West Seattle, Washington
11:55 AM: We’ve just left the downtown waterfront, where media reps were invited to an update and Q&A with city, county (Metro and Water Taxi), and state transportation reps on the first weekday since the big announcement that the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunneling-related closure will start April 29th. We recorded it all on video that we’ll add here when uploaded (12:54 pm update – here it is):
(Also), here are a few toplines beyond what we and others already have reported:
*Extra Water Taxi parking: The biggest added temporary lot off Harbor Avenue will be Pier 2, with its entry across from the 7-11 in the 2400 block of Harbor and room for 200+ cars. It will be open for vehicle entry/exit 5:45 am-9:15 am weekday mornings and 4 pm-7:15 pm afternoon/evenings – it’s a secured lot so at midday, it’ll be closed and you won’t be able to get to your vehicle, so it’s not a good choice unless you are headed out for a full workday. It’s also expected that 120 cars will be able to park along Harbor south of Seacrest, on the water side, because of temporary overnight parking restrictions. And about 40 spaces will be available on the SW Bronson Way street end south of Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor).
*Larger Water Taxi shuttles: In addition to a special shuttle that will run continuously during those hours between the Pier 2 parking lot and Seacrest, the WT shuttle buses on routes 773 and 775 will be upsized to 39-passenger buses.
*Speaking of Water Taxi shuttles: A commenter had asked why the Morgan Junction leg of the route is only at midday. The King County Marine Division says that’s the only time of day they can run it because of the gap between Water Taxi runs from Seacrest.
*Special Viaduct-closure-related brochure with West Seattle Water Taxi-specific info: See it here.
*In case more buses are needed: Metro will have 11 more buses with 22 scheduled operator shifts, and a potential of 135 added hours, depending on how things go.
*UberHop: This new vanpool-type alternative will have a pickup/dropoff point at Don Armeni Boat Ramp, the county says.
*The biggest message: Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. And if you possibly can shift out of commuting during the usual peak hours – via a temporary schedule change, working from home, whatever – please do. And even if the first day doesn’t seem so bad (it won’t, because people really will try something different), don’t just go back to your old ways on day 2 or day 3. They’re continuing to promote 99closure.org as the multi-agency with info you need to plan, now and when the closure’s under way.
We also asked the SDOT rep why, now that the date is set for this, they aren’t considering delaying the Fauntleroy Expressway-related bridge and lane closures until the Viaduct closure is over. SDOT’s rep first said they didn’t think there would be a problem because the bridge closures are at night only. We noted that the surface Spokane St. lane closures UNDER the west end of the bridge include some daytime work and he said he would “take that back” (to HQ) for consideration.
12:54 PM: Video of the briefing/Q&A, unedited, is now added toward the start of this story. As the closure approaches, we’ll continue with previews and updates, and if you have questions, we’ll do our best to get and publish the answers.
Still no date set for the ~2-week Alaskan Way Viaduct closure that’s planned when the Highway 99 tunneling machine goes beneath it. But WSDOT is continuing to make presentations about the preparations. Monday morning, the slide deck you see above will be part of a briefing given to the City Council. Nothing major or new in it, but it includes graphics showing bus rerouting plans as well as extra parking for West Seattle Water Taxi riders. In the slide deck, you’ll again see the promise that advance notice of the closure will be provided; this past Wednesday in West Seattle, WSDOT reps were at the Southwest District Council meeting to talk about closure preps, and they reiterated the intent for two weeks’ warning. If that holds true, it means we’re getting closer to having the closure in May. SWDC members expressed concern that the closure would slide into the summer months, pointing out how busy Harbor Avenue gets on summer nights even without potentially hundreds of commuters returning to their vehicles. Monday’s scheduled briefers are Todd Trepanier and Dave Sowers from WSDOT; SDOT director Scott Kubly; and Victor Obeso from King County Metro. The council briefing meeting starts at 9:30 am Monday, and this is on the agenda for 10:25 am; you can watch live via Seattle Channel, cable 21 or seattlechannel.org.
Nine days after the last Highway 99 tunnel-machine update, WSDOT just published another one – but it still doesn’t answer the big question of when the Alaskan Way Viaduct will close so the machine can tunnel beneath it. The update goes into great detail about how crews are working in “hyperbaric” conditions, and includes this :34 video:
WSDOT has said it hopes to provide two weeks advance notice of the two-weeks-or-so closure, so at this point it would seem unlikely to start before mid-April. The state is continuing to add info to its special closure-info website at 99closure.org.
Today’s update also included a note that results of the March Viaduct inspection are available:
Survey crews measured approximately 5/16 of an inch of settlement near Seneca Street and between 1/8 and 1/4 inch of settlement at the Columbia Street on-ramp. Crews also observed upward movement of up to 1 inch at some locations at the south end of the structure. This upward movement is uniform in nature. No new cracking or structural damage was found.
That’s the entirety of the update published here.
(WSDOT photo from last week – workers walking toward the tunneling machine’s back end)
Another update this afternoon on the Highway 99 tunnel project, currently in a “maintenance stop” getting ready to tunnel beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which WSDOT plans to close for about two weeks when that happens.
