HIGHWAY 99 TUNNEL: Project leader talks opening date, Viaduct demolition, more, @ West Seattle Chamber of Commerce

(April 4 photo of tunneling-machine breakthrough, by WSB’s Christopher Boffoli)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

If all goes well, the Highway 99 tunnel will open in January 2019 – after three weeks with no Alaskan Way Viaduct, and no tunnel.

That’s what Joe Hedges, the West Seattle resident who currently runs the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program for WSDOT, told the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce at its monthly lunch meeting today.

His presentation was introduced by Pete Spalding, the Chamber’s government-affairs committee chair, who also has long served as a member of the Viaduct/Tunnel project working group advisory committee.

Hedges called it a “wonderful treat” to be able to “come home” for the presentation. He’s been running the project for more than a year.

The “most important lesson learned” – “This Viaduct Replacement Program is a couple decades old, and the contribution to it involves a couple thousand people … what’s important is that (all that) is going to transform Seattle for the next couple centuries.”

He didn’t bring a slide deck, saying he just wanted to “catch you up, tell you where we’re at, where we’re going.” Right now: “Out of 32 projects that comprise the program, and $3.4 billion, we’re about 85 percent complete …”

Hedges continued: “… The latest project to finish up was the Dearborn northbound offramp – important because that’s the next-generation bridge. It’s a bridge not just designed to stay standing and safe in an earthquake, but to survive an earthquake. … This is a prototype that will survive and endure … using titanium rebar and some flexible new concrete.”

On to The Viaduct: People are still asking him why it has to come down, and he says he has great memories, of the iconic ride (downtown) – “But here’s the dilemma: It’s going to come down. And we get to choose how it’s going to come down. The plan right now is to take it down, but not just to replace it with the tunnel, but with surface streets and a whole bunch of other stuff … to improve the mobility of Seattle.”

About the tunnel: $1.4 billion, one of the “five top projects in the nation” in civil works, right now. In the tunnel world, it was like “going to the moon … everything in the tunnel is gigantic. Sixty feet in diameter, five stories high. 1436 rings, 10 segments per ring, each segment … weighs nearly 20 tons. Nothing is small. The amount of material removed from the tunnel would fill up the Seahawks’ stadium.”

He recalled the breakthrough event in April – “a tunnel this diameter has never been bored in soft earth before. At breakthrough, our risk profile went (down) – happy day!” What’s left to do: “In this tunnel, we’re building a box -” the roads, emergency exit corridors, utility corridors, ventilation. “Big.” 1.41 billion cubic feet of air per minute can get out of the tunnel.

The northbound lanes – upper deck – is 2/3 of the way done. While the tunneling was happening, construction was happening behind the machine. “Right now, things are going very, very smoothly with the roadway.”

The tunneling machine’s “reward” for finishing the job, he quipped: “Dissection.” And he went into even more detail about how the machine’s being taken apart to be trucked away: “Huge, mammoth task. … It’s hard to describe the demo that’s happening there.”

Most of the heavy steel “will be sold for salvage,” he said – recycling – and added that part of the cutterhead was saved by the Port of Seattle, likely to be “adapted into a monument.”

Extraction is “on a critical path,” he said, to keep things from getting clogged. “What’s in there right now is not the roadway on the lower deck.” They need to take steps including accessing the lower side from the north and closing the “cut and cover” pieces on each end of the deep-bore tunnel. “They need to (be closed) so we can finish off the mechanical and plumbing.”

You didn’t hear much while the machine was tunneling beneath the city, he noted. Seattle Tunnel Partners was “so successful” at controlling how it moved, with very little divergence. “Seattle set the new gold standard for tunneling.” He says interest in tunneling is increasing nationwide, to get people around underground.

What’s left?

He just met with the mayor and city this morning to talk about demolition of the viaduct.

