West Seattle, Washington
That’s video from WSDOT, recorded inside the Highway 99 tunnel during a first-of-its-kind test today. From WSDOT’s project spokesperson Laura Newborn:
This morning, Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor for the SR 99 tunnel, successfully completed the first test of the tunnel’s deluge sprinkler system. In this two-minute test, 6,400 gallons of water poured out of the overhead sprinklers along a 216 foot section of the upper road of the double-deck tunnel. The tunnel is divided into 208 fire safety zones and the fire suppression system is designed to activate sprinklers within the safety zones – or more simply, at the point of a fire. Today’s test spanned two safety zones.
Seattle Tunnel Partners has many more systems tests and safety tests ahead before the tunnel is finished. After all tests are complete and all tunnel systems are a ‘go,’ WSDOT must close the viaduct through Seattle to finish building ramps and realign SR 99 into the new tunnel. Given the amount of testing still ahead, it remains too early to give an exact date for tunnel opening, but the tunnel could open to traffic as soon as this fall.
As we reported after covering a media briefing near the tunnel’s south entrance last week, Highway 99 between the West Seattle Bridge and tunnel will be off-limits to downtown-bound traffic for up to two extra weeks beyond the viaduct-to-tunnel transition closure, to finish the main route into downtown.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For the first time in a while, the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program invited the media into the project zone outside the tunnel – not for a tunnel update, but to talk about two closures.
First one is the one we’ve been reminding you about daily since last weekend – 9 pm tonight until 6 am Sunday, southbound 99 is closing between the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel and the West Seattle Bridge. When it reopens, the stretch just north of the stadium zone will be realigned – a little less curvy, basically; not the final configuration, but closer to it. Here are WSDOT-provided images with the before and after – the U-shaped structure at the top of both views is the Atlantic Street overpass:
This won’t be a major change but it’s important for the project – WSDOT’s viaduct-to-tunnel program boss Dave Sowers explained at the briefing that this is part of getting 99 ready for connections to the tunnel and ramps in the area that will carry non-tunnel-bound 99 users into downtown post-viaduct.
Speaking of which, an update on the big tunnel-to-viaduct closure (likely this fall) was the other part of the briefing, and there’s something new for West Seattle drivers/riders – non-tunnel northbound traffic will be affected beyond the main closure itself. We’ll get into that next but first, here’s our video of the entire briefing and media Q&A in case you’d like to watch/listen for yourself:
The first thing to stress: No, there’s still no date for the three-weeks-or-so viaduct-to-tunnel closure. WSDOT hopes to be able to announce it about a month in advance, and currently expects the contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners will officially hand off the tunnel in late August. Sowers said their biggest goal is to have the tunnel open by Thanksgiving, but it could of course be sooner.
While the three-week closure itself isn’t news – we’ve reported it multiple times before – this is: West Seattleites need to know that even when the three-week closure is over and the tunnel is open, the main pre-tunnel ramp from northbound 99 into downtown – Dearborn Street – will not be ready for up to two MORE weeks. So your main paths into downtown until then will be via the low bridge/Spokane Street, or 1st or 4th or I-5 off the eastbound West Seattle Bridge – if you’re not tunnel-bound, you won’t be able to use NB 99 between here and downtown until Dearborn is ready to go.
WSDOT says it’s of course working with other agencies/services including Metro, the Water Taxi, and SDOT to coordinate planning, but they want you to start preparing too, so they’re starting to sound the alerts now.
Something else new: Viaduct demolition, post-closure, is expected to take about six months. That’s a shorter timeframe than previously mentioned. The contractor Kiewit will start at Columbia Street and at the “Pike hillclimb area.” Some work might even begin before year’s end, if the tunnel really does open by November, according to Sowers.
Though the briefing wasn’t about the tunnel itself, we asked what’s going on underground right now. Sowers said the roadway’s built and much of what’s happening now is testing, testing, testing. The tunnel includes “more than 5,000 different instruments” and they not only have to be tested individually, but project managers have to be sure those systems are “talking to each other.” They’re also striping and installing signs.
WSDOT is continuing to put more information about the project and the viaduct-to-tunnel transition online, with an easy-to-remember website: 99tunnel.com. And watch for word of another short-term closure later this summer like the one that’s set for 9 pm tonight through 6 am Sunday – Sowers said they’re trying to figure out the least-impactful dates.
By Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The Washington State Transportation Commission held an open house and public input meeting at High Point Community Center last night, seeking public comment on tolling proposals for the Highway 99 tunnel.
It was the second of three Seattle meetings between the commission and residents. Commissioner Roy Jennings opened the meeting by reminding those in attendance that the decision to toll the tunnel had already been made and was no longer up for debate. The commission instead was seeking input on a trio of toll-rate options.
Though all three plans are projected to meet the project’s fiscal obligations by 2045, they differ in price fluctuations throughout the day, as well as how increases are scheduled.
We’ve told you about all three of these already – but since they’re happening pretty much simultaneously this Tuesday night (June 5), consider this a sort of two-night warning:
HALA UPZONING, DISTRICT 1 PUBLIC HEARING: The Mandatory Housing Affordability proposal to upzone all commercial/multifamily-zoned property in the city, as well as parcels in “urban villages” (some of which would expand their boundaries) is moving toward a City Council vote later this year. The process includes public hearings outside City Hall, and Tuesday night is the one for District 1 (West Seattle/South Park), scheduled for 6 pm at Chief Sealth International High School (2600 SW Thistle). If you’ve got something to say about the upzoning proposal – for, against, or otherwise – this is the time and place to say it. You can get caught up in advance tomorrow (Monday) when the council, meeting as the Select Committee pondering the upzoning plan, discusses the District 1 proposal at 10:30 am at City Hall (live on Seattle Channel, of course). But for the public hearing, show up at the CSIHS Auditorium on Tuesday – here’s the agenda; the slide deck is above.
HIGHWAY 99 TUNNEL TOLLS, WEST SEATTLE PUBLIC HEARING: The last big decision before the Alaskan Way Viaduct makes way for the Highway 99 tunnel is: How much will the tolls be? The Washington State Transportation Commission gets to make the decision, but would first like to hear what you think. We previewed the proposed options when the West Seattle public hearing was announced. This too is Tuesday night, 5:30-6:30 pm informational “open house”; 6:30-8 pm, meeting for your feedback. It’s at High Point Community Center (6920 34th SW).
SW AVALON WAY RECHANNELIZATION/REPAVING: Two weeks ago, we brought you first word of the updated plan for rechannelizing and repaving SW Avalon Way – and a few blocks of 35th SW and SW Alaska just to the south – next year.
As with the early version of the plan a year earlier, it still takes away some parking on SW Avalon, and Luna Park businesses are girding for a fight. Whatever you think of the newest plan, Tuesday night is also when SDOT is coming to West Seattle to take comments and answer questions about it, 5:30-7:30 pm at the American Legion Post 160 hall (3618 SW Alaska).
The Highway 99 tunnel, you’ve no doubt heard here and elsewhere, could open as soon as this fall. One last thing remains to be decided: The toll(s). Now, it’s time for public comment. Received this afternoon from the Washington State Transportation Commission:
The public process of setting toll rates for the State Route 99 tunnel is starting and the Washington State Transportation Commission is seeking public comment on toll rate options under consideration. Interested persons can provide comments to the commission at upcoming public meetings in Seattle or they can provide comments electronically starting today, Tuesday, May 22.
The commission has spent more than a year studying and assessing all aspects of tolling the SR 99 tunnel, including various toll rate levels, possible toll exemptions, estimated traffic diversion to city streets, and effects of tolling on freight movement. Based upon this analysis, the commission has developed three possible toll rate options, on which it now wants the public to weigh in.
The Legislature made the decision to toll the tunnel in 2012 (RCW 47.56.862). The commission is charged with making sure tolls generate enough revenue to cover specific costs as required under the law, including toll operations, maintenance, and debt payments associated with the construction of the tunnel. In 2018, the Legislature directed that initial toll rates will not cover future repair and replacement costs, such as for the roadway and ventilation systems for the SR 99 tunnel. Proposed future toll rate increases would need to be re-evaluated if the Legislature determines these costs should be covered by toll revenue.
Toll Rate Options
The three toll rate options currently under consideration would be in effect from when tolling begins in 2019 through at least June 2020:
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.25.
There are four different toll rates over six time periods on weekdays.
Beginning in July 2022, toll rates increase 3 percent, every three years for all days of the week.
