Highway 99 tunnel machine won’t dig again before March 2015

In case you haven’t heard – there’s new timetable for getting the Highway 99 tunnel going again. Digging is expected to resume in “late March 2015,” according to the latest update from WSDOT’s contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners. That would be 15 months after the tunnel machine’s December 2013 stall. At one point, the tunnel was supposed to open by the end of 2015. The state says 2016 might still be possible.

76 Replies to "Highway 99 tunnel machine won't dig again before March 2015"

  • Alyxx April 21, 2014 (3:21 pm)

    We have gotten well past the point of throwing good money after bad. The best option right now is to fill in the tiny amount started, and STOP this nonsense.
    Why….why do they think it is a good idea? Do they think it is really a stadium in disguise?

  • TW April 21, 2014 (3:21 pm)

    Maybe they can finally stop all the busy work in the staging area and launch pit. The amount of times some of these concrete forms have been moved back and forth since Bertha stalled is ridiculous.

  • Phoebe April 21, 2014 (3:25 pm)

    THAT makes me smile :-) #VivaLaViaduct

  • Uncle Joe April 21, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    A two year delay at such an early stage in the process does not bode well for this particular boondoggle.

  • coffee April 21, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    Disgusting waste of tax payers money.

  • fiz April 21, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    Rebuild the viaduct and stop this money-sucking pit.

  • JanS April 21, 2014 (3:31 pm)

    time to move on to Plan B? Oh, is there even a Plan B? (she says sarcastically)

  • Beef April 21, 2014 (3:42 pm)

    I assume plan b is no tunnel and tear down the viaduct. I am seriously in this camp these days. Do not replace it with anything. No big boulevard either on the waterfront. North of downtown is dead to me. :p

  • Ray April 21, 2014 (3:47 pm)

    There is no plan B. This option was forced on us be various political parties claiming we would be reclaiming our waterfront.

    I guarantee whatever the result, within 20 years the city will have no option but to allow rebuilding all in the reclaimed area for tax purposes or for political payoffs.

    All “for the children”.

  • Rick April 21, 2014 (3:49 pm)

    I’m not gonna say it.

  • MellyMel April 21, 2014 (3:54 pm)

    As a project manager by career, all this interests me to observe.

    The link to the dot site is worth reading. It might still be able to be “on time.”

    “STP hopes to recover as much as four months of schedule to meet the November 2016 tunnel opening date we established in our 2010 request for proposals. STP had proposed opening the tunnel in late 2015, 11 months earlier than our original requirement.”

  • schwaggy April 21, 2014 (3:58 pm)

    Open the construction bypass to 3 lanes while we wait? Long Live the Viaduct!

  • Alki Warrior April 21, 2014 (4:01 pm)

    I blame the Republicans for this doonbocle.

  • sb April 21, 2014 (4:03 pm)

    It’s been 13 years since “the quake” and all we’ve got is a hole.


    Rebuild the viaduct (with access to Ballard and a downtown exit) and be done with this foolishness.

  • Kim April 21, 2014 (4:10 pm)

    In all seriousness, is there any possible way to influence a change away from the tunnel…be it by the voters, or some other avenue?

  • B April 21, 2014 (4:10 pm)

    Calm down tunnel-haters. Any cost overruns or delays are on the contractor. We just have to make sure the politicians stick to that.

  • Chris W April 21, 2014 (4:19 pm)

    Not even 11 months from when it broke. Eleven months from NOW. Oh FFS!

  • Militant Moderate April 21, 2014 (4:20 pm)

    I also believe that setbacks should be greeted with tucking tail and retreating, and that Sir Robin was the best knight, no matter what minstrels might sing.

    And likewise, I’m glad that our nation wisely dumped putting a man on the moon after the Apollo 1 fire took the lives of astronauts Grissum, White, and Chaffee.

    Setbacks are nature’s way of telling us to go see what’s on tv instead.

  • norskgirl April 21, 2014 (4:20 pm)

    Can’t believe it. Oh wait, yes I can…!

  • Silverback April 21, 2014 (4:24 pm)

    Once STP files for bankruptcy it will become our problem.

  • KBear April 21, 2014 (4:39 pm)

    At this point, the way to not waste money would be to let the contractor finish the project. We don’t get our money back if we pull out now.

