When will Highway 99 tunneling resume? That question & more addressed as stakeholders’ group meets

(From the slide deck shown at Tuesday’s stakeholders meeting)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

While the Highway 99 contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners hopes to make its goal of opening the tunnel by the end of 2016, the state’s point person for the project says that might be “tough.”

To say the least.

WSDOT’s Matt Preedy briefed the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project Stakeholders’ Advisory Group on Tuesday afternoon, during their every-quarter-or-so meeting at Safeco Field. He talked about what STP is doing while it’s not tunneling, and where the work toward fixing the tunneling machine is now.

The ring of pilings around the “access pit” is done, he said, and the dewatering system is on – the blue lines are wells:

The recently restarted excavation is now halfway down, about 70 feet. Once it’s done, a “concrete cradle” will be put in, and the tunneling machine will rest atop it after advancing about 20 feet under its own power. Then the big job to lift a 2,000-ton piece of the machine will begin.

The red mobile “lift tower” to bring it up is under construction now, Preedy said, pointing out that when it’s done, it will protrude a few feet above the top of the Viaduct, just a few feet from the elevated highway – “it will be an interesting visual impact for drivers on the Viaduct.”

Components have been brought in “from throughout the globe” to put together the lifting mechanism. But even once the piece is out, that’s just the start…

New parts ready to be installed are on site now: “If you looked over the edge of the Viaduct to the west, they’re under tarps” – a new outer-seal ring and a new bearing block to work with the sealing system, which will, when repaired/installed, be different from the original one: “more robust, more tolerant.”

So then the big question – given that money is riding on it – what’s the newest schedule?

It hasn’t been updated yet, Preedy said. But he gave plenty of hints that it wouldn’t be a surprise if it moves back: “The access-pit construction has been taking longer than expected, which is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s a complex piece of work … important for the contractor to take time to make sure it’s built right.” While said contractor “hopes to stick with end of March/beginning of April (for resuming tunneling), it might be hard to meet that date … maybe they can (but we) should not be surprised if it takes longer.”

Same goes, he said, for the target date for opening the tunnel; that remains the end of 2016, but achieving that “might be tough.” And, he reminded the stakeholders, delays in opening the tunnel mean delays in demolishing the remaining Viaduct. But, the contractor has “nothing on the table right now with the state that shows how [meeting that target] can be done.”

What they are doing, as Preedy showed in his presentation, is “resequencing a lot of their work,” including some that wasn’t going to be done until the tunneling was complete. He showed slides of roadway work “coming up out of the launch pit” and work on the “southbound mainline deck.” Foundations are being built for “continuation of the cut-and-cover work that will eventually connect the mainline road with (what was) built during the southern-mile reconstruction a few years back.” A building to house the tunnel’s south-end operations is under construction, and work’s being done on its north-end counterpart. And inside the tunnel, some interior structures that weren’t going to be built until 2,000 feet had been dug, are being started now to best utilize the downtime. The top deck and side walls will be built, but the “precast lower deck” will still have to wait until the entire tunnel is dug.

One stakeholder asked how the tunneling machine will be extracted once it gets to the north end. Preedy said that plan is still under development but that it’s clear the machine will have to be broken into “fairly small parts” that can be hauled on trucks through city streets – no lifting mechanism here.

Wondering where the tolling issue stands – timeline, pricing plan, etc.? One stakeholders-group member asked about it. Preedy said he didn’t have current information available but will bring it next time.

Also discussed at the meeting:

WATERFRONT TRAFFIC: If you drive on the waterfront, get ready for another traffic-pattern switch in mid-to-late January, as the work zones for the tunnel and seawall projects change. This will affect Washington State Ferries-related traffic, with “the current U-turn (going) away and a more conventional access pattern returning.”

SEAWALL UPDATE: SDOT’s Jessica Murphy showed the first part of the new seawall going into the first zone, between Yesler and Washington, including “marine mattresses,” described as baskets with large rocks, to help sealife. A new sidewalk “cantilevered over the water” in this area will include embedded glass panels when it’s installed in mid-December: “Not transparent, but light gets through.”