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.
There are four different toll rates over eight time periods on weekdays.
Beginning in July 2020, there will be annual toll rate increases of 3.5 percent for five years that will apply to the weekday rates only.
Toll rates range from $1.50 – $2.25 during peak travel times and $1 overnight.
The midday toll rate is $1.25.
There are five different toll rates over seven time periods on weekdays.
There are no toll rate increases during first five years of tolling. Then there are three toll rate increases of five percent each, taking place in July of 2024, 2029, and 2034, for all days of the week.
Public Comment Opportunities
The commission will hold public input meetings in early June in Seattle to gather comments on the three toll-rate options under consideration. The meetings are as follows:
· Monday, June 4
4 – 5 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
5 – 6:30 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
Seattle Public Library, Washington Mutual Foundation Room
1000 4th Ave., Seattle
· Tuesday, June 5
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
6:30 – 8 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
High Point Community Center, Multipurpose Room
6920 34th Ave. SW
· Wednesday, June 6
5:30 – 6:30 p.m.: Open house on tunnel project and tolling
6:30 – 8 p.m.: Public input meeting on tolling options
Phinney Center, Blue Building, Room #7
6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle
More information on the tolling options under consideration, and additional ways the public can comment, can be found on the commission’s web site under “pending actions” at: wstc.wa.gov. The Transportation Commission is taking public comment on these tolling options until July 17. An official proposal will be announced in mid-July 2018, followed by an additional public comment period before toll rates are finalized in fall 2018.
Here’s the direct link to the page with feedback options – scroll down. The “commission feedback form” link doesn’t appear to be working properly at the moment, so we’re sending a note to report that.
WSDOT has just gone public with two new videos of/about the Highway 99 tunnel, as its completion and opening approach. The video above is described as work as the double-deck highway inside it was finished. Below, a narrated clip explains the next phase of work:
Now crews are installing and testing the tunnel’s operational and safety systems. It’s a big job. Inside the tunnel there are:
*More than 300 cameras to monitor traffic and security at all times as part of an incident-detection system.
*Automatic ventilation systems designed to keep air quality and visibility high.
*Automated sprinkler systems designed to put out a fire quickly at its source.
Together, these systems will make the SR 99 tunnel one of the “smartest” tunnels ever built. This video explains how the critical air quality and fire safety systems work together:
Read more here.
As we’ve been reporting, and as WSDOT reiterates today, the tunnel *might* open as soon as this fall. When it’s pronounced ready to go, the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be shut down and two to three weeks of work to finish connections to the tunnel will commence. (We reported more about that – and the status of tunnel-toll-decisionmaking – recently here.)
Leading the briefing about the tunnel-project status, tunnel program leader David Sowers from WSDOT. “We have a big year ahead of us, and that’s an understatement. … The light at the end of the tunnel is upon us.”
“What do we need to do to open the tunnel?” Three bullet points: 1. Complete tunnel walls and roadway decks – the “final topping slabs” of the driving surface will be finished later this month, Sowers said. Second step, “commissioning” – installing and testing tunnel systems. Mid-August is when the contractor thinks those will all be done, Sowers said.
Then when the tunnel is verified as safe and ready to go, STP hands it off to WSDOT, and the Viaduct closure begins – “branded” as 17 days, but more like “about three weeks of time” to “reorient the existing corridor that now goes onto the Viaduct, into the tunnel,” says Sowers. He says there’ll be one big difference from past major closures – once the tunnel opens, post-closure, everyone will have to get used to the new connections from both ends.
Here’s his slide showing what happens on the south end during that closure time:
1:37 PM: Dearborn, in that slide, “is a street that doesn’t exist yet,” Sowers elaborates. He’s now on to explaining that the Viaduct demolition, Battery Street Tunnel decommissioning, and North surface street connections are being combined into one contract, and they’re expecting proposals from four contractors “in the middle of next month.” That contract will be worth about $100 million.
Next – Carl See, senior financial analyst for WSTC, leading the tolling-status section of the briefing. He’s focused on presenting results of a study that was requested about two months ago. He says some key factors have changed since the analysis began. Here’s the slide showing them:
Note “all requested toll rate scenarios maintain initial toll rates” in $1-$2.50 range, the former overnight and weekends, the latter during PM weekday commute, and other steps inbetween. Beyond the possible rates, there are a variety of scenarios the commission wanted to analyze, including how much tolls might rise over the years ahead. Most of the options performed similarly over the years ahead, See said. The analysis also included a look at whether traffic would be “ramping up” post-tunnel opening and a mention of the possibility that there might be a no-tolling period at the start for drivers to get used to the tunnel.
