Alaskan Way Viaduct ‘settling’ update: Tunnel contractor ‘will stop excavating’ after what today’s surveying revealed

(Added: Screengrab from ‘access pit’ camera – see newest image here)
7:59 PM: After today’s early-morning surveying of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, following Friday’s disclosure of a new inch-plus of “settling,” WSDOT has just published an update. While continuing to say that it’s safe to use The Viaduct, WSDOT says its contractor plans to stop the “dewatering” that was under way in the pit being dug to get to the tunneling machine:

WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners conducted additional survey work early Sunday morning to further assess the amount and extent of settlement that recently occurred on and near the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Some of the data was inconclusive and analysis is still underway; however, WSDOT observed that a small amount of differential settlement is occurring near the access pit. Differential settlement is when the ground settles unevenly over an area. When the ground settles evenly or uniformly over an area, there is less risk of damage.

The additional survey work did not find that the differential settlement has caused any new damage to the viaduct nor have we observed any damage to buildings or utilities in the surrounding area. On-the-ground surveys will continue this week by historic architects and structural engineers.

Public safety is our top priority and while we have not seen any damage, Seattle Tunnel Partners is taking the prudent step to stop dewatering. The contractor will work with its geostructural designer to stop the dewatering in a deliberate manner in order to ensure worker safety and the structural integrity of the access pit and surrounding structures.

Data analysis, collection and monitoring will continue and we will provide updates as we have new information to share.

“Dewatering” was being done as part of the access-pit excavation; as Mike Lindblom reported at (WSB partner) after Friday’s report of settling, “Within the pit, water must be removed so that excavation machines sit on stable ground and aren’t scooping out an endless slurry.” The question now: Can digging continue without it? Yesterday marked exactly one year since the tunneling machine’s work stopped, after 1,000 feet of northward digging. WSDOT promises more information once it’s available, and we’re likely to hear more when the City Council’s prescheduled Alaskan Way Viaduct committee meets around 2:30 tomorrow afternoon.

ADDED 9:31 PM: We asked Viaduct project spokesperson Laura Newborn, who sent the above update, if this means no more digging, for now. She confirms to WSB that the contractor “will stop excavating.”

ADDED 11:11 AM MONDAY: This morning, spokesperson Newborn says that means excavation stops if/when dewatering stops, but she doesn’t have information right now on whether that’s happened yet.

41 Replies to "Alaskan Way Viaduct 'settling' update: Tunnel contractor 'will stop excavating' after what today's surveying revealed"

  • cjboffoli December 7, 2014 (8:11 pm)

    I wonder if they’re considering freezing the ground around the access pit. I’ve seen it used with other tunneling projects in which the presence of excessive groundwater and the risk of subsidence have both been a factor.

  • DaleR December 7, 2014 (8:24 pm)

    Once again, West Seattle Blog reports regional information before any of the mainstream media.

    Thanks for that.

    • WSB December 7, 2014 (8:41 pm)

      Dale – Graham Johnson at KIRO tweeted a bit of the report a bit earlier. I’d imagine he’s working on a longer story for the late-night TV news. And I hope Mike at The Times is working on something too. We have the luxury of reporting incrementally … and continuing to add. Right now we’re adding a screengrab from the access-pit cam. Looking around for other contextual information. I don’t know if our question “so along with stopping dewatering, are they stopping excavation for now” will get answered tonight. – TR

  • Diane December 7, 2014 (9:38 pm)

    I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the dig stopped

  • Carl Sayagain December 7, 2014 (10:15 pm)

    I predict they will have to stop the rescue and tunnel all together. Bertha will remain there, a relic to be unearthed 2,000 years from now, generating new insight into the time before tunneling robots gained sentience and times the Earth.

  • Fitz December 7, 2014 (10:39 pm)

    This thing was supposed to be done by 2015. It’s painful to think no drilling has happened for a year now. We could have mined the metal needed to make a whole new drill and built a new one in less than a year.

  • mok December 7, 2014 (10:49 pm)

    Who saw that coming?

  • ChefJoe December 7, 2014 (11:50 pm)

    Fitz, maybe they’ll need to buy another Bertha to dig the tunnel from the opposite end…. which would first have to dig through all the work they’ve done at the north end of the tunnel portal but, hey, the contracter can make some money from change orders.

