Highway 99 tunnel trouble: Front-end repair access likely

If you’re following the saga of the Highway 99 tunnel-machine trouble – another update this afternoon, including word it’s likely that a dig from the surface will be needed so the machine can be fixed from its front end:

Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) informed WSDOT today that they expect to receive a plan on potential repairs to the SR 99 tunneling machine from the machine’s manufacturer Hitachi Zosen by the end of this month. This will include a schedule for how long the repair work would take. Earlier this week, STP told us the plan may be completed by the end of the week, but said today more time is needed for the Hitachi to prepare it.

It appears likely that repairs will be made by digging a shaft from the surface so the machine can be entered from the front. Entering the back of the machine would require removal of more equipment and likely take longer. STP will begin work next week on the design of the shaft so if that option is selected, some of the necessary work will already be underway.

This past Monday, as reported here and elsewhere, we got first word it will be “months” before tunneling can resume. The tunnel originally was expected to open by the end of 2015, with Viaduct demolition following its opening; no schedule revision’s been announced yet.

15 Replies to "Highway 99 tunnel trouble: Front-end repair access likely"

  • bbuddy February 14, 2014 (1:50 pm)

    For all those who voted for the tunnel — what are your thoughts now? Just curious because I could see this type of trouble predicted in my magic 8 ball, not to mention my common sense. Is it any surprise that a brand new type of tunnel digging project, with cutting edge technology/equipment (or not so cutting edge in the present situation) would most likely not be on time or budget? What are all the workers doing while the machine is dormant? Are they directed to work on other DOT projects? I am curious how the funding works in such a situation.

  • KBear February 14, 2014 (2:56 pm)

    Bbuddy, this project was never up for a public vote.

  • East Coast Cynic February 14, 2014 (3:34 pm)

    In my mind, the choices we were given were not good choices–a tunnel with less capacity and no direct downtown exits for buses vs. a surface option where buses would sit in traffic with cars staggering along to traffic lights. I think the majority voted for what they considered to be the least crappy option.

    I would have voted for a light rail project in the 99 corridor if presented.

  • bbuddy February 14, 2014 (5:13 pm)

    KBear — ye,a referendum was voted on… recall from news at that time in 2011…
    “Seattle voters came out in a big way Tuesday in favor of an underground tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Initial counts in the Referendum 1 race showed nearly 60 percent of voters approving the measure.”

    West Seattle is in a pickle no matter — omg what a mess :( Poor Big Bertha — it’s not her fault yet her name is dragged through the mud ;)

    • WSB February 14, 2014 (5:22 pm)

      BB, that was a cut-and-cover tunnel. There was never a vote on a deep-bore tunnel. Dramatically different construction method.

  • Smitty February 14, 2014 (5:16 pm)

    What a freaking joke.

    I can’t wait for the lawsuits to start flying.


  • bolo February 14, 2014 (5:56 pm)

    So we get a Little Bertha to drill down to Big Bertha to enable repairs?


    Maybe we can come up with a better name?


    Little Lita

    Baby Bertha


  • Davdi February 14, 2014 (6:31 pm)

    There’s no magic, wish there was.
    * Cut & cover would have been ‘easier’, but insane. No viaduct (or any road in it’s place) for 2+ years? We all know what it’s like when they close the viaduct for a race or some work for a few days…imagine years of no viaduct while they tear it down and rebuild a cut & cover ditch….I-5 would be a total parking lot 24/7.
    * Repair the existing viaduct? Possible. Very ugly, noisy terrible road could be made usable, but very expensive to build huge new pilings to hit better depths to solidify it. Truly would a massive ugly pile of junk.
    * Built NEW slick viaduct? See #1…years with no roadway north-south through Seattle except I-5. Really? HORRIBLE.
    * Just surface streets? Tear down viaduct and just leave surface streets. 1+ year of no road other than I-5, then SLOW surface streets (no “by-pass” of downtown…anymore than 1st, 2nd or 4th is right now)

    There was no perfect solution. The tunnel has the fantastic POTENTIAL (ha) if nothing goes wrong to allow the viaduct to stay up and carrying traffic UNTIL the tunnel is done, and just “switch over” then tear down the viaduct. Not bad. Tunneling can work fine (see link light rail) or can be disaster. I think this is much ado about nothing. This won’t delay the total project much (still have to build the north south portals and interior work) so even if Bertha is out for 6 months, probably won’t mean much to the total project…so what, so we just use the current viaduct another 6 months (we’ve been using it since the 1950s). Cost? Not to us (taxpayers). The contractor who ‘drove’ the thing can argue with the manufacturer if it was defective or they drove it badly….but it’s not the states fault either way. The state didn’t “build” the machine nor were they “driving” it. Private sector f**k up all the way.

  • bbuddy February 14, 2014 (7:47 pm)

    I guess I could have it wrong, or I’m missing something and not connecting the dots — blame it on hormones….. but my recollection is that Seattle did vote on referendum 1 — which specified deep dig tunnel, not cut and cover. And section 6 was not rejected in that vote and the city was basically given carte blanche to move forward in deep dig mode.

