Highway 99 tunnel trouble: ‘See’ Bertha and the repair timeline

9 AM: For all the talk about the stuck Highway 99 tunnel machine, we’ve had a tough time visualizing exactly where it is. A new set of a dozen renderings made public by the state has fixed that. It’s part of a new online update from WSDOT; at the lower right of the rendering shown above, that’s Pier 50, where the West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxis dock downtown. Work has begun underground on the 120-foot-deep “access pit,” according to the WSDOT update – scroll through the renderings to see how that is supposed to unfold. The WSDOT update also points to an added webcam showing the work zone on the surface (top right of this page). Bottom line, though, no change in the timeline, which still projects that tunneling will resume in/by “late March 2015.”

12:23 PM: We followed up with WSDOT regarding some questions that came up in comments. Spokesperson Laura Newborn says the utility-relocation cost is part of the repair work and: “The cost associated with the entire fix, is, in WSDOT’s opinion, STP’s responsibility. Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities have done a remarkable job in helping us relocate these utilities, which should be wrapped up by next week.”

43 Replies to "Highway 99 tunnel trouble: 'See' Bertha and the repair timeline"

  • joel May 14, 2014 (9:17 am)

    whoever is doing the renderings….maybe put the computer down and give them a shovel. why waste more money on web cams and computer drawings? just get the thing built and stop talking about it….and wasting money.

  • joel May 14, 2014 (9:20 am)

    also….something tells me the state and city will make 100% certain this time before the tax increase election in August and another tax increase election in November that NO bad news about Bertha or the tunnel in general will be coming out the day before the election….like they did with the Bertha news in April the day before our last tax increase election.

  • Chas Redmond May 14, 2014 (9:23 am)

    Could we get a cost for the relocation of utilities? Also, I think the sewer relocation is the major sewer line moving all WS flow into the Interbay area heading for West Point treatment plant. That’s something which would cause somewhat of a major issue when it’s actually relocated, no? Can we get more info on that particular aspect?

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (9:29 am)

      I’ll ask WSDOT but re: sewer line, anyone with research time, please help – I can’t easily find a map of what comes into the West Point plant, though, linked below, we have the map of what goes out from here. The trail stops at the Harbor Ave facility to which everything is sent via the tunnel beneath our peninsula (yes, we have a tunnel!). We have half a dozen other stories in queue for writing/editing and I can’t spend much time on this. Here’s the West Seattle map, for starters:

  • JoB May 14, 2014 (9:43 am)

    wow.. just wow

  • sven May 14, 2014 (10:31 am)

    What happens if Bertha gets stuck again in a less accessible place, like underneath a building? How much risk are we taking? Would it be prudent to buy insurance against further such incidents? Would anyone be crazy enough to insure against such a thing?

    This tunnel is halfway past boondoggle. No one outside of politicians and big money players wanted it. I hope that at the end of the day, people are held accountable, from the contractors all the way up to Gov. Gregoire. What a colossal waste.

  • wetone May 14, 2014 (10:31 am)

    City has a lot of workers to keep busy with Bertha down time. Probably see all sorts of interesting ways there keeping people busy for the next year. It would be neat to see just how many are being kept on payroll during down time. How many millions would it total and what could that be used for ? hum

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (10:45 am)

      The city does not have any workers to keep busy because of this. This is a state-contracted project. The subcontractors in turn work for other companies, many local private firms. From the FAQs – http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Viaduct/Faqs :
      “… Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the joint venture that is building the SR 99 tunnel, includes several local firms, such as Frank Coluccio Construction, HNTB Corp and Malcolm Drilling Company. Seventy-five percent of STP’s subcontracts – including contractors, consultants and suppliers – are with firms located in Washington state. At the height of construction, the viaduct replacement will sustain nearly 3,900 jobs.”
      PS to Chas’s questions – WSDOT’s communications person on the project is looking into the utility and sewer questions. Still interested in a map between WS and West Point … if no one can find one, I’ll find a King Co Wastewater Treatment spokesperson at some point…

  • schwaggy May 14, 2014 (10:34 am)

    Just bury it.

