Speaking of road work: New info on tunnel-machine repairs, including a wall you’ll soon see

Though it’s a state project, Mayor Ed Murray brought up the Highway 99 tunnel trouble during his keynote speech at the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce awards breakfast today (full story, with video, in the works). “Bertha is broken,” he noted, and said that if he had to make a guess, he’d say the tunneling won’t resume for at least 9 months. Later in the day, WSDOT published an update on the preparations for tunneling-machine repairs, including:

Drivers on SR 99 in Seattle will soon see a noise-blocking wall rise out of the ground near the spot where crews will dig a pit to reach and repair Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. The double-plywood wall, which will be as tall as the lower deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is designed to shield neighbors from construction noise associated with the repairs. It will stretch along the west side of the viaduct between South Jackson and South Main streets. Construction of the wall should take about two weeks.
WSDOT also published some conceptual renderings of what’s in the works; see them here. The tunnel contractor, says the state, is still finalizing the repair plan.

31 Replies to "Speaking of road work: New info on tunnel-machine repairs, including a wall you'll soon see"

  • WSince86 April 3, 2014 (5:40 pm)

    How about we just face the music right now and fill in the 10 feet Bertha has dug and do a Cut and Cover?

  • Elisabeth April 3, 2014 (6:26 pm)

    Thanks for reporting this, and especially thanks for the illustrations!

  • Max April 3, 2014 (6:26 pm)

    I am sure the plywood wall was in the bid. The entire idea of the tunnel was STUPID!!! in my mind, just saying. While I am venting I witnessed yesterday 2 SDOT Trucks and I think 4 workers filling pot holes. Yes!!! that is great pot holes holes. No they ONLY!!! were filling pot holes in a stores parking lot and the store was in Burien. Your Tax dollars at work. I am still waiting to hear from the city to repay me for the two tires that were destroyed from a HUDGE pot hole, it has been over 2 moths to find out if they will pay.

  • Andros April 3, 2014 (6:31 pm)

    Ok, so it’s gone further than 10 feet but thanks for getting snark in early.

    What we really need to know right now is why it broke, and what it to prevent it happening again after it’s fixed.

    How is it the Brits and French were able to build the Chunnel but we can’t get this right?

  • Cascadianone April 3, 2014 (6:55 pm)

    The DBT is a disaster, a project that should have been completed long ago, in a more prosperous age.

    Right now we need to focus on grade-separated, automated Light Rail. It should connect West Seattle and Ballard to downtown. Another line should stretch across Wallingford between Ballard the Northgate, connecting up to the main LINK line through the U District.

    Let’s relieve the congestion on the West Seattle Bridge and watch our home values rise instead of throwing good money after bad into a Bertha-sized pit that will do nothing to help West Seattle!


  • Al April 3, 2014 (7:37 pm)

    Wsince86. I’m with ya!!

  • JoB April 3, 2014 (7:47 pm)

    Bertha’s having a baby?

  • pupsarebest April 3, 2014 (7:57 pm)

    To answer Andros’ question: it’s that “American Exceptionalism” we often hear trumpeted so loudly.

  • cjboffoli April 3, 2014 (8:03 pm)

    This is a complicated technical project and problems are bound to arise. Clearly the time for discussing the merits of doing this is over as we’re already into it. Having seen the fantastic results of removing San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Boston’s Central Artery, I’m very excited to see Seattle reunite its downtown core with its stunning waterfront. The era of ugly, dirty, dark, loud elevated freeways is over.

  • Mary Ellen O'Connor April 3, 2014 (8:08 pm)

    Is that why the lights are on all night long at the site? Are they working all night long while Bertha is at a standstill?

  • Enough with Rail April 3, 2014 (8:19 pm)

    If you really want to relieve the bridge congestion in the near term then you need to understand why the bridge is congested. The number of cars crossing the bridge has remained almost constant over the past five years (the City publishes this data.) The congestion on the bridge and around WS is likely from a combination of “road diets”, extra bus lanes, 520 tolls, and the wacky lanes on 99. These aren’t difficult to solve but the people you have to convince aren’t the brightest and I certainly can’t afford to pay their going rate to see my side.

  • dsa April 3, 2014 (8:23 pm)

    The contractor may not care what caused the problem.
    Once repaired, Bertha only has a few hundred feet to get out of the contractor warranty zone. The next failure is totally on the taxpayer. And repairing another failure down the road will make this look like child’s play because of the future depth and proximity to buildings.