Three weeks or so of permanent Viaduct closure – no tunnel, no Viaduct – they literally “have to rearrange the ends of Aurora – think Water Taxi, like I am.”

The date’s not final yet but: “We’re planning for the tunnel to open sometime in January 2019.”

Some of the preparations will include commissioning – making sure everything related to the tunnel works – “more than 6,000 data points” – a “big, huge job.”

“My optimal would be, tunnel open on a Friday, first demolition of the Viaduct starts on Monday … We have to get rid of the Viaduct to turn that over to the city to (start building) the new surface streets.”

Q and A ensued. Spalding asked about the three-week closure. “So it sounds like that’s going to be during the holidays of 2018?”

Hedges said that’s not certain yet – “I have a bunch of people working on this right now, as to when this date could be.” He hopes it will be before the holidays, though “there’s no perfect time to do this.” And he hopes the Viaduct demolition would be over by summer.

Next question: How much advance notice will people get, once that date is set?

“Lots,” he promised, noting again that he’s a West Seattle resident.

Then: Tolling?

Hedges said they’ll use the same sort of system (Good To Go) that is used now for the Highway 520 bridge, Tacoma Narrows, etc. As for the rate – still a challenge because they’re concerned about diversion – the higher the toll, the more people will look for non-charging alternatives. But he thinks diversion won’t be as much of a problem as some say, because “people just want to get through.” (Who sets the toll? The state Transportation Commission.) Asked what he thinks it will be – “one dollar or a hundred dollars?” – he says he thinks it’ll be “north of a dollar.”

And: Will there be a chance for the public to walk on The Viaduct one last time before it’s demolished? And will part of it be preserved?

To the latter – no. “All of The Viaduct has to come down.” Among other reasons: “It’s in the way.” He joked that he’ll be happy to give anyone a piece of it who wants one. He does anticipate “a huge celebration” when they get ready to open the tunnel and say goodbye to The Viaduct. “Come, explore with your families, what was the old, what’s the new.”

What happens to the Battery Street Tunnel? “Two things … backfill it, or turn it over to the city.” The Environmental Impact Statement for the project binds them to demolish The Viaduct and decommission the Battery Street Tunnel, so they’re looking at how to fulfill that. The decision will be made before the end of this year – “if the city’s going to keep it, the question is what they’ll use it for.”

CHAMBER EVENTS: The Chamber is sponsoring a mayoral forum on July 20th at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and is organizing a forum on homelessness for the fall.

ALSO AT THE CHAMBER LUNCH: WestSide Baby is hoping to collect 300,000 disposable diapers during this year’s Stuff the Bus campaign, important because a big delivery they’re expecting is running late. They’ll have a Stuff the Bus bash at WestSide Baby HQ on July 23rd and all are invited … Local RE/MAX agent Linda Cox updated local trends at the start of the meeting – she warns people to be wary of those letters that are sent, unsolicited, by people who offer to buy your home. You will almost certainly be able to get more on the open market, Cox said. “We are seeing an incredible interest in our properties here” – one recently sold for $205,000 more than the list price. She also advises that prospective sellers/buyers check on the credentials of whomever you deal with … Chamber board president Paul Prentice says WSCofC is surveying businesses in neighborhoods around the peninsula to find out more about their needs. … The Whittaker (WSB sponsor) has fully leased its south tower and is now pre-leasing its north tower … Quail Park Memory Care (also a WSB sponsor) is expecting to move people in around the end of October.

West Seattle Chamber of Commerce membership information is on its website.

25 Replies to "HIGHWAY 99 TUNNEL: Project leader talks opening date, Viaduct demolition, more, @ West Seattle Chamber of Commerce"

  • Eddie June 8, 2017 (4:39 pm)

    I would enjoy an opportunity to bike or walk both the viaduct and the tunnel at some time. Hope they provide some non-vehicle access at some point.