  • Gina April 21, 2014 (4:39 pm)

    This reminds me of the crap related to Bostons Big dig. So who is on the hook for overages? This really is crap!

  • Civik April 21, 2014 (4:42 pm)

    B, that has yet to be litigated. The contractor will probably sue and say it is either the county or city who is responsible since the well casings that bertha hit should have been removed.

  • Red April 21, 2014 (4:42 pm)

    Another project manager here. Folks, you’re not going to dig a tunnel this size, under a populated area, next to a large body of water, without problems. To MellyMel’s point, the contractor bid for 2016 and we were all ready for that when the project started. The problem here is that STP announced they were ahead of schedule when they were barely in the ground, when they should’ve kept that in their pocket as a buffer. I remember scoffing the moment I heard that. Anyway, there’s no going back, and I still think when it’s said and done, not have the shadow of the viaduct cutting off downtown and the waterfront will be well worth it

  • WS15yrs April 21, 2014 (4:47 pm)

    We were never given a real option. What we wanted was to fix what we have or replace it with something similar. What we were offered was a stupid multi-lane, extra extra wide with high walls to block the view. That’s why we voted for “NONE OF THE ABOVE”. Now that Bertha has buried itself, let’s just fill in the hole and go back to fixing what we have.

  • K'lo April 21, 2014 (4:50 pm)

    Exactly, B – WE have to make sure the politicians stick to their guns and make sure that the contractors bear the burden of the cost overruns! That being said, I agree that this should stop now, repair or replace the viaduct and allow us continued access to downtown, allow us to enjoy the beauty afforded us by being able to travel above ground. This (w)hole project has been nothing but a money sucking boondoggle!

  • Classic April 21, 2014 (4:53 pm)

    A tunnel we didn’t want. A monorail we never got. Ah yes. Updates like this are why I voted no on Prop 1. I’ll take the one less 21 express to AH in lieu of getting taken for more car tab money. I’ve adjusted quite well to the screwed up service already. How’s that sea wall going?

  • Cheo April 21, 2014 (5:02 pm)

    Predictably, the obstructionists rejoice. But this is nothing more nor less than a shameful lack of planning and preparation by the contractor.

  • iggy April 21, 2014 (5:07 pm)

    I wonder if the EPA is monitoring the air for asbestos, lead and other toxic substances. Driving home on the stretch of 99 near Atlantic Avenue, there was such a cloud of white dust from work they are doing (is this where they are building the new retaining wall or digging the second pit) that I thought Mt. St. Helens was spewing ash. I’m trying to find humor in this. I’m sure we will eventually be back to a new normal.

  • quiz April 21, 2014 (5:13 pm)


  • Watchdog April 21, 2014 (5:25 pm)

    My big concern now is that we are so late in building this, that there will be another earthquake and people will die. Nimitz freeway all over again.

  • Starsky April 21, 2014 (5:33 pm)

    Let’s just send the real guys to fix it. The boy scouts.

  • JayDee April 21, 2014 (5:35 pm)

    As a hydrogeologist, this has been entertaining if only it wasn’t so expensive. Run Bertha into a known obstacle, and then claim it was supposed to be removed. The STP should be grateful they ran into it or had troubles when they did. Why: 1.Hitachi still owns Bertha. 2.They did have a spare bearing. 3. What if they hit another abandoned-in place well under, let’s say, SAM? Better work out the operational kinks while you can still get to Bertha relatively easily.

    Let’s not re-fight all the past wars–Seattleites of today never agree on anything. Where would this City be if the forefathers (OK, and Mothers even if they didn’t have the vote) hadn’t bought up the Cedar River Watershed when they did? Where is that sort of vision now? I think it has been forgotten.

  • WS4Life April 21, 2014 (5:38 pm)

    The delay goes from a few days to a few weeks to a few months to more than 16 months and the DOT says the schedule is heading in the right direction! The miner’s who built Snoqualmie falls power plant, digging down 165 feet through solid rock, created a giant cavern for all the power generators, and put the giant pipes in the ground to run the water through them to turn the generators, did it all by hand in less time then this highly mobilized (?), high coordinated (?) modern method! Oh well, you wanted it Politicians, it’s your “Albatross” now!