  • wscommuter May 14, 2014 (10:56 am)

    Had to stop in to read the ill-informed snark from the tunnel-haters. Glad not to be disappointed.

    Will check back later for more simplistic, anti-government (state … city … county … whatevs …) ranting. Keep up the good work, folks.

    But deal with a few facts. The tunnel will get built. At some point, you might want to accept that truth, even if you oppose the project.

  • westseattledood May 14, 2014 (11:03 am)

    WSB and Chas, it is my understanding that the REnton/WS Sewer Treatment line goes out off the Duwamish Head out toward Magnolia. There is signage around Jack Block with that data, fyi. I do not think there is any connection along the downtown corridors.

  • Betty at Alki May 14, 2014 (11:46 am)

    I don’t understand… If Bertha is “stuck”, how is it going to “tunnel into access pit” ??? (rendering #10). And this step is very far along AFTER the utilities are moved, groundwater lowered, grout injected. Goodness, what if it can’t move then?????
    I try to remain positive, but wow, if I were to make such a colossal mistake in MY job, I’d be fired in a heartbeat. Geez.

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (11:54 am)

      B @ Alki – Technically, the problem with Bertha wasn’t that it could not move, but that it overheated rather rapidly once it started to move. So I think, something akin to carefully driving a car to the repair shop with a leak or a screech or whatever, they CAN get it across this distance – or at least think they can.

  • Chas Redmond May 14, 2014 (11:57 am)

    found a good reference from local geotech folks on tunnels in Seattle – http://tinyurl.com/kkrvx4s
    and also found Wikipedia listing of Seattle tunnels – the sewer tunnels are cited but not necessarily well located
    didn’t see listing of any trans-Elliott Bay tunnels, though.

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (12:07 pm)

      OK, I’ve sent inquiry to the KCWTD PIO I usually deal with (though all our issues for about four years now have been related to the CSO projects – I’ve asked her to forward if necessary) … and then we’ll all have learned something new today …

  • wetone May 14, 2014 (12:09 pm)

    Your right wscommuter it will get built most likely no matter what it cost us and what problems it causes for many downtown structures and utilities. Because that is what the powers want. It does nothing for the people that need to get around this town, not one thing. Less traffic flow and tolls win win. Name one thing that will be positive about this tunnel for the people of Seattle and state that need to get around this city when done. Lets see no options for future growth, little access off and on, tolls, sitting in a stinky tunnel, and so much more. Has nothing to do with liking or not, I’m just a common sense type of person and this tunnel is as bad of choice as it gets, could not think of a more expensive costly option. WSB believe what this city says if you want, but I hear much more interesting stories from many in the field.

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (12:22 pm)

      Chas: Laura Newborn, point person for WSDOT communications re: the tunnel, says (a) it’s a sewer line that goes to West Point but NOT from West Seattle; (b) “Utility relocation: It’s part of the work necessary to build the access pit. The access pit is not part of the “contract”, per se, because it’s new work. The cost associated with the entire fix, is, in WSDOT’s opinion, STP’s responsibility. Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities have done a remarkable job in helping us relocate these utilities, which should be wrapped up by next week.” – TR

  • WestofJunction May 14, 2014 (1:04 pm)

    wetone – its a real boon for the DT Seattle property owners – now suck it up and pay up. They want their tunnel done so their property values go up. And don’t expect a thank you. Noblesse oblige only goes so far.

