(Added: Newly released WSDOT video recorded by a drone inside the tunnel and tunneling machine)

12:06 PM: “Tunneling is going very well.” So said Chris Dixon of Seattle Tunnel Partners, the state’s contractor on the Highway 99 tunnel, during a media conference call wrapped up a short time ago. He said there’s been no problems – “no adverse effects, no settlement, no movement” either with the machine or with the ground through which it’s tunneling and the first Viaduct “bent” under which it’s gone. As for the distance they’ve gone – 117 feet so far, of the 380 that will get them to the other side of the Viaduct’s underside – he said it’s about what they’ve expected. We’ll have full details in a bit.

12:30 PM: More details from the call: They’ve now mined 17 “rings” since leaving “Safe Haven 3,” the stop before going under the Viaduct. The “bent” under which the machine has gone is numbered 98W – “W” for west, and it’s now under 97W, with 96E next, “the column in the intersection of Yesler and Alaskan Way … after we pass that, (they go under) 95E, the foundation on the east side.” The next one is the one to which the machine gets within 15 feet, as much mentioned prior to this phase of tunneling. They’re expecting to average about 4 rings a day but Dixon warned not to be alarmed if a day shows less progress than that, because they are stopping the machine here and there along the way for maintenance and for replenishment of the soil conditioners they’re using while moving ahead – the first day of this phase was 1 ring, then three on the 30th, seven on the 1st, and six yesterday.

Its average speed, Dixon said, is 30 millimeters per second, with the capacity to go twice that fast, and indeed they expect to go faster once the machine is past this phase – averaging six rings a day in the next phase. In response to another question, he stressed again, “we’re right where we anticipated we would be.” And he said they’re far enough out of “Safe Haven 3” that there’s no longer any concern of a sinkhole or other disturbance atop that area.

No traffic updates, since this focus was on the tunneling itself, but WSDOT did say, don’t get complacent and go back to your old ways – “please find different ways to be out there ‘off peak’.”

P.S. We’ll again have special afternoon/evening commute coverage here on WSB, starting around 4 pm. In the meantime, the commute conversation continues in comments following our Tuesday morning coverage.

24 Replies to "UNDER-VIADUCT TUNNELING PROGRESS: 'Going very well'"

  • Azimuth May 3, 2016 (12:10 pm)

    Don’t jinx it!

  • cjboffoli May 3, 2016 (1:07 pm)

    Great update!  Love the drone footage too.  It really captures the experience of gong down there.

  • DJgary May 3, 2016 (1:32 pm)

    How is it going well?  It’s way over budget and was originally supposed to be completed by December 2015.  Don’t worry the tax payers will cover for the ineptitude.  For whom the tunnel tolls.

    • WSB May 3, 2016 (1:36 pm)

      It was not asked as, nor answered as, a comment on the entire project. Guess I should add UNDER-VIADUCT at the start of the headline.

      • forgotmyname May 3, 2016 (1:38 pm)

        Eh, those opposed to the project are going to reiterate their opposition no matter how you phrase a headline.

  • slc May 3, 2016 (1:48 pm)

    Awesome video!  

  • dsa May 3, 2016 (2:01 pm)

    The drone video was fantastic.  Thank you for posting it.  I do wish they had included a bit more at Bertha’s end showing more detail of the wall.

  • Chris May 3, 2016 (2:41 pm)

    Expert drone flying…incredible.

  • K. Davis May 3, 2016 (2:48 pm)

    Exactly.  The anti-tunnel crowd will always point to their criticisms of the project and there is no making them happy.  So be it … that’s their right.  

    I am gratified that it is “so far, so good” on the TBM now that it is repaired/reinforced.  I realize there is a long ways to go in tunneling, but hopefully the contractor has turned a corner to the better.  

    One question for DJGary … how do you get to the assurance that taxpayers will pay the extra?  Do you know something the rest of us don’t, or is this just your anti-tunneling rant?  

  • At least it's an ethos May 3, 2016 (2:59 pm)

    Hugo’s cover of 99 Problems goes wonderfully as an audio track for the drone video.


  • BL May 3, 2016 (3:52 pm)

    As I just imagined driving thru that concrete I shed a tear realizing what an awe inspiring, absolutely beautiful drive it will replace. I am glad I can (and now will for sure will)  take the surface streets.

