Bertha goes to pieces, where tunnel-tolling decision stands, and other notes from Alaskan Way Viaduct stakeholders’ meeting

(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 (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.

18 Replies to "Bertha goes to pieces, where tunnel-tolling decision stands, and other notes from Alaskan Way Viaduct stakeholders' meeting"

  • JTB March 17, 2015 (10:28 am)

    So the WSB is the only news source interested in informing citizens about the status of one of the most important public projects in the city and region? I thought Tracy’s comment was so striking that I checked the Seattle Times, the PI and King 5, none of which had any information about this meeting. Incredible.

    Showing up, taking notes, asking questions, informing the public. Journalism. This all makes me despondent over the sorry state of journalism in our area on one hand and incredibly appreciative that we have the WSB to keep us informed on the other.

    • WSB March 17, 2015 (10:35 am)

      JTB, I wouldn’t have made the note without being certain. Many meetings we cover start with “going around the room” so everyone present can identify themselves and their affiliation. Some don’t include the back row where reporters tend to sit. This one always does. Every single person in the room including me identified her/himself, and I was indeed the only journalist – besides the stakeholders and presenters, the others were support staffers from the agencies involved (primarily WSDOT and SDOT). To be fair, our business includes a school of thought that you don’t want to cover meetings/events when you can instead be working on enterprised stories. But the meetings we tend to cover are generally meetings where news is revealed or made and will not necessarily be something you can find out about later, so that’s why we go. (We do a lot of enterprise work too – reading court files, permit files, business/liquor license files … and we also appreciate the community tips that come in! Off to check a couple of those soon, in fact.) – TR

  • Mark March 17, 2015 (10:36 am)

    Broken link in the “seawall update” section.

    • WSB March 17, 2015 (10:41 am)

      Thanks, will hunt it down and fix …

  • dsa March 17, 2015 (10:45 am)

    By not showing up the rest of the news agencies are doing the public a disservice.
    Without news getting outside West Seattle, there won’t be enough public awareness that citizens *will* be allowed to comment on tunnel tolling.

  • wakeflood March 17, 2015 (11:00 am)

    Thanks as always, Tracy. There’s a reason this blog is cherished by the community and this story is representative of why.

  • chelle March 17, 2015 (11:11 am)

    Thank you wsb, what a wonderful journalism team!

  • DMS March 17, 2015 (11:14 am)

    Why would people in the audience (non-participants) be asked to identify themselves?

    Sounds odd.

    • WSB March 17, 2015 (11:26 am)

      Meeting organizers are usually interested to know who’s in the room. Not odd at all IMO (at least it doesn’t feel that way … and I am a privacy zealot …). And not mandatory. It’s also for the edification of others there, especially in a meeting like this one where there are usually at least a dozen of the “stakeholders” and at least as many government staffers on hand. I should say that this doesn’t usually happen at public meetings where there’s a sizable audience. (And sadly, we don’t see many of those, with the exception of some Design Review meetings and both recent candidate forums.) – TR

  • workdowntown March 17, 2015 (11:19 am)

    Thanks Tracy. I know I am much better informed than my co-workers regarding this project just because I follow the WSB. I can see the dig site below me – so much time, energy and money being spent is utterly amazing. Am I the only one to think the settling has stopped because Bertha has stopped?

  • JTB March 17, 2015 (11:23 am)

    Tracy, I hope my comment didn’t read like I was actually questioning you; it was intended to convey consternation. My own online queries were more about feeding my own sense of disappointment and reinforcing why I haven’t subscribed to the Times. Pathetic.

  • wakeflood March 17, 2015 (1:11 pm)

    DMS – Re: Why would non-participants be asked to ID themselves?

    Good question. It would seem to fall under one or both of the following categories, to my understanding. One being that in meetings with a mere handful of attendees, it’s considered courteous to make those who have made an effort to attend feel welcome.

    And the second is to give presenters/participants some idea of who their audience is so they can potentially tailor their comments should the opportunity arise, potentially preempting a question with an answer. Or in some cases, not put your foot in your mouth. ;-)

  • T Rex March 17, 2015 (3:04 pm)

    Seattle is no different than the rest of the country. News is not news anymore unless it is good news for the political party that they support. Bertha is a failure, I am guessing that our politicians who got this tunnel going have “arrangements” that bad news is simply not discussed. That being said, I SO respect this blog for your old fashioned unbiased reporting.

    Thank you from all of us!!

  • Trickycoolj March 17, 2015 (3:40 pm)

    As a project manager, it’s common to “go around the room” to start and end a meeting. If my room is full of engineers I want to know if there’s a non-engineer present so we can make sure to clarify the info being presented. It wouldn’t be helpful in this case where the stakeholders include community members, the press (go WSB!), engineers, DOT and the like to talk all the engineering specifics that are only understood by the engineers and DOT. It’s also useful to identify who may be attending by phone in the case of a mixed teleconference/in-person meeting. In cases of proprietary meetings (at a corporation not govt projects) it’s necessairy to identify everyone in the room as a roll call and make sure they all have a “need to know” very common practice.

  • Peter March 17, 2015 (6:07 pm)

    Since we’re all going off topic, I’ll chime in: it started wren the Weekly’s reporting went down the drain in the 90s when they couldn’t compete with The Stranger and they’ve been a joke since, the PI went online only and became nothing but a celebrity photo feed ala TMZ, and the Stranger’s news coverage went to spit about the same time, being more concerned with maximum profanity rather than content. The Seattle Times has become nothing but a conservative mouthpiece with an occasional progressive op-ed just for show. Crosscut is an opinion site with no pretense of hard news reporting. Finally, KUOW’s news went to spit early last year and continues to deteriorate. And TV news in Seattle has never been worth watching at all. So there it is: WSB is the last and only reliable source of news in Seattle.

  • sun*e March 18, 2015 (9:55 am)

    Thank you WSB for always being the best reliable source for keeping us informed. Can’t say enough about how fortunate we are to have you in WS!!! As far as the tunnel boring goes: AAAUUUGGGHHH!

  • blaughw March 18, 2015 (1:31 pm)

    @DMS and others,

    This is a stakeholder meeting, so I would guess that a significant portion of attendees are not just “Audience”. I agree it does sound a little odd to introduce EVERYONE in a meeting, but I would suspect this is the reason.

  • Bertha DeBlues (@BerthaDeBlues) March 18, 2015 (2:35 pm)

    Thanks for the update WSB. I’m still scared, and you haven’t helped that at all, but no one HERE will tell me what’s going on.

Sorry, comment time is over.