  • metrognome May 14, 2014 (1:15 pm)

    fascinating … we demand more transparency from our government and then complain about the marginal cost.
    wetone: this project and related projects should result in major improvements in mobility through downtown; if nothing else, not jamming up central downtown with traffic coming off the viaduct at Seneca and trying to get on at Columbia will dramatically improve traffic flows, esp. on game days.
    re: utilities, see the link below for a comprehensive overview of utilities issues. Many of the utilities being relocated are old if not ancient, so there is a public benefit in replacing them before they fail. As far as sewers:
    ‘Major King County Combined Sewer Interceptors
    The major King County combined sewer facilities in the vicinity of the project area include the Elliott Bay Interceptor (EBI), the Lake Union Tunnel, the Mercer Street Tunnel, and the Central Trunk at Dexter Avenue N. (RWE 2002b). Within the study area, the EBI extends from S. Atlantic Street north to Denny Way. The EBI is subdivided into several sections of various dimensions and materials. From S. Atlantic Street to S. King Street, the EBI runs parallel to Colorado Avenue S., turning east at S. Massachusetts Street. It then proceeds north on Occidental Avenue S. to approximately S. King Street as a 96-inch-diameter concrete pipe. At S. King Street, it intersects a 30- to 42-inch-diameter pipe leading from the King County regulator. From approximately S. King Street to Denny Way, the EBI runs below Second Avenue as a 102-inch-diameter tunnel, reaching its maximum depth of 140 feet below the surface at Pike Street. A lateral adit structure pipe connects to the EBI and also crosses over the location of the proposed bored tunnel at Pike Street (RWE 2002b).’
    http://data.wsdot.wa.gov/publications/viaduct/AWVFEIS-AppendixK.pdf (pdf pg 39/doc pg 32 to pg 41/34)
    still looking for a map

  • wakeflood May 14, 2014 (1:16 pm)

    Yeah, so it probably doesn’t matter to Westof that there’s a $200-$300M special assessment happening to the property owners around the viaduct to fund the tunnel, right? I mean, why confuse the issue with the facts? It’s much easier to snark.

    We return you now to the usual gripefest…

  • metrognome May 14, 2014 (1:55 pm)

    best maps I can find:
    http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd/About/System/ServiceAreaMap.aspx, click on ‘King County Wastewater Treatment Service Area Maps (GIS Center)’ in upper right corner.
    I don’t think the proposed LID has been approved yet; here is an excellent article on the potential formation of a Local Improvement District:
    also, for those who think businesses get a free ride, here’s an example of a Business Improvement Area that assesses additional taxes to improve their neighborhood:

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (2:01 pm)

      No map but I just got more info from Annie Kolb-Nelson at King Co. WTD.
      “We upgraded a King County sewer line at King St at Alaska Way due to the tunneling project…it was believed that the tunneling operation would cause the original sewer to settle several inches and therefore fail. The upgrade replaced concrete pipe with cast in place pipe surrounded by a steel casing that spans the tunnel secant pilings.

      The sewer line in King Street is tributary to the Elliott Bay Interceptor. But, wastewater from West Seattle doesn’t flow in the King St sewer – it simply flows into the Elliott Bay Interceptor then the North Interceptor (then on to West Point).

      So, it doesn’t sound like any of the sewage flowing from West Seattle was affected by this part of the project.”

  • Westseattledood May 14, 2014 (1:57 pm)

    The Renton line was part of the Jack Block Park cleanup. Big looooong line that is. I think I recall it runs parallel near West Marginal Way when it runs through Greater Duwamish Industrial District.

    County maps for that section (from Block Park out ) might be discoverable if a search is done on Block Park development history and County’s piece of that.

  • ap May 14, 2014 (1:59 pm)

    biggest waste of money ever.

  • chas redmond May 14, 2014 (2:23 pm)

    excellent lesson on utilities. thanks everyone

  • joel May 14, 2014 (2:26 pm)

    you always have DOT’s ‘opinion’ that it’s STP’s responsibility on the cost overruns. too bad DOT’s opinion won’t mean anything when this ends up in court. STP ownership has history of doing well in court and it won’t be the first time they’ve been before the judge on cost disputes.

  • Uninformed May 14, 2014 (3:25 pm)

    Regarding the tunnel being built no matter what, many of you seem to know more than state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson who said the tunnel won’t be built if Bertha can’t be fixed. By all means, continue spreading misinformed opinions as fact. http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/tuesday-jolt-wsdot-secretary-says-small-chance-tunnel-wont-be-built-april-2014

  • wscommuter May 14, 2014 (3:30 pm)

    wetone … your rant is typical, but not at all factual.