The second-phase work zone between Pike and Madison is in full gear, with sidewalk removal, demolition of the old seawall, and excavation down to the top of its old support structure, as well as “improving existing liquefiable soils” via jet-grouting. Murphy said spectators are encouraged because “no one will see this kind of construction on our waterfront again in our lifetime if we’re doing it right.” Next month, there’ll be an extended work zone in front of Colman Dock.


We did not take notes on the Mercer update.

WHO’S ON THE STAKEHOLDER GROUP? Explained here; membership roster is here. We’ve covered many of these meetings in recent years, especially the South Portal Advisory Group, before it was merged with its north-end counterpart. This meeting was sparsely attended; one of West Seattle’s two representatives, Vlad Oustimovitch, was among the few who were present. The group doesn’t vote or have other legislative authority, so no quorum is required. No date yet for the next meeting, but once we are notified, it’ll be in the WSB calendar.

31 Replies to "When will Highway 99 tunneling resume? That question & more addressed as stakeholders' group meets"

  • Diane December 3, 2014 (12:30 pm)

    what a mess; thanks for update
    can’t find in story; what is the east/west street where this is located?

  • ChefJoe December 3, 2014 (12:50 pm)

    I’ve read, in the past, that the original STP contract required a backup bearing be made… so I imagine the bearing is the same design as the original but perhaps they’ve done some re-engineering of the seals. They were talking about additional tweaks to add more rigidity to the front of the machine, which is good considering they had some issues with that (originally called out as a noise) before the machine was shipped.

    • WSB December 3, 2014 (1:10 pm)

      That’s a little further into the weeds, so to speak, than I was going with this, but yes, there is reinforcement involving tons more structural steel added to it, and I **think** I recall Matt Preedy saying the replaced bearing would be modified and remain on standby as a backup. I just hit the basics.

  • Lrs December 3, 2014 (1:24 pm)

    Just fill it in and end this boondoggle.
    In my opinion it will never be completed and very likely billions over budget for just a partial tunnel.

  • Diane December 3, 2014 (2:19 pm)

    can someone please tell me where specifically this access pit is located?

    • WSB December 3, 2014 (2:31 pm)

      A few clicks around the Viaduct website turned up this line “The SR 99 tunneling machine is currently stopped approximately 60 feet underground between South Jackson and South Main streets.” If you add 20 feet north to that, that’ll be where the pit is.

  • Diane December 3, 2014 (2:49 pm)

    thank you

  • anonyme December 3, 2014 (3:29 pm)

    I’m with Lrs. Cut the losses now. I don’t believe this project was ever truly viable, and taxpayers – as usual – will be left holding a huge bill and nothing to show for it.

  • Born on Alki December 3, 2014 (4:18 pm)

    What remarkable engineering it is taking to extract Bertha from the ground. If no one has had the oppurtunity to see the giant vertical rescue shaft in process it’s worth a look. Lets hope the repairs work. What happens if she gets stuck again, next time under existing infrastructure?

  • quiz December 3, 2014 (4:58 pm)

    What an amazing rescue! I don’t know how these engineers and planners keep it all straight. Some very smart people doing very interesting work.

  • Diane December 3, 2014 (5:02 pm)

    Born on Alki, that’s why I wanted to know where this is located, so I can go see; sadly, I’ve been told by some folks who are watching this closely, that if Bertha gets stuck again, under all the infrastructure, and way too deep, it will be over; in the year prior to starting the dig, I attended several lectures at Milepost 31, where they showed lots of visuals of all the stuff under the city and how deep this would go, and the model in the showroom (the unveiling was a big pr event); there was never ever even the slightest suggestion that anything like this could happen; they always made it sound like, “oh, if anything goes wrong we can just go inside the machine and fix it”

  • dawsonct December 3, 2014 (5:02 pm)

    Lrs. & anonyme, I am interested in knowing how you reached your conclusions, and what technical expertise you possess and special knowledge of this project you have that provides you with greater insight than those we’ve contracted to design and build the tunnel.
    And why are you guarding it so closely? Out with it people, your fellow citizens need your insight!
    You folks are acting in such a way it would be like Paul Revere decided to go back to bed after he found out the British were coming.
    Or are you just in the “don’t build anything ’cause it costs money. Don’t repair anything ’cause it costs money. Don’t create anything nice for the community because people I deem undesirable may use it. And it costs money” crowd?