  • dsa December 8, 2014 (12:32 am)

    Notice a key word in this quote:
    “…pit, water must be removed so that excavation machines sit on stable ground and aren’t scooping out an endless slurry….”
    Slurry, did anyone observe the water pumped during dewatering? I’ve seen it in other places, not on this project however. It is not clean, in fact can be very sandy and dirty. If they have been pumping sand etc, there could be a “hole” lot more to this story.

  • JanS December 8, 2014 (1:38 am)

    many people worried from the beginning about the instability of the ground underneath there. Thinking of driving through a tunnel through that instability certainly does give one the jitters…

  • Drew December 8, 2014 (5:32 am)

    Thanks a lot Former Gov Gregoir…
    You made sure you rammed this tunnel down our throats before you got out of office so you could have a “bridge with your name on it.”
    Despite the people voting it down twice…

  • Dunno December 8, 2014 (6:59 am)

    They have no idea! This is a boondoggle! Hopefully Bertha will become a Seattle waterfront attraction so that we can get some of our money back. It will be know as the “Great Seattle Cavern #### up!” Now fix the dang viaduct and quit screwing up our lives!(time spents waiting in traffic, let alone the hit to all of our pocketbooks) The tunnel should have gone under about 5th ave.

  • Dunno December 8, 2014 (7:02 am)

    The otherside can become the most expensive homeless shelter in the history of mankind.

  • Max Storbakken December 8, 2014 (7:45 am)

    When are Ed Murray and the rest of the political establishment going to apologize to Seattle residents for sticking us with the cost overruns?

  • Brad December 8, 2014 (8:18 am)

    I lived in Boston during The Big Dig and the comment by Cjboffoli reminded me of the man-made permafrost used by engineers. and There are similarities between the two projects so I encourage anyone who isn’t familiar with it to read about it. As a former resident of Boston, I feel it was worth it.

  • AG December 8, 2014 (8:23 am)

    Good grief. Fill the thing with concrete, back Bertha out, fill with concrete as they go backward, rip down the crumbling viaduct and replace with surface streets for crying out loud. Half the surface is already paved anyway now due to all the access roads they had to build. What a clusterF(*&.

  • Rick December 8, 2014 (10:43 am)

    Ironic how comments have evolved to this being absolutely nothing like the “big dig” to it now being compared to it.

  • jwright December 8, 2014 (10:43 am)

    It’s a big project and big projects often have big challenges. I suspect the people working to solve those challenges know a whole lot more about solving those challenges than all of us commentators. While the delay is disappointing, I still look forward to the day I can stroll along the new and improved waterfront. I remain 100% supportive of the tunnel option.

  • Civik December 8, 2014 (11:01 am)

    Jwright, except when people who aren’t civil engineers predicted that this is exactly what would happen digging along the waterfront like that. It makes you wonder just what the actual engineers were thinking.

    Max, because they are still hoping to pass off cost overruns on the rest of the state for this boondoggle.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident December 8, 2014 (11:06 am)

    Think traffic around the waterfront, SODO, I-5 and dpwntown are bad now???
    Add 115,00 cars per day to that and see what happens.

  • wetone December 8, 2014 (11:34 am)

    There is no backing out AG, forward only for these types of machines. Tunnel liner is installed right behind as machine moves forward. Sure don’t hear much from good ol x gov. Christine Gregoire and x mayor Greg Nickels on this subject :)as they are the parents of all this. Looks like the viaduct was a little better shape than what they pushed for us to believe. It has stood up quite well for all the shaking it has been put through, not so with some of the buildings from what I’m hearing. Now not only have they continued down a bad hole (no pun intended) with the tunnel, they have probably really damaged the viaduct which could of been rebuild for a fraction of what the tunnel has cost to this day. Could of added on/off ramps where needed along with more lanes whether for bikes/buses/rail or ? and make future adjustments as needed, something the tunnel can not do. There were multiple other option’s than keeping the old viaduct, but this tunnel was the worst for so many reasons, but this is Seattle. Makes me wonder if Murray will continue to push the hole until the viaduct is not able to be used ? as he can get rid of more cars from downtown ;)

  • I. Ponder December 8, 2014 (12:22 pm)

    Not too late to tear down Viaduct now and do the cut and cover option. Of course I don’t believe there will be any change in plans.

  • SomeGuy December 8, 2014 (12:45 pm)

    Agree 100% with wetone on this fiasco. BUT at the rate the delays are coming in, Mayor Murray could serve out this term and the next without ever having to deal with the fallout of this mess. Whomever is dumb enough to be mayor in 2025 will get the short end of the sharp stick.