1:53 PM: Three tolling options came out “generally at or above preliminary coverage target” for debt service, See says – options 1a, 3a, 5a. Here are the two slides that explain (note that they are both variants of the $1-to-$2.50 assumption, which remains a proposal – no final decision for a few months):
A lot of what they’re analyzing involves not just how much money is generating but what kind of a “cushion”/reserves will be generated. That would be needed, one commissioner notes, in case toll revenue drops off at some point, so some other part of the state budget wouldn’t have to be dipped into, to cover for a shortfall. In response to a question, See says they still have time to analyze other options … but not much. The commission should “settle on key financing assumptions, and determine if other scenarios are needed” by next month. They need to get some updated information before making that decision – including “updated debt service requirements for $200 million capital funding from Office of State Treasurer.”
It’s pointed out from the commission side of the room that “everybody wants to keep it nimble … we’re going to have to keep it flexible” depending on what actually happens with traffic and resulting toll-paying once the tunnel opens.
Timeline for decisionmaking includes public meetings in late spring, according to what was just shown:
March-April, stakeholder discussions continue
April 17-18, commission meets, decides on finance assumptions and whether more analysis is needed
April-June, more stakeholder outreach and public input meetings – plus more toll-scenario requests IF needed
June 19-20, tolling subcommittee of WSTC will have recommended toll-scenario options for the full commission to review
June-July, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
July 17-18 meeting, proposed final toll plan approved by commission
July-September, more “stakeholder outreach and public input meetings”
Commission meeting September 11th – public hearing and final decision
And one commissioner stresses that even with a no-toll grace period at start of tunnel operations, the tunnel rates do need to be finalized before opening.
2:25 PM: The tunnel update is over. The financial analyst is now on to a somewhat-related item, status of a proposal to standardize exemptions across the state’s tolled facilities – tolls are the purview of the Transportation Commission, which is why the tunnel decision is in its hands. They’re also looking at systemwide fees and rates, which are charged in different ways (think about the difference between ferries and bridges, for example) – look for public-input meetings on all this later this year, too. So we’re wrapping up our coverage here.
The Highway 99 tunnel’s expected to open in a matter of months, but the toll rates have yet to be finalized. The decision is in the hands of the Washington State Transportation Commission, which usually meets in Olympia, but will be meeting in downtown Seattle next Wednesday (March 14th). It’s a day-long meeting with multiple topics; tunnel tolling is scheduled for 1:30 pm – it’s a briefing/discussion, not a vote, as there’s no final proposal yet. The meeting is at Puget Sound Regional Council HQ (1011 Western, fifth floor), open to all, with a public-comment period in its final half-hour, starting at 4:10 pm. Meantime, you can see WSDOT’s latest tunnel-construction update by going here.
P.S. Semi-related reminder – as we reported on Thursday, one of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s last pre-demolition inspections will close it Saturday, March 24th, 6 am-6 pm (and the next day if needed, though most recent inspections have just used the first scheduled day)
As reported on Wednesday, the Highway 99 tunnel might be ready to open this fall, instead of early next year. But the matter of tunnel tolls hasn’t been settled yet. The Washington State Transportation Commission, which has to set the rates, will talk about it again next Wednesday afternoon. This time, the focus will be on listening to feedback from the city, county, and port. They’re on the WSTC agenda for 1 pm Wednesday (January 17th) in Olympia. The commission won’t be making a decision before September, but there is public comment at day’s end on Wednesday (4:45 pm), and there will be opportunities when there’s a formal tolling proposal this summer. If you want to comment to the commission sooner, here’s how. (Backstory: Here’s our previous update on the tolling issue.)
WSDOT‘s newest Highway 99 tunnel update is out, and the state says that Seattle Tunnel Partners‘ newest schedule indicates “the tunnel could open to drivers as soon as this fall.” They’re not ready to estimate a date yet, and WSDOT notes that a “significant amount of work remains between now and tunnel opening,” but it’s getting closer. And WSDOT’s update includes the reminder that when “the tunnel is ready to open, SR 99 through downtown Seattle will be closed to traffic for approximately three weeks” so that connections can be finalized. You can read the entire update here.