    1. The current Battery St. tunnel is two – 2 – two lanes. The new tunnel is two lanes also. So no loss of through-put whatsoever. However, the new tunnel will have wider, better angled roads, so speeds will be faster and through traffic WILL flow better than now.

    2. Yes – we lose Seneca and Western offramps. But the new Alaskan Way rebuilt road (6 lanes + transit) will handle cars better and flow into downtown so that most of us who commute downtown will probably see improved commute times.

    3. You say there wasn’t a more costly option than the DBT – but, of course, there was – it was the cut&cover tunnel. Also, a rebuilt viaduct would have been about the same price as we’re paying for the DBT – AND we would have had 3 years of gridlock while it was built. The cost for that option for regular folks like us would have eclipsed what we’re doing now.

    Much more to the point, intelligent choices are not driven by “what is cheapest”; intelligent choices are driven by consideration of all relevant facts and evaluating all costs – financial and otherwise. The DBT is easily and by far the smartest choice for our transportation system of the (serious) options we had to choose from.

    Your post is otherwise devoid of actual facts – just ranting predictions of “stinky tunnels” and such. Not persuasive, but then, I suppose you aren’t trying to persuade – just complain.

    I don’t benefit from the new tunnel, but I recognize what a huge civic improvement it will be for our region. I’ll miss driving on the viaduct, but I understand this is the far better way to go. I don’t care if some downtown property owners end up seeing their values go up when the viaduct comes down – nice for them; doesn’t hurt anyone else(and if we could tax their increased values, I’d be all for it, but as I understand it, state law prevents that).

  • Wilbur Frogstomp May 14, 2014 (5:12 pm)

    I am opposed to the tunnel and do not have time at the moment to go into why, but I do appreciate your comments wscommuter.

  • Betty at Alki May 14, 2014 (5:38 pm)

    WSB: Thank you for that analogy on “limping” to the garage with a sick car regarding how Bertha can move but overheats fast.
    Too bad we can’t just call a AAA for DOT & STP! :-)

  • miws May 14, 2014 (6:13 pm)

    Too bad we can’t just call a AAA…


    Betty, good suggestion. I think AAA is usually only 1-1/2 to 2 hours late! ;-)



  • Silly Goose May 14, 2014 (8:35 pm)

    @Joel they announced the bad news today about Bertha that she will not be in operation again until March of next year, which is after the election!!! So typical for Seattle no one communicates and ego’s get in the way of prgress!

    • WSB May 14, 2014 (10:20 pm)

      The expectation of resumption in March was announced last month, here and a variety of other places. What *is* new today is the renderings, one of which I showed here. (Following is the April story about the “no digging until next March” timetable.)
      The renderings we feature here were actually made public around 4 yesterday afternoon but apparently we weren’t the only ones too busy to notice them until later!

  • David Sucher May 14, 2014 (8:54 pm)

    Who pays for access pit? If WSDOT refuses to pay (which it has), what happens? Does that mean that project is dead?

    No one can be sure who is responsible unless we dig $125 million access pit to see where/how Bertha failed.

    Interesting, eh?

  • Marty McFly May 14, 2014 (10:28 pm)

    @WSB: Could they not just pull out Bertha backwards?

  • joel May 14, 2014 (10:33 pm)

    Silly Goose….the news about not running again until March 2015 was announced before. I am pretty certain this was announced just before the deadline for the April election of Prop 1….but get ready for round 2 of Prop One….Round 2 will be just after the Park Department Tax increase but before the Pre K tax levy. By that time there could be 3 more tax increase votes so instead of your typical 3 layer sandwich of tax increases it could turn into a foot long sub of tax increases. And you can bet this footlong will cost more than $5 and no free refills of soda.

  • joel May 14, 2014 (10:34 pm)

    Marty….Miss Bertha does not have reverse. it goes forward or it don’t go and it ain’t going.