  • Thomas M. December 8, 2014 (1:14 pm)

    Take the viaduct down to street level past Bertha, then keep digging, fix Bertha and get the job done already.

  • Born On Alki December 8, 2014 (1:24 pm)

    I agree with jwright. The set back is disappointing but still back this project. The viaduct needs to come down and the tunnel will be great once it’s completed. Just need to get through this rough part.

  • Fiwa Jcbbb December 8, 2014 (2:14 pm)

    Very sad to see several here still pimping the only idea more unworkable and just flat-out stupid than this tunnel: Putting 100,000+ vehicles a day on surface streets, The Stranger’s beloved “Surface/Transit Option”, or what I’ve always called the “Let Them Eat Bus” plan to make the waterfront a nicer place for wealthy people and increase the real estate value of the land uphill, at the expense of West and South Seattle residents who work for a living. Talk about clusterf***. The “study” sent to me by an apparatchik of councilmember Mike O’Brien and repeated bleating in the Stranger that improvements to the WS bridge and I-5 (the bridge improvements are done, I-5 improvements were never possible)would make it all “just fine” are disproved every time the viaduct is closed for inspection or “rock and roll marathon”, and became daily when the jog around the tunnel entrance went active. Bizarrely The Stranger was vehemently opposed to Paul Allen’s “Seattle Commons” park plan on the grounds that “it would just make a nice lawn for rich people”, and wanted to preserve their beloved “Cascade Neighborhood” where apparently a couple staffers lived. Indeed, Greg Nickels “cut and cover” proposal is looking better all the time, but….I STILL Heart the Viaduct!

  • Al December 8, 2014 (2:35 pm)

    Fiwa Jcbbb –

    The surface option wasn’t planned with just a tear down and then leave the streets as they are. There was a comprehensive plan put forth that upgraded the street grid throughout downtown/waterfront and added actual useful mass transit options. Many cities in the US and the world (!) have torn down viaducts with great success so long as it was planned well (that’s the key isn’t it) and is easily documented.

  • AH Resident December 8, 2014 (3:40 pm)

    Reading about all the different problems with
    “Bertha” I cannot help but wonder: Who would take
    the responsibility if buildings collapsed and
    there are deadly casualties. Would it be Dragados,
    the Taxpayers or ???? This is just a thought??!!.

  • wscommuter December 8, 2014 (3:47 pm)

    Oh man … to have to continue to hear the same old – uninformed – rants. My favorite comments above – the one where the non-engineers pretend they “know” more than the actual engineers on the project. Fox News would be proud of you; self-appointed experts who can just pop off with whatever ignorant comments they want.

    kwright said it well … big projects have challenges. This project will get done and we’ll all move on.

    Back to debunking the myths … the surface street option is viable for exactly one – 1 – one demographic: the Stranger crowd – the anti-car, everyone hugging on bikes and buses people. By all means – if you see that as a viable alternative, I respect your right to believe in that. For those of us in the real world, we recognize that this option was pure whimsy. Crippling the city with LESS infrastructure would define madness and kill our economy.

    Chill people … it will all work out.

  • panda December 8, 2014 (4:03 pm)

    At what point is it cheaper to just buy another drill and begin tunneling from the other end of the route, then blow the current drill into little pieces? You know if they do ditch this tunnel project and fill in the hole, they will likely forget Bertha is down there when they go to rebuild the viaduct. Then we will be delayed another couple years.

    As Charlie Brown says – Good Grief.

  • PITiful December 8, 2014 (5:28 pm)

    @wscommuter, must be handy being so omniscient. Mind floating me the next powerball numbers, or better yet, when’s “The Big One” gonna hit? Most people have a self-preservation instinct. Like staying away from the edge of a cliff, instead of jumping off like lemmings.

  • wetone December 8, 2014 (6:26 pm)

    Funny isn’t it wscommuter that most of the uninformed, self-appointed experts, non-engineers, common sense people, bla bla bla predicted the outcome of this fiasco. It’s just too bad people like you want to keep this project going no matter what the cost are or the zero effect it has on moving traffic. This is why the city and state are in the financial trouble they are. Allowing everything they can to generate revenue and raising taxes, good job. Most of which will bite us all in the rear in the near future and shoot our cost of living here through the roof. I guess that’s ok if you want a very HOITY-TOITY city :)

  • Alex December 8, 2014 (7:10 pm)

    Lots of people are suggesting we give up, or asking when we will do so. The answer is simple: we will not give up this project until Bertha has been replaced/fixed, and the refurbished drill has the same problem 100 yards later.