P.S. As we’ve been reminding you in the morning traffic/transportation updates, the Battery Street Tunnel will be closed for four hours this Saturday morning, 6-10 am, for an inspection related to its future decommissioning
One huge question that’ll finally be answered in the new year: When the Highway 99 tunnel opens, what will the tolls be?
As previewed here – and as subsequently covered by Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom – the state Transportation Commission has just had another talk about tunnel tolls. The major issue involves balancing between the money that tolls have to raise, and the level of tolls that would lead to too much “diversion” – drivers avoiding the tunnel.
The decision is not due until next September, but Kathy e-mailed WSB to ask for more information on how to have a say now – and to ask who locally is involved in advocacy related to the toll-setting. First, if you’re looking for background info:
That’s the main slide deck presented when the Transportation Commission took up the tolling topic last week (you also can see here in PDF; a second deck with analysis is here). As noted on its timeline slide, two major “public outreach” opportunities are planned next year – April through June, after “toll scenario results” are presented, and then a public hearing after the rates are proposed in July.
If you have something you want to say now, here’s how to comment to the commission.
If you or a group you’re involved with is working on advocacy, Kathy and others would like to know – please comment (or e-mail email@example.com and we’ll add to the story).
P.S. If you’re wondering who’s on the commission that will make the decision – here’s that list.
(WSDOT photo: Southbound tunnel portal near the stadium zone, photographed 2 weeks ago, shared to WSB Flickr group)
Though the Highway 99 tunnel is a little over a year from replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the tolls aren’t set yet – though the $1 vicinity was recommended almost four years ago. So what will they be? The next step toward decisions is set for next week, when the state Transportation Commission meets in Olympia, with the agenda for its two-day meeting including:
On December 12, the Washington State Department of Transportation Toll Division will present initial traffic and toll revenue projections for the tunnel replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct portion of SR 99. The Washington State Legislature has directed that tolls raise $200 million toward project construction costs over time. Although the commission will not adopt toll rates until fall 2018, the data will be used to determine how toll rates will vary by time of day to manage congestion on the facility and impacts on surface streets.
You can see the full agenda here. The full meeting announcement notes that the tunnel toll rates are not expected to be finalized until fall of next year. (If you follow the link, you’ll see the two-day meeting includes some other hot topics, including the pilot project for a road-usage charge, and getting ready for “self-driving” vehicles.)
In case you haven’t already seen it – with the planned opening of the Alaskan Way Viaduct-replacing tunnel getting closer all the time (still estimated for early 2019), WSDOT has put together a two-minute video featuring a drone’s-eye view of what it looks like inside right now. It’s been six and a half months since the tunneling machine finished its part of the job. A short WSDOT update accompanying the video says the tunnel’s upper deck is 85 percent complete. For a more-detailed progress report, go here. And if you’ve forgotten details such as “how do you get from West Seattle to downtown once the tunnel opens,” this might help.
Back on Monday, we reported that WSDOT was launching (and advertising) an info campaign about the Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition that’ll start after the Highway 99 tunnel opens, expected in early 2019. As part of it, an “online open house” was set to go live today. While it wasn’t ready when we looked this morning, it is now. Go here to check it out, including some of the side topics that have been discussed here, including the transitional tunnel-to-Viaduct plan, and what happens to the Battery Street Tunnel. The last page of the “open house” site includes a chance to comment – and remember there’s also an in-person open house downtown a week from tonight (drop in 5-8 pm Thursday, August 10th, 1400 Western Ave.).
Though the Highway 99 tunnel is still about a year and a half from opening, WSDOT is ready to talk about what happens once it’s open – the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Published on the AWV website today:
With tunnel boring complete, we’re deep in the planning stages for demolition of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct. On Thursday, we’ll launch an online open house to show what’s ahead and give the public a chance to comment on the work to come.
Removing the seismically vulnerable viaduct will be the most visible change to Seattle’s waterfront in decades. The demolition work begins after the new State Route 99 tunnel opens, which is estimated for early 2019.