  • west seattle traffic hostage April 21, 2014 (5:51 pm)

    I do not want the tunnel to ever be built!!
    Why would anyone honestly believe that a 2 lane
    tunnel would move traffic better than just rebuilding the old three and four lane viaduct with a downtown exit.

    west seattle traffic hostage

  • boy April 21, 2014 (6:01 pm)

    Stop the madness

  • wscommuter April 21, 2014 (6:02 pm)

    Figured it would be entertaining to read all the haters/naysayers crowing at this setback. As a tunnel supporter (yes Classic – many of us realize this is a smart, appropriate project that will serve Seattle well when its done – and it WILL be done, notwithstanding all the silly “stop the project” comments here), I’m disappointed by the delay, but recognize that these things sometimes can and do happen on big, difficult projects.

    No … this isn’t, remotely, the Big Dig. The scope and type of project there was completely different than the SR 99 project in every single way except that it too was a large infrastructure project.

    Chill people … it will all work out.

  • west seattle codger April 21, 2014 (6:03 pm)

    The city is on the hook for over runs of cost. that’s in the legislation that authorized this debacle. It specifically states that Seattle taxpayers will be responsible for extra costs. Even with the assurances of Frank Chopp and his pals that that could never be enforced. Just wait.

  • David April 21, 2014 (6:10 pm)

    So what? Who cares. The entire REASON for a tunnel vs cut & cover or other is BECAUSE the viaduct stays up and running during the construction. Just KEEP using 99 like you have for the last 50 years. No change. Yes we do want to replace it before the next quake (could be next year, or 100 years from now), but it can last another year likely (a lot of people just wanted to KEEP the viaduct).

    The ONLY issue is who pays for this. Clearly it’s not the states/taxpayers fault. The state didn’t build the machine. The state didn’t operate the machine. The state JUST contracted a private company to do this work (who said they could). If they broke the machine or it’s defective, that’s not our fault and the company(s) involved have to eat the cost. Or please explain how a bad bearing is the taxpayers fault?

    We in West Seattle know what it’s like when 99 is closed for just a weekend. Imagine doing “cut & cover” and running into problems (water/seawall, finding archaeological site that stops work, etc)…imagine NO viaduct for 2+ YEARS. So this is a NON-STORY. Just keep driving on the viaduct and enjoy the view…and the new project will be done a few months late.

    Tunneling can work. How many delays/issues/overruns were there tunneling through Beacon Hill? None. Under I-5? None. To Capital Hill (Broadway)? None. Through Capital Hill under Montlake Cut to Husky? None. Tunneling can be done…this machine just broke. Get over it.

  • Mike April 21, 2014 (6:17 pm)


  • Mr Alki Studster April 21, 2014 (6:26 pm)

    I guess it is time to move back to White Center, dudes.

  • SomeGuy April 21, 2014 (7:04 pm)

    My dream is looking more and more likely. Viaduct 2029! After that, no more downtown for me and whatever happens, happens.

  • Smitty April 21, 2014 (7:08 pm)

    Is there any way to stop the madness or is it really too late?

    This is the first – I repeat first – stoppage. There will be more, and they will take even more time and money because Bertha will get stuck under a BUILDING!

    All the Pollyanna’s will come around eventually. Let’s just hope we’re not all broke by then.


  • joel April 21, 2014 (7:19 pm)

    and they are again asking for more money for car tabs and higher sales tax….more money they can waste? if you haven’t voted yet on the tax and car tab hikes – it’s not too late for a NO vote.

  • Joe April 21, 2014 (7:19 pm)

    This is the Big Dig take two, for sure!

  • West Seattle since 1979 April 21, 2014 (7:42 pm)

    Joel, this is not Metro! This is Washingto State Department of Transporttation (WSDOT). A completely different agency. Folks, if you haven’t voted on Proposition 1 yet please don’t vote no because of this,because the agencies are totally unrelated.