    Only the full realization that we’d need dozens of Bertha replacements to finish will kill this project, and that won’t be for another couple years.

    In the end, we’ll have nothing. Our huge elevated freeway will be replaced with near-useless surface streets, and I-5 will be crushed with extra traffic.

  • Born on Alki December 8, 2014 (8:42 pm)

    Not sure who decided to use my name, but I do not agree with this project or jwright, never have, never will. (no offense jwright) Signed, the real Born on Alki.

  • Drew December 8, 2014 (8:52 pm)

    All these pro tunnel folks must either be on the payroll or on the payroll.
    There were better options than digging a tunnel, but they were denied so the land owners next to the viaduct can have view property.

  • Born on Alki December 8, 2014 (9:04 pm)

    wscommuter, I wouldn’t call these uninformed rants, just venting by taxpayers who will ultimately have to pay for this money pit. The original consultant group of engineers did not recommend this dig long before Gregoire rammed this down our throats, and now it seems they were right. I’m not confident the current engineers even know what to do, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Fiwa Jcbbb December 9, 2014 (1:08 pm)


    “Many cities in the U.S. and the world have torn down viaducts”? Can you list examples? I’ve heard of exactly ONE, and obviously The Stranger STILL repeats it nearly every issue: The Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, which only demonstrates that those who still pimp this idea have never driven in San Francisco and have no idea what they’re talking about and/or do but have a motive of making our waterfront nicer for the wealthy who will enjoy it at the expense of WS and South residents who need mobility. I do wish I had saved the link to the laughable “study” sent to me by Mike O’Brien’s office. Sadly I won’t get to vote against him again. Yes they tore down the Embarcadero, but it was a never-finished feeder line to take traffic from 101 to the Golden Gate Bridge… more akin to the Arboretum “Bridges to Nowhere” than our viaduct. A more apt Bay Area analogy would be to ask Peninsula SF-silicon valley-San Jose commuters to get rid of Highway 101 and dump all the traffic on “improved” surface streets and 280 in order to create more pricey bayfront real estate. It’s asinine. My point being, and still is, yes this tunnel plan was bad, but the “alternative” we were offered was far worse. If they try to enact a toll to pay for it, I’m going to suggest a toll for non WS residents to visit Alki.

  • Born On Alki 1 December 9, 2014 (1:45 pm)

    @ real Born On Alki
    Hello neighbor! Sorry about that. When I posted there was no other “Born On Alki” on this string and there is no account or login for this blog. next time you consider using a less generic name. There are a lot of us that were born in Alki and even some that still live here. maybe use the last couple of digits for your birth year or something like that (Born On Alk ’82)? I will change mine from now on.

    I still think tunnel is the best option going forward. I don’t understand why there are so many that want to cut and run at the first sign of something being tough. What happened to that American spirit “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”? How would we fare if these naysayers got their way when we were trying to get to the moon or part of the Lewis and Clark expedition? It’s too hard and expensive, we should just cut and run?

  • Born On Alki 59 December 9, 2014 (3:38 pm)

    Born on Alki 1-
    No Harm, no foul neighbor! I will now go by BOA 59, and yes, I still live here. Even though I have been opposed to the tunnel since the beginning for reasons previously hashed to death here, I think most of us should also realize we have to move forward to complete this project. (Do we really want a monorail repeat?)
    But, at what cost do we decide to switch to “plan B” when Bertha fails again? It’s not a question “if” Bertha fails again, it’s where and when. The state needs a contigincy plan instead of billing all the Seattle taxpayers for any cost overruns as they skyrocket out of control. This project has proven that potential, right? Just my .02. Thanks.

  • joel December 9, 2014 (8:47 pm)

    how’s that 24 hour a day webcam doing with the tunnel dig? with all this action make the video 3 D in high definition. Bet Gregorie and Nichols are glued to their computers watching all the action they desperately wanted so badly….. so it’s gone 1,000 feet of a 10,000 plus foot dig. let’s say Bertha gets her tail in gear and starts digging tomorrow. who is to say the other 90 plus percent don’t have additional problems? who knows come April they may hit a 200 year old crab carcass and stop the dig another 4 months.

    • WSB December 9, 2014 (8:53 pm)

      It’s a still camera, updating every few minutes, not live video, FYI.

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