WSDOT has successfully completed this type of work before. In 2011, we demolished the viaduct’s southern mile and built a new road in its place. However, the remaining section of the viaduct is more challenging, as it is much closer to buildings, businesses, homes and the busy Colman Dock ferry terminal.
Demolition is expected to take up to nine months, with the viaduct being demolished in sections to minimize localized disruptions. This contract will also involve other project elements, like filling in the Battery Street Tunnel and reconnecting several surface streets across Aurora Avenue North, which will take additional time.
Several weeks before the new tunnel opens, WSDOT will shift Alaskan Way to the west of the viaduct, which will allow traffic to move along the waterfront before and during viaduct demolition. This new video below explains some of the planning for the demolition.
Online open house
The online open house will be live from August 3 – 14.
In-person open house
WSDOT is also hosting an in-person open house on August 10 for anyone interested in the work or who wants to speak with project staff. Representatives from Waterfront Seattle, Center City Connector Streetcar, Colman Dock, King County Metro and One Center City will also be available to answer questions.
Date: Thursday, August 10
Time: 5 to 8 p.m. (walk-in style, no formal presentation)
Where: Waterfront Seattle, 1400 Western Avenue
We’ll publish a reminder Thursday when the “online open house” is ready to go.
(Note: WSDOT is advertising the open houses on WSB right now to help get the word out.)
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 …” Read More
It’s been a month and a half since the Highway 99 tunneling machine finished digging. Besides roadbuilding and other work underground, the task of breaking the machine into pieces continues. Here’s the latest from WSDOT.
In the disassembly pit near Seattle Center, work is continuing around the clock – cutting, lifting and removing heavy pieces of the SR 99 tunneling machine. As of yesterday, eight small spokes and the bulk of five larger spokes have been taken out of the disassembly pit. More than 50 percent of the iconic cutterhead has now been removed.
Crews are also working inside the tunnel to remove the tunneling machine and other pieces of the tunneling operation no longer needed now that the tunneling portion is complete. Seattle Tunnel Partners is removing conveyor system components which had been used to carry the dirt underneath Seattle out to waiting barges. Temporary utilities, hydraulic lines and hoses are also coming out. And STP has started disassembling the back end of the trailing cars that carried all the equipment for tunnel-building. In all, eight thousand tons of equipment will eventually be removed from Seattle’s new tunnel to clear the path for building the rest of the double-deck road inside.
See five more photos accompanying this update on the WSDOT website. The most-recent schedule projects that the tunnel should open to traffic in early 2019, with demolition of what remains of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to follow.
Not far from the most recognizable above-ground Seattle icon, the Highway 99 tunneling machine finished its 9,270-foot journey under watchful eyes this morning, as shown in our as-it-happened report earlier.
Photojournalist Christopher Boffoli was there for WSB and put together these video highlights:
If you noticed the drone – that was operated by WSDOT, which has since published this minute-long highlight reel:
So – now what? First: The tunneling machine, which arrived in pieces four years ago, will be taken away in pieces. After the cutterhead’s appearance this morning, removal of the braces began.
WSDOT elaborates on what’s ahead:
STP will disassemble the machine by cutting it into pieces. The pieces will be removed from the pit by crane and placed on trucks. Due to roadway restrictions, each truckload will weigh no more than 20 tons.
Some pieces of the machine may be reused on other tunneling projects, while others will be recycled. Because the machine is so large, removing it will likely take several months.
And then there’s a lot of work to be done inside the tunnel – digging it, and “building rings” along the way, was just the groundwork. This WSDOT post goes into details of what happens inside, from road-building to systems installation to testing and commissioning.
Once the tunnel is tied into the surface network, as recapped in the Viaduct/Tunnel FAQ (and discussed in WSB comments), here’s how Highway 99 is planned to connect to the south end of downtown:
Outside the tunnel, other matters remain unsettled. A big one: How much will the toll be? $1-vicinity recommendations were made three years ago. The Washington State Transportation Commission is charged with determining the final toll but there’s no date set for a vote yet. And of course you’ve heard a lot about court fights over cost overruns, mentioned again today in Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom‘s look at what’s ahead. (Asked today about the cost overruns, Gov. Inslee said, ““There will be other days to talk about paying for this. We know that our State is going to be insistent that the contractor be financially responsible for the project. We have to get that resolved. I know that will be resolved. And I think there is reason for confidence that the State is going to be held harmless here.” Mayor Murray, asked about a legislator’s proposal to require the city to cover those costs, said today, ” I know we have our annual ‘Let’s bash Seattle’ down in Olympia every legislative session. But again it is a State project and the State will make sure it gets paid. And we will pay for the brand new park that will knit Seattle back to its waterfront.”)