  • wetone April 21, 2014 (7:46 pm)

    Tunnel problems are just starting and anyone with common sense along with being familiar with the very old infrastructure downtown expect many future big problems. Could rebuild the existing viaduct have many more future growth and capacity options or a bridge, or even a cut and cover, all above options would cost a fraction of this tunnel that does nothing for the everyday people that need to get around this city. This project has zero growth options when built along with being full capacity the day it opens. Sad part is no matter what cost and problems this tunnel project involves our city Government will keep pushing this project forward because that is how Seattle Government rolls their right and will never ever admit their wrong. They will tax us till we have nothing left because they can and it’s job security for those involved or work for the city. Lets take guesses at how many billions $$ the tunnel, waterfront rebuild and bike paths will be. To bad we can’t fix our potholes and city streets :0

  • joel April 21, 2014 (7:50 pm)

    1979….it’s government waste and we don’t need any more of it. there is money in sales tax, gas tax, property taxes and numerous fees in car tabs….use that money wisely before asking for more.

  • Mike April 21, 2014 (7:56 pm)

    I have to laugh at the pro viaduct comments. You won’t laugh when you die in a good sized quake when you’re on the viaduct. Project is still on target, just not going to be early now. You’re more likely to see the current viaduct fall and collapse killing hundreds than for the tunnel project to cease.

  • wetone April 21, 2014 (8:34 pm)

    Hey Mike what do you think is going to happen in a tunnel and under the water table in places ? curious never really heard much info on that from the city ? big pumps to pump water out and air in that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, hope the power never goes out. Interesting how they had no problems retrofitting the W/S freeway and how about being on I-5 express ways that are double stacked ? Myself I would rather be on a viaduct than in our new tunnel. Just thinking ; )

  • joel April 21, 2014 (8:42 pm)

    does DOT still have the live web cam showing the tunnel digging progress?

  • PSPS April 21, 2014 (8:54 pm)

    Actually, one of the earliest options was a viaduct retrofit which has these advantages:

    1. It would withstand future earthquakes
    2. It would remain available for traffic use during the work
    3. It would cost a tiny fraction of the tunnel.
    4. The finished project would retain current capacity

    Strangely, this was the first of the several options to be placed “off the table.” We all know why, of course.

  • bbuddy April 21, 2014 (8:57 pm)

    Can’t they just issue shovels and get on with it?

  • problem solved April 21, 2014 (9:47 pm)

    Tear the viaduct down and don’t replace it. It’s ugly, and the land is too valuable to waste on a stupid highway. Build a spur line of link to Ballard, add a W. Seattle – Ballard water taxi, and call it a day.

  • joel April 21, 2014 (9:59 pm)

    once it’s built….if any of us are still alive……where do cars go that used to exit on Seneca Street exit?

  • wscommuter April 21, 2014 (10:09 pm)

    wetone – your wild claims stand out here amidst all the other misinformed whining, which is saying something. Re-building/retrofitting the existing viaduct was never a serious option – engineers agreed that it would be a seismically vulnerable structure no matter what the bandaids might be applied.

    Likewise, your utterly false statement that other options such as cut&cover or rebuilding the viaduct would be “a fraction” of the cost of the DBT is amazing. The truth is that cut & cover would have cost a bit more, and that a rebuilt viaduct would have been no more than 15% less than the DBT, and we would have ended up with a seismically vulnerable structure still. All these project were going to be in the $3-4 billion dollar range. Just the truth.

    Finally, talk to the engineers who know – the tube-shaped structure of the DBT is actually extremely seismically safe – much more so than any elevated structure. And your straw-horse comment about the elevated portions of I-5 – please deal in reality. SR 99 is in liquifiable soils. I-5 is not. It is a completely disingenuous claim for you to compare the two locations.

    Try learning the facts … doing so moves the discussion forward credibly.

  • Kathy April 21, 2014 (10:37 pm)

    Freeways have no business on our downtown real estate above or below ground. Cancel/default the tunnel, tear down the viaduct, people will find another way to get around, just as they did in San Francisco (Embarcadero). They will demand better transit and they will use it. How many of the cars clogging I-5 and SR99 contain commuters who would gladly use a good regional public transportation system if we would just stop bickering about the cost and build it? Making it easy for people to bypass downtown Seattle in a car will kill business down there and encourage more cars on the road to overwhelm the designed capacity in a few years. If you build it they will come, but we already have too many cars on the roads. The tunnel was absolutely the wrong answer for a city and state that claim to be serious about stopping climate change. We forgot to ask the basic question: did we really need a highway in the first place, right through the heart of our states economic engine? The point is to move people in and out of and around the region, not cars.

