we moved on. And what do you know, I think something just sprung up on the waterfront that looks remarkably like a ferris wheel. Hmmm…

Sorry, comment time is over.