    No matter, in my opinion, whether there was a vote for cut and cover vs. deep dig — we know there was a referendum where you and I had the opportunity to vote against or for the process to move forward in such a way as it did…and the voters did not reject the toll tunnel… cut n cover — deep dig, no matter in my opinion– both bad ideas according to my magic 8 ball.

    I do know for a fact there was a vote on Referendum 1 which was the brain child of the anti-tunnel group called Protect Seattle Now and they worked to get the measure on the ballot.

    “It’s the voters’ opportunity, our one opportunity to reject a tolled tunnel project that’s a bad deal for Seattle, and that doesn’t work,” — from Gary Manca of Protect Seattle Now

    In the news at that time, in 2011 — not in 2009,
    “A yes vote for Referendum 1 means the Seattle City Council can continue with the project to replace the viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel under downtown Seattle. .. The so-called tunnel vote wasn’t binding. Tunnel proponents hoped a “yes” vote will finally end 10 years of debate and bickering.” Komonews.com

    Here is where, if you haven’t already stopped reading, you might want to stop reading because I will probably ramble a bit and repeat myself… sorry.

    My understanding of referendum 1, which seems to bear out in the news reporting, was that it wasn’t truly a voting opportunity for Seattle to say “yes or no” to THE deep dig tunnel, but was more of an opportunity to vote your opinion of either in favor or opposed to proceeding with deep dig tunnel in general.

    I recall the news reports of referendum 1 outcome — Seattlepi reporter, Scott Gutierrez wrote on Wednesday, August 17,2011 …
    “… Seattle voters endorsed the deep-bore tunnel Tuesday, voting 60 to 40 in approval of Referendum 1″

    And here is the official wording of Referendum 1 (from 2011 not 2009)…which does refer to a deep dig tunnel…not a cut and cover tunnel.

    Referendum 1:
    The Seattle City Council passed Ordinance Number 123542 entering into agreements related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. Section 6 of that ordinance has been referred to the voters for approval or rejection.

Section 6, if approved, would authorize the City Council to give notice to proceed, beyond preliminary design work, with three agreements concerning the State’s proposal to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. …
    Partial explanation:
    This ballot measure will neither approve nor reject the deep-bore tunnel as an alternative to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Rather… your vote will affect how the City Council will decide whether to proceed with current agreements on the deep-bore tunnel beyond preliminary design work, after environmental review is completed.”

    Essentially, voters rejecting section six would have meant that the City Council could NOT make the decision to give approval to the deep-bore tunnel project by itself, without voter approval. A rejection of the referendum would not have blocked the tunnel–and neither would a city rejection of the tunnel in the future–but it would ensure that voters will be involved in what the city chooses as its preferred alternative.

    But no — section 6 was not rejected and the city was basically given carte blanche to move forward in deep dig mode.

  • D February 15, 2014 (5:56 pm)

    My biggest question is, how is this tunnel really going to help Seattle other than beautifying the waterfront? This 2 mile underground tube will have no downtown exits and a pretty expensive toll. And while I’m sure it is probably safe from an engineering standpoint, I’m not very comfortable driving in a long underground tunnel. I am just planning on clogging up I-5 and surface streets like everyone else.

  • redblack February 16, 2014 (9:30 am)

    just to clarify, the 2011 vote involved seattle’s part in funding the project(s). at that point, the deep bore tunnel was a done deal; the referendum was put forward by tunnel opponents as a last-ditch effort to scuttle seattle’s funding and possibly force the state to abandon the deep bore tunnel section of an AWV replacement.
    it was NOT a vote on the construction of the tunnel itself; gregoire, WSDOT, the county, the port, nickels, and 8 of 9 city council members had already decided that DBT was moving forward without putting the project itself up for a public vote.
    some of you might be thinking of the 2007 advisory vote put to seattle residents. it was a choice between a 4-lane surface/hybrid cut-and-cover tunnel or a new elevated structure.
    both ideas were rejected by voters: 30% voted for the tunnel, and 43% voted for the elevated structure.

  • wetone February 16, 2014 (10:20 am)

    I get a good laugh every time I hear how the viaduct was so unsafe at the time they were pushing for the tunnel, but now it will be fine for as long as the tunnel project takes. Funny how they had no problem retrofitting the old elevated W/S freeway structure. Reality is any elevated structure is at risk just as our houses and buildings. Curious as too how many of the people pushing and voted for tunnel have had their living structure retrofitted for earthquake issues ? This tunnel does nothing for traffic problems along with NO future growth and mass transit options, and will only make it worse do to the ingress/egress options and less capacity of what we had. As far as tolls $2+ I’m hearing unless they get the new tax increases they want.

  • WSoriginal February 17, 2014 (12:02 pm)

    The debacle continues…

    IMO, the viaduct is such an iconic part of the city…the elevated drive along the waterfront equals some of the best views in/of the city. Depending on which way you are heading- Elliott Bay, West Seattle, Magnolia, Rainier if she’s out, Olympics, etc. Is there a way to register it as a historical Seattle landmark and save what’s left – force a structural remodel and not complete tear-down?

    What’s our return policy on Bertha…?

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