  • MyEye April 21, 2014 (11:15 pm)

    I don’t understand why we don’t just bag this boondoggle and do a cut and cover and take care of the sea wall at the same time.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident April 22, 2014 (7:33 am)

    I blame the Republicans for this doonbocle.

    Comment by Alki Warrior — 4:01 pm April 21, 2014

    WOW!!!! Blaming Republicans for something that a DEMOCRAT Gov, Legislature, County Council and City Council championed, approved and rammed down the throats of the people of Seattle, who will be forced to pay for this “Seattle BIG DIG,” is like blaming the car for driving drunk instead of the driver.
    Just goes to show how partisan and ill-informed Seattlites are when it comes to what political party does what around here.
    No wonder an avowed “Socialist” can get elected and actually have people listening to the “crap” she spouts out of her pie-hole!!!

  • David April 22, 2014 (7:41 am)

    Cut & cover would require not having 99 at all for 2+ years. You know what a WEEKEND is like, imaging Seattle for 2 years with no north-south route OTHER than the 2 lanes of I-5 at Seneca? Seriously. Ugh. So the tunnel machine is slow/delayed, who cares, 99 is still running today and next month and so on.

    Ok folks, ligthen up! It’s a RACE! Who wants to start placing bets? Which gets done first? The 99 tunnel, or the Whittaker (Whole Foods)? LOL

  • rob April 22, 2014 (9:33 am)

    we could solve west seattle’s part of this problem with a cable car. not the san francisco kind, the mountain kind that hang from a cable. woosh right downtown from admiral :-)

  • AJL April 22, 2014 (9:34 am)


    Really interesting read about tearing down inter-urban freeways and how the traffic will be/has been mitigated (public transit a main component!)…

  • marty April 22, 2014 (10:10 am)

    This is something to think about when you fill out your Proposition 1 ballot.

  • DrewJ April 22, 2014 (10:42 am)

    marty, WSDOT and King County are very different and distinct agencies. But, it would be good to have reliable frequent transit continue through however long the highway construction lasts.

  • Eric April 22, 2014 (11:22 am)

    Well, at least we have the monorail coming…

  • wetone April 22, 2014 (11:52 am)

    wscommuter, spoken like a true politician. Why is it you seem to push so hard for all the big dollar projects this city is involved in ? always saying there is only one way and no options (that one way is what our government is telling us). I just wish people would research more and not believe what they hear from our city and state people as it can and usually is just a little misleading along with being very very costly. If you were to go back through my comments that I have made on this blog about many of these big projects I think my track record is going to be very close to what is and has happened on this project and many others. Your comments are always the same, engineers said this and that, I’m clueless oh well maybe so but I got a lot of common sense. Bottom line is x Gov. Chris Gregoire wanted this tunnel along with the property above for many reasons and no matter how bad it gets or huge cost we have, were stuck with it as our elected people show little interest in mobility of the people to get around this town better when the opportunity knocks them on the forehead. Your comment says it all “Re-building/retrofitting the existing viaduct was never a serious option – engineers agreed that it would be a seismically vulnerable structure no matter what the bandaids might be applied”

    But wait it was fine for the W/S freeway ? same soil as waterfront and how many people use it along with being the life line of W/S ? Tunnel project was and is a land grab bottom line. Great for tourist and developers, no so for the people that live here getting taxed out of the area.
    Can’t wait for this project to get going again and see what else she does I truly believe she has much more in store for us :)

  • ScubaFrog April 22, 2014 (1:12 pm)

    So the viaduct’s PROVEN to be “too dangerous”? If not why mess with it? Is that why we’re spending 100’s of millions for this tunnel? If the viaduct’s truly been deemed “too dangerous”, then let’s just knock it down, pave a 4-lane stretch for 99 and call it good (IF it’s truly been deemed ‘too dangerous’. There’s no waterfront anyhow, it’s blocked by old piers, ferries and buildings. Flushing millions and millions of our dollars away in this poorly-planned exercise in futility (the tunnel) is asinine.