  • sw December 3, 2014 (5:04 pm)

    “Boondoggle” or not, the vast majority of the funds for this project have already been spent. To simply “cut our losses and fill it in” will not accomplish anything except to have all the funding go for absolutely nothing. There is only one option at this point – continue with the project.

    This is a world-class construction project, and most plans of this scale have issues such as this. Future engineers will be reading case studies about Bertha and the challenges overcome to complete this task. Deep bore tunnels are being dug right now, all over the world, around the clock. There are two other tunnels currently being dug in North Seattle. If Bertha gets stuck again, there are contingencies to deal with this – in fact it happened a few years ago during the dig for the Brightwater treatment plant near Woodinville. That project was completed, as this one will be.

    The decision to replace the viaduct with a deep bore tunnel was controversial in nature, which is fueling the deep scrutiny and litany of “I told you so’s.” By no means are we out of the woods on this, but it is far too soon to label this a failure. This is amazing work being done!

  • DMS December 3, 2014 (5:12 pm)

    To Born on Alki.

    You worry too much. Everything will work out just fine. The waterfront-without-a-viaduct will be worth every penny. Your life will be better. You will be happy.

  • Planenut December 3, 2014 (5:25 pm)

    This isn’t the first bored tunnel in the world and it won’t be the last. Can’t wait for it to open and see the viaduct come down.

  • Dave December 3, 2014 (6:00 pm)

    Wow! The word “boondoggle” wasn’t trotted out until the 4th comment?!

  • ChefJoe December 3, 2014 (6:36 pm)

    Born on Alki,
    here’s the 2010 estimate of what they’d do. Although, technically, they’ve claimed that the tunnel machine was designed such that it is possible to disassemble the machine underground and pull all parts back through the dug part of the newly made tunnel.

    Tunnel machine stalls

    Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond last year asked her consultants, what is the worst-case scenario?

    Their answer: the tunnel-boring machine stalls halfway, near the Pike Place Market.

    About a dozen miles northeast, one of the boring machines is still stuck at the Brightwater sewer project. It was scoured by highly abrasive clay soils, which also predominate downtown.

    If that were to happen downtown, DOT conjectures, it would cost an extra $467 million and up to 2 ½ years to get the machine digging again. Part of that cost would be a $100 million vertical shaft dug from a downtown lot to retrieve the machine.

    This kind of catastrophe in theory wouldn’t cause overruns, because it would be covered by $500 million in surety bonds, a DOT study says. Those bonds are similar to an insurance policy; large financial firms pledge to provide a cash infusion or hire a replacement team if the contractor goes broke or fails.

    But there still is risk.

    Instead of bonding for the entire $1.1 billion, lawmakers allowed a lower target of $500 million.

  • David December 3, 2014 (6:40 pm)

    Enough with the silly “sky is falling”. It’s ALL OK. It’s JUST a machine, it broke. Your car can break, your water heater can break, your computer can break, stuff breaks. It sucks, but it happens. It’ll be fixed, the tunnel finished and all will be well. Remember all the silly talk about the light rail tunnel under Capital Hill? Buildings will sink, the ship canal will collapse, etc. Nothing happened, tunneling went fine, it’s done, and tunneling is NOW being done between Husky Stadium and Northgate Mall every day. Relax. The entire POINT of doing this tunnel was that the Viaduct can stay up and running during construction. So even IF it’s 6 months or a year late, so what, just keep driving on 99 and ignore it. The costs (if any) is a valid debate and since the state didn’t do anything wrong, the manufacturer of the broken machine should pay for it. :) But we’ll see…

  • ChefJoe December 3, 2014 (7:15 pm)

    Sure David, and as long as an entirely new company could pick up the pieces with a $500 million bond then it won’t cost anything extra, right ?

    Speaking of which, back in the spring WSDOT was given a bill for $125+ million in overruns and I think most of that was initially denied…. does STP appeal or are they waiting until the machine is running before trying to make a new overrun total ?

  • Still thinks the tunnel will work December 3, 2014 (7:52 pm)

    If I remember correctly, they have a replacement bearing on site that can be installed from inside the boring machine. It is neither easy or cheap to do. Since it failed so soon, they decided to bring the machine up and beef it up while they still can.

