(Screengrab taken this morning from camera pointed into the tunnel-machine repair pit)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Much has happened since the Alaskan Way Viaduct (Highway 99) project stakeholders met three months ago.
Just days after their early December meeting (WSB coverage here), the “settling” was revealed.
For the first time since then, the stakeholders’ group (membership listed here) convened Monday afternoon in a lower-level meeting room at Safeco Field, and WSB was the only news organization there. Among other things, the group was told that the ground has stabilized, and that the partial deconstruction of the Highway 99 tunnel machine (aka Bertha) is likely to hit a milestone this week.
Other topics tackled included the work that’s out of sight but not out of mind, updates on related projects including the seawall, and what’s up with the decision-making process on tunnel tolling. (Here’s the full slide deck.)
VIADUCT SAFETY/AREA GROUND SETTLEMENT: Lead briefers for WSDOT were 99/Viaduct project head Todd Trepanier and deputy project administrator Matt Preedy. The Viaduct remains safe and they’re “comfortable” about keeping it open because of continued monitoring, they said, including the twice-yearly major inspections, with the next one coming up March 28-29 (here’s our most recent reminder).
The Pioneer Square ground settling, they said, appears to have preceded the digging of the rescue pit for the tunnel machine, and “the full cause is not known” yet – they’re still investigating. The survey area has been expanded; a map that was shown stretched from CenturyLink Field to Marion St. “The ongoing monitoring in this area is robust and being done by multiple agencies,” and they’re not seeing any “appreciable downward trend … the ground movement in the area has normalized.”
TUNNEL MACHINE’S PARTIAL DECONSTRUCTION: That’s continuing to be done from the inside and outside, and the activity is noticeable on the construction camera (see the screen grab above from this morning). As soon as tomorrow (Wednesday) you will see part of the “top shield piece” being lifted out of the pit, one of three pieces in which that part will be taken out. Side pieces will follow, and then the only part that will be removed via the giant red lift assembly you’ve seen alongside the Viaduct – the cutterhead. (Smaller cranes are being used for the other pieces.)
SO WHEN WILL DIGGING RESUME? Preedy mentions STP’s “optimistic” schedule projecting that the machine could be fixed and back in action as soon as August, but, “if it takes a little bit longer, that’ll be OK because the project manager says it has to be done right.” They’re tracking the schedule “very closely” and getting monthly updates from the contractor. While the most-recent one projects tunnel completion in fall 2017, Preedy explains that’s an “unmitigated” schedule – not allowing for any possible make-up time, which they won’t be able to project until digging actually resumes. “It’s hard for (STP) to put a mitigated schedule on the table because they can’t say for certain when this machine will be going again.”
CLOSURES AHEAD: Preedy mentioned a traffic switch on 99 north of the Battery Street Tunnel that will be done over a “long weekend” this summer, probably July. Otherwise, no major work that will affect traffic – he reminded the group that the closures for the sign-foundation work on Aurora have been postponed TFN.
THE WORK YOU CAN’T SEE: “There’s a lot more to this job than just the (deep bore) tunnel,” Preedy noted, including the cut-and-cover tunnel section in the Holgate-to-King vicinity, which is nearing “roughed-out” completion and is about as long as the 1,000 feet of deep-bore tunnel that’s been finished so far.
The stakeholders’ meetings also include briefings on related projects, including the seawall, waterfront-redevelopment planning, and the Mercer corridor:
SEAWALL UPDATE: Project manager Jessica Murphy had a thorough show-and-tell – you’ll see it in the slide deck. She noted that the seawall has a major link to the Viaduct project, since a seawall failure would remain a major risk factor for Viaduct failure. The work is continuing in two zones right now, Pike-Madison and in front of Colman Dock (Madison-Yesler). In-water work for this season had to be completed before this week, she said, because of salmon season: “This project is riddled with crazy (calendar) milestones.” Next big one is reopening waterfront businesses by July 1st – “last summer was very busy on the waterfront and we’re expecting the same this year” – and the project is still on track for completion in June of next year. The new seawall’s “design life,” by the way, is 75 years.
Stakeholders’ group member and former City Councilmember Jan Drago asked where and how the public can observe the work. While there’s a fence that can be peered through in spots, Murphy said, her best advice: Take a tour. You’ll find them mentioned at waterfrontseattle.org. (We checked during the meeting, and while tours are on the calendar for this Friday and Saturday, both are already described as “full.” So check often if you’re interested!)
WATERFRONT REDEVELOPMENT: The key message was that they’re “heavily working on design” right now. The project includes the replacement of Alaskan Way and Elliott “under the current viaduct footprint.” The recently announced Pike Place Market project is considered to be a boon for the waterfront work, and its 300-space parking garage was touted. If the tunnel stays on its new schedule, followed by demolition of what remains of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, construction of the waterfront project would start toward the end of 2017. (Earlier in the meeting, a stakeholders’-group member had asked if any scenario envisioned the Viaduct coming down before the tunnel opened. Not outside of a “force of nature,” was the reply.) The Freight Advisory Board’s rep on the stakeholders’ group expressed concern he hadn’t heard mention of a “truck street”; that’s definitely in the Alaskan Way/Elliott design plan, he was assured.
MERCER CORRIDOR: We didn’t take many notes on this but one thing of note – travel times went down from August to January, with a bump up in February. Extensive discussion of components such as signal timing ensued.
Last but not least:
TOLLING: This update was in response to a request at the last meeting. Not much has changed, says Trepanier. The budget still calls for $200 million from tolling; advisory committee took a look at it and put recommendations together, as completed last year. “We’re continuing to move in that direction – we move from that committee work by ACT committee, work toward official … study, being done under WSDOT’s Tolling Division, more detailed look on how traffic would respond, what can be expected from revenues. That could be complete this year, maybe a little bit into next year but well under way.” Eventually, the rate-setting process will be led by the state Transportation Commission, and a public process will allow for citizens to comment.