    We could have used some of those millions for infrastructure. This is a prime example of why I’ll not be voting for any new taxes in this city. The mismanagement is remarkable. Seattle’s a microcosmic example of a larger tragedy: The country’s 17 trillion dollars in debt – most Americans are fiscal troglodytes.

  • West Seattle since 1979 April 22, 2014 (2:17 pm)

    Joel, no. Two different agencies, not connected. You don’t punish one by taking from the other (and causing problems for a heck of a lot of people , i might add.)

    Marty, same thing . This had absolutely nothing to do with Proposition 1 — WSDOT is a state agency and has nothing to do with King County Metro.

  • Fiwa Jcbbb April 22, 2014 (3:12 pm)

    All Dominic Holden at The Stranger….and apparently Kathy here….show by bringing up that old Surface/Transit dead horse of “The Embarcadero Freeway” again is that they have never spent any time in San Francisco. The Embarcadero was a never-finished connector from Highway 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t have much of an adverse effect on traffic when it was torn down because it didn’t do anything. A far more appropriate analogy would be to ask Bay Area residents how they’d feel about tearing out Highway 280 (the other main highway between SF and San Jose) in order to improve the views and real estate value of Silicon Valley landowners. A more appropriate Seattle analogy would be ripping out the “bridge to nowhere” in the Arboretum. Have at it, but keep your bike-lovin’ car-hating mitts off one of only two north-south arterials through a water locked Seattle. “Surface/Transit” was, and remains, the only idea dumber than this tunnel, and again I would point out that just 10 years earlier The Stranger opposed Paul Allen’s “Seattle Commons” park idea on ground “it would just create a nice lawn for rich people”. BTW, councilman Mike O’Brien’s office was the one who sent me the ridiculous and utterly unworkable, as any West Seattle resident now knows, “DOT Study” that suggested “Surface/Transit” would have no ill effects on traffic, because “improvements would be made to I-5” (presumably ripping out the convention center and freeway park). The voters got rid of Mayor McSchwinn thankyewverramuch, but missed booting O’Brien, hopefully we won’t again.

  • sasha April 22, 2014 (3:48 pm)

    Cancel the whole project, build a new, low laying viaduct or blvd. and be done with it. This project is a waste of taxpayers money. A tunnel is also a very Un-inviting structure. The whole thing is ridiculous.

  • Jennie April 22, 2014 (5:19 pm)

    Time to shore up the viaduct against quakes!

  • redblack April 22, 2014 (5:37 pm)

    wscommuter: be honest here:
    DBT budget does not cover the cost of removal of the viaduct. any other option – such as cut and cover – would necessarily include it.
    furthermore, bridge and tunnel construction has the highest likelihood of producing cost overruns. typically, they are around 30% over budget. and this project has a 15% margin for contingencies.
    the DBT project also ignores toll avoidance and the impact on surface streets. when some of us ask about plan B, we’re asking if it’s not too late to get ST5 implemented in addition to DBT – and as an emergency plan in case of viaduct failure before DBT opens. can you at least admit that it would be wise and prudent to do so, instead of just hurling tomatoes at skeptics?
    just saying that you should occasionally pepper some facts into your arguments.
    it’s too late to turn back from this, so let’s just hope your optimism is justified in the end.

  • ScubaFrog April 22, 2014 (6:29 pm)

    Sasha’s right. Scrap it and build a 99 thoroughfare through the waterfront. We’ll save 10’s of millions, if not 100’s of millions. We’ll be done on time (if not way before), and then that’s that.

    We’re still paying for the Kingdome, come on Seattle. This is utter stupidity.

  • joel April 22, 2014 (7:07 pm)

    1979……..the bus funding should cover the bus expenses. if they are not covering their expenses then you have 2 choices or a combination of both. you either increase your revenue or you decrease your expenses OR you do a combination of both. why not have the people who use the service pay for the service? saying NO to the new taxes and car tabs…it’s a message to politicians that needs to be sent….state, county and city. We pay for this and then what the Mayor wants more fees for the parks…that one is coming next. if I don’t manage my money my house gets taken or the repo man comes for my car. yet with the government it’s okay to not manage your money and just come around with both hands out looking for more money every election…

  • E April 22, 2014 (7:28 pm)

    Just rebuild it with less lanes and with light rail connected!!!!

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