  • dsa April 3, 2014 (8:32 pm)

    Ellen, if they are working at night, that would explain the need to attempt a noise barrier.

  • dsa April 3, 2014 (8:34 pm)

    Enough with Rail, got it right. They won’t solve our transportation issue by removing lanes.

  • wetone April 3, 2014 (8:36 pm)

    Down time gives them more time for seismic work (bracing) of the downtown buildings and infrastructure. They have lots of issues showing up. I wonder what happens next time it breaks under a building or major utility line, or power grid.

  • alki warrior April 3, 2014 (9:40 pm)

    I’m voting no in giving more tax dollars to fund Metro. Bertha will be out of commission for a year guaranteed!

  • redblack April 3, 2014 (9:52 pm)

    Clearly the time for discussing the merits of doing this is over as we’re already into it.
    LOL. when did the time for discussing this project occur, do ya’ think? i don’t recall any rational discussion.
    that was unfair. sorry. so, umm… when can we discuss plan B?
    or will the rational among us get shouted down again?
    maybe we should just keep our stupid opinions to ourselves.

  • dsa April 3, 2014 (11:19 pm)

    Once repaired, Bertha only has a few hundred feet to get out of the contractor warranty zone. The next failure is totally on the taxpayer. And repairing another failure down the road will make this look like child’s play because of the future depth and proximity to buildings

    I revised my comment because it seems to have been deleted the first time.

  • Smitty April 4, 2014 (8:52 am)

    Enough with Rail is 100% correct.

    We rarely – if ever – were backed up westbound on the bridge as you head up toward Fauntleroy/35th during the evening commute. Now it is a daily occurrence to have to “stop and go” from the Admiral exit. This is due to the Alaska & to some extent Fauntleroy “road diets”. All those idling cars pumping CO2 into the atmosphere just to try and “force” people to ride the bus.

  • Peter April 4, 2014 (10:30 am)

    >> just to try and “force” people to ride the bus. <<

    Or bikes. Which would be fine if everyone who was physically able to ride a bike could get where they need to go by bike, and with everything they need to take with them. Don't get me wrong – bikes are fine, but they're aren't a realistic option for *many* commuters. It doesn't help that bus service is being simultaneously reduced.

    Unfortuantely, we are faced with 3 basic options: 1) reduce the number of additional people, 2) increase density, or 3) increase sprawl. I don't see #1 happening anytime soon and #3 get's a deservedly bad rap.

  • 935 April 4, 2014 (11:32 am)

    pups… “american exceptionalism” created the chunnel? can you please cite your source?
    The DBT is a financial and social boondoggle. we are going to be saddled with taxes for this for decades. whether it gets finished or not.
    I envision several politicians and community leaders slapping themselves on the back – full of self assuring accolades. ‘Seattle is the future!’ ‘ World’s largest TBM!’ ‘Setting the course for the future of transportation!’ But all I hear is crickets.
    All the yelling and shouting about taxes and funding Wars overseas… ACA… Metro…Rail…ad naseum…NO ONE is saying ‘boo’ about THIS!!
    Imagine if we had the 4.25 BILLION dollars to fund transportation. Homeless. Affordable housing. Daycare. Schools. 4.25 BILLION is a LOT of cheese people!!

  • WSince86 April 4, 2014 (12:16 pm)

    Jeez Andros, don’t get you’re boxers in a wad so quickly! It’s a joke!

  • Nope April 4, 2014 (1:16 pm)

    The city response will be that they will not pay for damage done to your car due to a pothole because they legally have two weeks after someone reports it. I know because I got one on mercer and they said the same to me. It’s bogus but that’s what they’ll say.

  • zark April 4, 2014 (5:11 pm)

    “Not all multi-lane arterials are good candidates for road constriction. Added congestion can outweigh benefits if vehicle traffic volumes exceed the capacity of the three-lane roadway. This threshold is approximately 20,000 vehicles per day.”

    That’s from the wikipedia page on “Road Diets”.
    I’m not sure if it’s funny or really sad that the report cited was from 2004 and our lovely WSDOT couldn’t find it. 35th carries about 20k cars a day.

  • Rick April 4, 2014 (9:45 pm)

    You can’t find it if you don’t want to.