  • West Seattle Hipster June 8, 2017 (4:55 pm)

    Thank you for the in-depth coverage of the viaduct and tunnel replacement.  WSB is always well ahead of other media outlets in it’s coverage of the viaduct and it’s replacement, and it is very much appreciated.

  • DarkHawke June 8, 2017 (5:14 pm)

    So three weeks without the Viaduct OR the Tunnel?!  Sounds like it’ll give “Viadoom!” a run for it’s money.  One hopes someone involved IS sane enough to NOT schedule the closure during the holiday season just to make some hopeful January “deadline.”

    They could just pass out bits of the old Viaduct after demolition and save shipping it out somewhere.

    I’m not thrilled that the City of Seattle is going to have such a large underground structure as the Batter Street Tunnel to do with as they may.  I can see the largest and most disgusting “homeless” shelter on planet coming soon.

    And finally, let’s not kid ourselves about being able to “improve mobility in Seattle.”   The Tunnel will not accommodate the same amount of traffic as the Viaduct nor all of the same kinds of traffic.  Both I-5 and the surface streets in town will get more crowded, no matter what they do in the wake of the Viaduct’s demolition.  There’s a lot of reasons you never hear anyone tout the “livability” of Seattle anymore; this will add a big one.

    • JCW June 8, 2017 (5:53 pm)

      On the contrary, 3 weeks is an incredibly fast timeline to reconnect 99 to the tunnel end points. The only alternative I’ve seen, from living in other major cities, is consecutive closures on weeknights or weekends. It will need to be closed for safety regardless – best to get the whole thing done at once. 

      In terms of livability, I suppose I’ve also been spoiled by having gratuitous public lakefront access. Chicago, in particular, has a lakefront trail system for walking/cycling, public beaches, harbors etc. I’ve always felt that the viaduct made that little slice of public waterfront feel like being in an old factory – dingy and dark. I’m excited to see how it transforms the waterfront into a bright, accessible area – and provides a delightful walking or cycling route through downtown. (And FWIW, I’m a car-less transplant so admiring the view from a big metal box isn’t something I’ll be missing)

      • AJK June 8, 2017 (10:25 pm)

        You do know it’ll be at least a 6 lane ‘road’ right? Requiring two light cycles for a pedestrian to cross… it’s not exactly going to be this mecca of parks and ‘walkability.’ the bike infrastructure and transit infrastructure is an afterthought, not yet worked out…no major plans for it? It’s for cars, pure and simple. 

        • CAM June 9, 2017 (8:35 am)

          AJK – Can you point me to where these plans are that you are getting that picture from or some discussion of these plans? 

  • steve June 8, 2017 (5:37 pm)

    I’m gonna miss seeing Elliot Bay as I drive by.  Its very serene, and I’ll miss it. Maybe they can turn the walls of the tunnel into a giant  TV and make us think we’re looking at Elliot bay.  Why not? I’ll expect something for that hefty toll they plan on charging.  OK, it’s settled.  Weeeeeee! Can’t wait.

  • miws June 8, 2017 (6:00 pm)

    I have a chunk of the viaduct. From the the south end section that was demolished around 6 years ago. 

    I got it at the   Milepost31 exhibit about 5 years ago. I thought the chunks of concrete were part of one of the displays and meant to remain there, but the lady tending Milepost 31 said they were free for the taking! 


  • Swede. June 8, 2017 (6:15 pm)

    To have NO way to go north/south on the west side of the city for a minimum of three weeks except surface streets in the city. During Xmas and thanksgiving shopping… 

    What could possibly go wrong!?


    • Lisa June 8, 2017 (7:50 pm)

      I must have missed the part that the closure will be during the holiday season…

      • Swede. June 8, 2017 (9:06 pm)

        If they aiming at open in January and there will be non viaduct or tunnel three weeks before, that makes December right. Maybe I’m off on thanksgiving a bit…

        • WSB June 8, 2017 (9:08 pm)

          As noted in the story, that was brought up and Joe Hedges said he’s hoping to figure a way around that somehow – but they have other factors to consider such as getting the Viaduct demolition done before peak summer season.