Once the tunnel is open – that clears the way for the remainder of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which opened 64 years ago today, to be torn down. It’s been more than five years since the south mile was demolished.
11:06 AM: Now that WSDOT says Bertha the tunneling machine is in the final foot before breakthrough, we are going to do what everybody else is doing and put up the live stream. What we’re hearing from those on scene: It’s dusty. Very dusty. More to come. (And if you just want to check back later to see how it all came out, so to speak, Christopher Boffoli is there for WSB and we’ll have pics from him.) If you use Twitter, watching tweets with the hashtag #BerthaBreakthrough is a mix of commentary, observations, humor, and memories (WSDOT notes that today is the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s 64th birthday).
11:28 AM: Christopher sends this view of what it looks like where he and other media are right now.
The site was opened to media about two hours ago. And now as we type this – it just happened:
The cutterhead is visible #BerthaBreakthrough
— Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99) April 4, 2017
11:35 AM: Pic from Christopher at the pit:
WSDOT has said it’ll take “weeks” before the machine is in its final position in the pit, to be broken down and hauled away in pieces … which is how it arrived, four years ago, via ship from Japan.
12:07 PM: Just in from Christopher, a new, clear view as the cutterhead continues its slow breakthrough:
And here’s the official news release just sent by WSDOT:
A year ago, SR 99 tunnel crews were about to face their biggest challenge: a trip beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct they were working to replace. Today, with the viaduct and more than 9,270 feet of new tunnel safely behind them, there was nothing left to face but daylight as the SR 99 tunneling machine chewed its way into a pit near Seattle Center.
Bertha’s 1.7-mile drive beneath Seattle came to a successful end Tuesday afternoon, 64 years to the day since the viaduct first opened to traffic. Led by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and designed and built by contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, the tunnel project will move a two-mile section of SR 99 underground when it wraps up in early 2019. Crews will then demolish the viaduct, clearing the way for the city’s new waterfront.
“This is a historic moment in our state’s transportation history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Innovation and perseverance are the engines that keep Washington in the forefront. There is still more work ahead but this moment is one worth celebrating.”
Crews will spend the next several days removing steel support braces that stand between Bertha and the interior of the 90-foot-deep disassembly pit. When the braces are gone, crews will drive the machine into its final position and begin cutting it into pieces for removal. As owner of the machine, the contractor will determine which pieces could be salvaged for use on other projects or recycled.
“We were always confident that we would successfully complete the tunnel drive,” Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon said. “The dedication and commitment of everyone on the Seattle Tunnel Partners team has been exceptional, and we wouldn’t be at this milestone without the hard work of our crews. We look forward to continuing this outstanding progress through project completion.”
STP still has significant work to complete before the tunnel opens. Crews must finish building the double-deck highway within the circular walls that were built by crews inside the tunneling machine. Mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing and safety features also must be installed.
Even as crews are installing these systems, crews will begin the extensive task of testing and commissioning the tunnel to ensure it’s ready for traffic. Inspectors will individually test more than 8,500 separate components before testing each of the tunnel’s various systems as a whole.
“This truly is a remarkable feat of engineering,” Transportation Secretary Roger Millar said. “There’s still work to be done, but the individuals working on this job should be proud of this accomplishment.”
Over the next several years, the City of Seattle’s Waterfront Seattle project will build new public space and a surface boulevard in the place of the double-deck viaduct, which is scheduled for demolition in 2019.
“Today is a major construction milestone in our plan to reclaim Seattle’s waterfront,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said. “We are one step closer to taking down the viaduct to make way for a reimagined waterfront and surrounding downtown neighborhood. We will build a waterfront for pedestrians, transit and sensible car trips without a freeway wall casting a shadow over our vision of a well-connected 21st century city.”
King County Metro will continue to rely on SR 99 to route buses to Seattle after the tunnel opens, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“The new tunnel will provide fast, reliable travel for transit and freight past downtown traffic, and reunite the city with its waterfront,” said Constantine. “The breakthrough highlights what we can accomplish when we think big, act boldly, and embrace the ‘can-do’ tradition of our region.”