    I do we believe we could have had it both ways. A good drive AND a good neighborhood but the folks who wanted an outrageously expensive option that benefits just one side bullied their way through with $’s and political power.  IMO

  • miws May 3, 2016 (3:59 pm)

    I’ve never really been a proponent of the tunnel, but that is an awesome video! 


  • wb May 3, 2016 (4:14 pm)

    @ k davis


    From Grist, 2015; don’t know if anything has changed.


    There is no plan to resolve the dispute over cost overruns, which are ubiquitous on projects like this; at $4.2 billion, it’s the most expensive transportation project in state history. The tunnel will have no exits — no ingress or egress — throughout the entire downtown core (which makes the support of downtown businesses all the more mystifying). It won’t allow transit, only cars. It will be tolled, highly enough, by the state’s own estimates, to drive nearly half its traffic onto the aforementioned side streets. 

  • JanS May 3, 2016 (7:09 pm)

    I am, of course ASSuming that none of the toll complainers have lived in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts. If you want to drive on the turnpike/thruway there, you pay a toll. for short distances, it can be nothing ( from the Connecticut entrance to West bound Mass. Turnpike, to Western Mass., Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, etc, the toll is $0. If you want to go across state, there is a toll…not sure how much. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. I started hanging in Western Mass in my teens…I’m now 69. So, y’all need to get over being butthurt about it., being spoiled by FREEways. The Garden State Parkway, north and south? the same…tolls…it’s simply a fact of life there. Sorry.

    I haven’t been much of a tunnel supporter either…the drone footage is fascinating…

  • KBear May 3, 2016 (9:36 pm)

    WB, the tunnel will have downtown exits at each end. True, there is not an exit in the middle of downtown, but traffic will flow better without it. The tunnel is not primarily for going downtown, it is for going THROUGH downtown. 

  • Scottt May 3, 2016 (9:45 pm)

    So cuz that’s what they do in the NE…that’s what we should do here?  And lived in B-More for 12 years, so no a homer.  

  • Gus May 4, 2016 (7:47 am)

    Of course taxpayers will get saddled with the bill! Where else is the money going to come from. It’s not going to magically appear in the contractor’s pocket. You can count on that!

  • WSGirl May 4, 2016 (8:56 am)

    I wonder how much the drone flight cost taxpayers…

    • WSB May 4, 2016 (9:19 am)

      WSGirl, I’ll ask WSDOT if I get the chance at this morning’s in-person briefing, which we’ll be covering in about an hour and a half.

  • Born on Alki 59 May 4, 2016 (9:33 am)


     True, these are not FREEways, but Washington has one of the highest gas tax rates in the country at 44.5 cents per gallon. Compare that to NJ at 14.5 and Mass at 26.5 cents per gallon and that’s where the butthurt comes from. Additionally, look how much of Washington’s “Good to Go” goes to administration costs, its eye opening and pathetic at best. Butthurt, damn right.

  • K. Davis May 4, 2016 (10:39 am)

    @BL … not sure what you mean by “I do we believe we could have had it both ways. A good drive AND a good neighborhood but the folks who wanted an outrageously expensive option that benefits just one side bullied their way through with $’s and political power. ” 

    What option are you referring to instead of the tunnel?  There were three (serious) other options: build another new viaduct, build a cut&cover tunnel, or go with a surface-only option.  Each of the other three was a bad idea for all the previously published (ad nauseum) reasons.  So you have me confused as to what you mean.  

    Kbear has it correct … the PURPOSE of SR 99 is throughput for north/south bound traffic … it is our only regional alternative to I-5.  We have to have that highway-level throughput.  

    @EB … once again … you need to understand what will be done when Alaskan Way is completed as well.  Most likely, we’ll have better access from the south by exiting SR 99 before the tunnel and taking Alaskan Way along the waterfront and then turning right into downtown.  Losing Seneca and Western is an unavoidable part of building the highway through downtown we have to have.  But we aren’t losing much as things will turn out.  

    As for “no plan to resolve cost-overruns” you are mistaken.  There is already litigation begun, which was inevitable, involving STP, WSDOT and other parties.  Hitachi will be invited to the dance for building an under-engineered TBM.  I get it – no one likes litigation – but that IS how this will all get sorted out.  Can’t predict how this will play out, but STP and Hitachi have a lot of problems facing them.  

  • dhg May 4, 2016 (2:44 pm)

    A maximum speed of 60mm /sec pencils out to 708 feet per hour.  Which suggests this project could be completed in half a day if they were feeling lucky.

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