  • Born on Alki December 4, 2014 (6:50 am)

    Thanks ChefJoe. I remember that article stating that repairs were possible in place. Probably about as easy as changing a flat tire at 60 mph….but still possible with enough engineering, time and money. Agreed, there are still huge risks with this type of project.

  • Born on Alki December 4, 2014 (6:59 am)

    The sky is not falling. Don’t worry….well maybe. The state does have some responsibility in Berthas failure since they ran into a documented vertical steel test shaft in the first place. If they can hit that, what about all the “unknowns” that remain. Just sayin’, not nay-sayin’. It will be a challenge to say the least.

  • Henry Ford December 4, 2014 (1:10 pm)

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. You people are unbelievable. Bury in the tunnel? This is not for you but for future generations. Have vision.

  • ChefJoe December 4, 2014 (2:54 pm)

    I wanted the much higher capacity/exits downtown cut and cover tunnel structure. Not the world’s largest single bore tunnel. Does that count ?

  • Born on Alki December 4, 2014 (3:24 pm)

    Don’t worry ChefJoe, you may get your extra exits downtown after all. Too bad they will be 140′ vertical though. Maybe we will all have flying cars by then.

  • Les December 4, 2014 (4:26 pm)

    Henry Ford you are correct it will be future generations still having to pay for this ill conceived project.

  • jwright December 4, 2014 (10:39 pm)

    I expect all the naysayers to recuse themselves from enjoying the stunning new waterfront this “ill conceived [sic] project” is giving us.

  • wetone December 5, 2014 (11:24 am)

    The only people that are going to be enjoying the view will be downtown residents and the tourist. The rest of us will be to busy working, so we can afford to live here and pay all our increased taxes/levies, or will be stuck in traffic as this tunnel does zero for helping traffic flow or having an option for future improvements and don’t forget the tolls to use it. You would of thought this city would of learned something from building the convention center over the freeway and the problems it is causing today with trying to improve traffic flow on I-5.

  • jwright December 5, 2014 (3:11 pm)

    Sorry wetone but you are…all wet. My wife and I live in the Junction and love the downtown waterfront. We regularly commute into town on 99 and understand what the tunnel will and will not do for us. We are looking forward to a wonderful waterfront experience. So please do not claim to speak for us with your negativism. If you decide not to enjoy the rejuvenated waterfront or kvetch that nice things cost money, that is your choice, not ours.

  • Sue December 5, 2014 (3:51 pm)

    “Viaduct and soil sinks near stranded Bertha – Mike Lindblom

    The Alaskan Way Viaduct and nearby soil have sunk 1.2 inches this fall alongside stranded tunnel machine Bertha, senior state engineers said Friday afternoon.
    The settling shows that the tunnel team is having trouble controlling the soil, crucial to protecting downtown as the Highway 99 tunnel project attempts to move ahead.”
    More at:

  • Born on Alki December 6, 2014 (11:35 am)

    Considering the facts, How can there not be negativism with this project? This tunnel was not supported by Seattle voters to begin with. Wetone brings up some valid points and is entitled to his opinion. Not sure this will create a wonderful waterfront experience when we actually have to pay this project off. Call me “skeptical”, but the facts are clearly indicating cost overruns will be huge. Too late to stop now…….

    “In January 2008, as debate on the viaduct replacement continued, Governor Gregoire announced that the State of Washington would take down the viaduct in 2012. On January 12, 2009, the state of Washington, King County, the city of Seattle, and the Port of Seattle revealed that they had agreed to replace the viaduct with a bored underground tunnel. On March 4, 2009, the state senate passed a bill endorsing the tunnel option. On May 12, 2009, Governor Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5768, authorizing $2.8 billion in state funds for a possible deep-bore tunnel. Controversy surrounds the tunnel project however, as it was never approved in any general election or referendum, is the subject of multiple lawsuits, was selected before legally required environmental impact studies on both the state and federal level were completed, and is designed in legislation to make Seattle-area taxpayers pay for any cost overruns, which is not the norm for state-level projects, which generally have their costs distributed evenly among all state residents.”

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