  • JohnH April 5, 2014 (1:01 pm)

    It doesn’t matter if you were for or against the tunnel we (City/State) are committed to the project now. It’s a complicated never before been done on this scale project and it’s bound to have troubles. As long as they really do find the root cause and permanently fix it they need to take the appropriate time to get it done. They were lucky that things went wrong at the 1,000 ft. mark and not further along as then their options to gain access to the cutter head would be very limited.

  • wetone April 6, 2014 (10:46 am)

    I see thinking like that a huge problem with our city and state government. They don’t worry about the money side like a regular home owner. If a home owner gets in over their head or budget you change direction or go broke. They are building (trying) the most expensive road way in this state and soon to be country (per-foot) that does nothing for traffic or flow improvements. Will have big long time impacts of downtown structures. Very high maintenance and as the seawall rebuild goes in could cause even more damage to existing structures and cause tunnel to move around. But boy it sure will give the city and developers lots of land to play with. While the rest of us continue to have our taxes go through the roof. Sometimes your got to change thinking habits and not worry about egos so much. People were sold a bill of goods on this one, thanks Christine Gregoire and Greg Nickels.

  • dawsonct April 6, 2014 (11:14 am)

    “How is it the Brits and French were able to build the Chunnel but we can’t get this right?”

    Well, we have been digging tunnels all over this region for YEARS (and getting them right, as well) using this exact same technology. The problem is every dig is different, and often until you get into the dig you are not 100% certain what you will encounter while you are doing it.
    And before you are too quick to jump on our local contractors, it was a FRENCH company that screwed up the Brightwater dig (same method) and local contractors (and local tunneling experts) Coluccio who came in and rescued the project.
    I guess expertise is valid only as long as people don’t remember your failures.

  • dawsonct April 6, 2014 (11:36 am)

    Ya know what? If you or your parents or grandparents had the foresight to purchase real-estate on the desultory East side of the Viaduct and are now about to cash in on their investment, good for them, smart move.

    ANY time a city does something to improve the lives of the majority of the citizenry, someone is LIKELY to profit from it, either intentionally or through pure luck and happenstance.
    Worrying that some wealthy land-owner will get even wealthier when we improve the city around their land left us without a real South Lake Union Park, and the rich developers are STILL tearing down the Cascade neighborhood and making billions from their investments, and the rest of us get no park. Way to go Matthew Fox and other “leave the city the way I remember it in my rose-colored rear-view mirror” no-growth fools.
    When is my city going to stop cutting off it’s nose to spite the rich developers?
    Much better to accept the fact that we ARE a city, we WILL continue to grow for the foreseeable future, and it will be much better for ALL if we work to guide the developments to serve the needs and aesthetic desires of the largest amount of the citizenry.
    Trying to STOP the evolution of a city results in unsatisfying outcomes for the majority and usually results in cheap alternatives that demand quicker replacement at a greater cost, ultimately.

  • Robert April 6, 2014 (3:03 pm)

    we taxpayers do not mind spending tax money on a project that has at least a fifty percent chance of working .THIS BILLION-DOLLAR BOONDOGGLE HASENT GOT A CHANCE IN HELL OF WORKING. traffic will not be able to get downtown, trucks will seldom use it because of the hazzardous cargo laws, and the sheer volume of traffic that the viaduct handles daily will overwhelm the tunnel. if they ever get it built. this machine has NEVER BEEN TESTED ANYWHERE SUCCESFULLY. it was broken when it got here, and has gone downhill fast. one thousand feet and broken allready. if it brakes in the center of the dig you can kiss the entire project off.NO TUNNEL–NO MONEY LEFT, AND PROBABLY A BANKRUPT CONTRACTOR. fill the hole, fix the viaduct, at least it works..

  • wetone April 6, 2014 (4:27 pm)

    What is positive about this tunnel ? does it help with traffic flow, have good ingress/egress access off/on, can it be modified for future growth. No to all of those. There where options that would have been a yes and sooo much cheaper. As far as someone getting rich that’s great as long as I not paying for it and getting poorer. How does it improve the lives of the majority of the citizenry ? wow sounds like a politician. You have all the answers on the problems were having on our North West road projects in your comments Brits and French were able, add our city and state government and poof there you go. Heck the old viaduct could have been retrofitted for a fraction of tunnel and be safe as the tunnel. One positive thing is tourist will like it and it will look good on a post card, but as far as improving our lives that’s a big zipo nota as I’ll have to work longer to pay my increased taxes and tolls along with longer travel times due to no road improvements and the renters will keep getting rent hikes win win ;)

Sorry, comment time is over.