Port of Seattle Commission Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said the tunnel will work with the new waterfront surface street to accommodate freight traffic.
“This Alaskan Way route is essential to a strong port and linking our industrial lands between SODO and Ballard,” Gregoire said. “Strong, vibrant transportation connections are essential to keep our economy growing and creating middle-class jobs.”
Background on tunneling machine repairs
Manufactured in Japan by Hitachi Zosen Corp., Bertha arrived in Seattle in April 2013. The machine was launched from a pit near the stadiums in July of that year. In December 2013, STP stopped mining after measuring increased temperatures in the machine.
After an investigation, STP discovered damage to the machine’s main bearing. Crews completed repairs and resumed mining in December 2015. The cause of damage to the tunneling machine is in dispute and is currently in litigation. Neither WSDOT nor STP is able to comment further on ongoing legal issues.
1:37 PM: Just in case you were wondering, the machine’s movement is done for the day, by the way, Christopher and other media at the scene were told.
4:08 PM: Pending our “what’s next” second wrapup later today, here’s Christopher’s video of highlights from the breakthrough and the comments afterward, including the governor, mayor, county executive, and others:
More later. WSDOT, meantime, says the livestream camera will be up until 9 tomorrow morning.
Four years and two days after the Highway 99 tunneling machine arrived in Seattle, in pieces, after a trans-Pacific trip from Japan, it’s scheduled to finish its part of the tunnel-building job tomorrow. WSDOT announced this afternoon that the machine is on the brink of “breakthrough”:
Crews will spend this evening making final preparations. Then, early tomorrow, the massive machine will begin mining through the wall and into the pit where it will be disassembled. Machine operators will proceed slowly through the wall, so it may take several hours for the cutterhead to emerge.
And even once it does, it won’t be done, as WSDOT’s update explains – “it will be weeks until the machine is in its final position in the disassembly pit.” Then, it will be broken apart to be removed from the pit. Live-stream and time-lapse cameras are already embedded on the “Follow Bertha” page, since the public isn’t allowed at the construction site to watch in person. The latest advisory from WSDOT suggests this will happen no sooner than midmorning, but timing is subject to change – the project Twitter account is a good place to watch for updates (and we’ll be tracking it here on WSB too).
Breakthrough will come on the north side of downtown, at the end of a 9,270-foot tunnel route along which there’s still road-building and other work to be done before the tunnel’s projected opening in early 2019 (here’s the newest progress report).
(April 2, 2013, WSB photo by Nick Adams)
SUNDAY NIGHT: If you’re on Highway 99 tunnel watch – the tunneling machine is now down to a double-digit distance, 89 feet as of this morning. WSDOT still is not officially predicting what day will bring the “Bertha breakthrough,” but at this rate (it’s gone 38 feet since Friday), it’s likely to be this week. They’ve said that it will happen in two phases – the machine will reach the wall of the disassembly pit and stop, while WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners explain what happens next. Then, likely on the following day, the machine will be set into motion for a several-hours-long breakthrough process. They continue to promise a live camera will be available, since the pit is in a construction zone and a public viewing area isn’t feasible.
P.S. Checking the archives, we note that today is the 4th anniversary of the tunneling machine’s arrival via ship from Japan.
MONDAY AFTERNOON: So much news today that we haven’t had time to publish an update yet, but WSDOT is expecting breakthrough sometime Tuesday – here’s the latest; full update a bit later.
If the Highway 99 tunneling machine keeps digging at the same pace of the past few days – 61 feet between yesterday’s update and today’s update, and 127 feet to go – next week could bring the breakthrough. Just a reminder that WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners are NOT opening the site for the public to watch it happen, but they’re working on some kind of a live feed. Once the machine gets to the end of the line, it will be broken into pieces, which is why they’re calling what you see above “the disassembly pit.”
We’ve been watching the Highway 99 tunneling-machine update page, now that “Bertha” is getting close to breakthrough, and just noticed that today’s update says 219 feet to go – same as yesterday. WSDOT explains via Twitter that “(Seattle Tunnel Partners) is wrapping up routine maintenance and plans to resume mining tomorrow.” So for those who speculated breakthrough might happen this week – highly unlikely.