    • sam-c June 9, 2017 (10:36 am)

      It would just be like the Christmas of 2008 where we had more than a foot of snow that stuck around for 2 weeks and no-one plowed anything but arterials….. barely left our neighborhood that whole time, except for those days I walked a mile to the re-routed bus and then waited 1+ hour for a bus that had enough available seats to bother to stop.  fun memories.

  • JeffK June 8, 2017 (6:19 pm)

    Just stay ‘on island’ and work from home people.

    • ImNotSpartacus June 9, 2017 (8:55 am)

      Unhelpful. Obviously not everyone has that option.

  • wetone June 8, 2017 (6:30 pm)

    I want to know how one gets back to WS from downtown and SoDo areas once viaduct  goes away. WS has 2 off ramps with multiple lanes going to those areas, plus I5. But only one lane from those areas to access WSfwy  getting back to WS, which is 1st ave and that will include all traffic coming from the north through downtown (those that can’t afford tunnel tolls). Don’t forget all the train traffic getting to 1st ave. The new overpass planned for Lander St. won’t help if 1st ave is backed up.  If one says you can take lower bridge just remember T5 is going in which will fill area with big rig traffic and the non scheduled bridge openings.  How much will the   tunnel usage tax be ? I expect close to same deal as 520 and all area usage taxes. This tunnel screwed Seattle. Thanks Mayor Murray,  Christine Gregoire  and city council.

  • warren trout June 8, 2017 (7:48 pm)

    Can’t wait for that ugly, noisy viaduct to go!

  • KM June 8, 2017 (10:20 pm)

    A holiday closure would be nice, would affect far less work commuters during that time, I think, since many take shorter weeks or work from home. We planned ahead for Viadoom, it wasn’t that bad at all. We can easily handle this.

    • Shawn June 10, 2017 (12:12 pm)

      That’s what I was thinking. Regular commute traffic around the holidays always seems to be lighter, so targeting that as a time to close the viaduct sounds logical. It sounds far better to disrupt some elective holiday shoppers than to disrupt those who need to punch a clock. Whatever they choose, I’ll roll with it.

  • vin_e_vin June 9, 2017 (9:31 am)

    Despite time delay and cost overrun, I’m certain building a tunnel is an accomplishment to be proud of. I hope that they open it up for the public and allow us to walk through the tunnel when its safe to do so.

  • BlairJ June 9, 2017 (11:53 am)

    I’m glad to read that the State will only “Decommission” the Battery Street Tunnel, letting the city decide whether to fill it or use it.  The Battery Street Tunnel provides an important safety valve for traffic between the north waterfront and the Lake Union area, especially when surface streets in the Denny Regrade are blocked by parades, marathons, marches or just plain heavy traffic.  After the viaduct is gone, access to the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel would be by Western & Elliott Avenues.  It could continue to hook up to Aurora at the north end.  It should be reduced to one lane in each direction so that it takes up less width of the Aurora Avenue right of way just north of Denny.  This would still allow east/west streets to be reconnected north of Denny.

    Seattle’s hourglass shape is only two miles wide across the narrowest part. We stand to benefit by retaining as much throughput capacity as we can in that congested area.

  • RealConcern June 9, 2017 (3:18 pm)

    Sigh, what a disappointment.  More than likely just making it worse. Pushing more traffic onto the freeway that shrinks down to 2 lines in the middle of downtown.  Still no answers to the increased car traffic in the city.  Keep pushing the lower class further from the city where mass transit and bikes do not help them have a practical way to get to their jobs and maintain a family life, but that’s OK, they’re poor and don’t deserve consideration. Keep patting ourselves on the back for being “green”and catering to the rich and pretentious.  Keep letting people move here without real life solutions to alleviating the growth problem. 

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