  • bolo May 14, 2014 (10:46 pm)

    Bertha drills a large diameter hole. As it moves forward they line the hole immediately behind it with several feet of concrete and reinforcements to keep it from caving in. So Bertha can’t back up because behind it now is too narrow for it to pass thru.

  • 935 May 14, 2014 (10:47 pm)

    AHHHHHHH…I love fairytales

  • Bullzag May 15, 2014 (8:36 am)

    David Sucher- WSDOT should have no responsibility for the problems with the tunneling machine itself, aka Big Bertha. That dispute should be between the contractors (STP) and the machine’s manufacturer (Hitachi). What will ultimately decide who pays for this specific problem is up to the courts, but it will be based off of how the seals were blown. Were they flawed by design? If that is the case then Hitachi should be responsible, but if the machine was simply run too hard or too quickly which ended up causing the seals to fail then it would be STP who has to pony up for the delay costs.

    What will be really interesting is to see if this machine can make it through the most difficult part of the dig (underneath downtown Seattle) without a hitch. If it fails there then we’re looking at some serious cost overruns.

  • wetone May 15, 2014 (9:44 am)

    wscommuter keep telling your followers your fairy tales. All I want is people to look at and research the real facts on this project and many others that have and are going on in this city and go from there. If you truly believe in what your saying great, but I for one believe and have seen little to what you have said in the past to be accurate, except as you said above The Tunnel Will Get Built and that comment says it all. Sounds like you got a lot standing on this deal ? About my fact’s just ask anybody that drives 99 Lake Union to south Seattle or W/S say a 8 mile drive that averages 35-60 mins in rush hour and see what they have to say, but I really don’t think you care. I see the surface streets going through downtown getting a lot busier very soon and commute times in and out of W/S once your tunnel is done going up by a third if not more and with more train and marine traffic just keep adding;)

  • wscommuter May 15, 2014 (11:35 am)

    wetone … you remind me of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh ranting about Benghazi. Don’t really offer any facts; just claim that you have facts without any specifics … and then, again without any specifics, attack the truth by impugning the messenger. Your last post reads like a disjointed rant – no real analysis or specific detail to make whatever your point is supposed to be.

    I have nothing involved in this project – again, very Rush Limbaugh of you to impugn my post without any truth behind it. I just read and learn and understand what our choices were and agree with the thoughtful decision that was made to build the DBT.

    You absolutely have a right to your opinions. You think commute times will get worse? Good for you. You are entitled to have that opinion. Time will tell whether you’re right, or all wet.

    And it is a complete red herring to complain about commute times through the Aurora-WS corridor right now. Construction is obviously impacting that area, especially the southbound route in the afternoons. That is an inevitable consequence of construction. But it is temporary. I certainly hope you have the courage to come back to this blog in a couple of years, when traffic through the tunnel is moving at 50-60 mph smoothly and remind us of your opinions now.

    I won’t hold my breath for that, however.

  • dawsonct May 15, 2014 (8:11 pm)

    Not going to read the whole thread so I don’t know if it’s been answered, but my father is a civil engineer who worked for Metro from the mid 80’s into the 00’s. W. Seattle’s sewage flows to Renton, and then back out (in a highly treated state, though Dad said he wouldn’t drink it) to Elliott Bay/Puget Sound.
    Without the people’s governments, crap just piles up.
    BTW, when METRO built the downtown bus tunnel, it came in on time and under budget.
    The fiasco with the rails was because the engineers KNEW they would have to rebuild the tunnel for the specific type of rail transit that would eventually be used, but the city council at that time insisted on them being placed, so Metro built them on the “cheap” to satisfy their bosses.
    So, there you go, sometimes the People’s government does great things and succeeds wildly, sometimes less so. At least we are spending money to make OUR city and region a better place for the overwhelming majority of it’s citizens. Seems to have much more far-reaching and positive effects then do tax breaks for monopolistic, competition-crushing corporations and the oligarchs who run them.

Sorry, comment time is over.