No date yet but WSDOT’s update says they’re getting closer:
Inspections and routine maintenance of the SR 99 tunneling machine are ongoing as Seattle Tunnel Partners continues preparing the machine for its drive beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Crews have been performing planned maintenance since the machine reached a maintenance stop earlier this month. They’ve also been preparing for a series of inspections that must occur in hyperbaric conditions. Hyperbaric conditions are those in which the air pressure is greater than the atmosphere we live and breathe in every day – similar to what scuba divers experience during the course of an underwater dive. This post explains the process for completing hyperbaric work.
So far this week, STP crews have completed a total of 10 hyperbaric shifts in the chamber behind the tunneling machine’s cutterhead. Most of that time has been devoted to cleaning muck from the cutterhead openings and building the platforms crews will stand on as they perform the inspections.
The inspections are expected to take several more days. STP will determine the expected duration of the remaining maintenance based on the results of the inspections.
The end of the maintenance period will usher in the next step in Bertha’s journey: a trip beneath the viaduct. WSDOT plans to close the viaduct for approximately two weeks to allow the machine to pass beneath the structure.
We will provide the public with advance notice of the closure, but the start date isn’t yet known. It will depend on the amount of work that must be completed while the machine is in the maintenance stop. Check 99closure.org for additional details as the closure approaches.
Local transportation and transit agencies have not yet formally announced their plans for what’ll change to help mobility during the Viaduct closure, but some tentative plans were previewed at last month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting – here’s our coverage.
Another Highway 99 tunnel update from WSDOT this afternoon. This time, the state has told its contractor, according to the update, “that they could continue mining to a planned maintenance stop near Yesler Way. The notification came as STP completed the 25-ring demonstration period that was put in place when mining resumed on Feb. 23. The underground maintenance stop is approximately 120 feet north of the tunneling machine’s current location near South Washington Street. The machine has traveled a total of 1,437 feet and the bored section of the SR 99 tunnel is now 15 percent complete.” That maintenance stop is where, WSDOT says, the machine could undergo “several weeks” of work before it gets ready to tunnel beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which will be closed for about two weeks as a precaution while the machine is beneath it.
In case you missed our coverage, WSDOT reps briefed the West Seattle Transportation Coalition on the closure plan last month; they expect to set a closure date with about two weeks’ warning.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Now that the Highway 99 tunneling machine is back at work, planning is back in high gear for closing the Alaskan Way Viaduct for about two weeks while the digging happens beneath it.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition got a preview of the plan – including Metro bus reroutes – last night.
The preview included details such as how close the tunneling machine will be to the underside of The Viaduct’s columns (within 14 feet at one point). If it continues operating as planned from hereon out, the closure is likely to start sometime in March, and WSDOT hopes to set a date with about two weeks notice.
“We do understand it’s going to have regional impacts and businesses and travelers are going to need notice,” said Chris Brown of WSDOT, one of the two main briefers along with, providing Metro details, Chris Arkills, the West Seattleite who is County Executive Dow Constantine‘s transportation adviser.
Everything they said – and everything WSTC members/attendees asked – is all in our video atop this story, one hour and 15 minutes worth. You can listen instead of watching, as there are no visuals – no projector. Brown began with some backstory on the project – we’ve reported on that so often, we’re not recapping it here, but he explored a few points that we do mention after the closure-related info – keep reading!
ORIGINAL REPORT, 12:47 PM TUESDAY: Just in from WSDOT – it’s “conditionally lifted” the suspension order for its Highway 99 tunnel contractor, and the tunneling machine is digging again. Here’s the announcement:
Seattle Tunnel Partners has received conditional permission to resume tunneling operations on the SR 99 Tunnel Project. STP resumed mining today after WSDOT conditionally lifted the “suspension for cause” that halted mining and barging-related activities last month following two safety incidents.
As part of the conditions for lifting the suspension for cause, STP will be permitted to tunnel forward and install approximately 25 concrete tunnel rings. During this time, they must demonstrate that they have implemented a number of changes to ensure they can safely continue mining. These changes include:
Updated tunnel work and quality plans, including calculations of the amount of soil removed during excavation of each tunnel ring.
Realignment of key personnel within their quality assurance program.
New quality assurance protocols.
New personnel at key positions within the tunneling operation.
Restructured daily tunneling meetings that include additional participants and protocols.
WSDOT made the decision to conditionally lift the suspension for cause after its team of tunneling experts evaluated documentation submitted by STP over the past several weeks. While mining can resume, barging activities are still restricted pending submittal of additional documentation.
After three weeks of tunnel-machine stopdown, still no restart plan, but WSDOT is just out with another project update, saying that work is about to start to fix pier damage done in the process of barging what was being dug out. Also: No new sinking – instead, some “upward movement”:
Seattle Tunnel Partners is set to repair damage that occurred at Terminal 46 during the Jan. 12 barging incident. STP will remove 22 damaged timber piles from the pier at the northern edge of Terminal 46 and replace them with temporary piles. Work is expected to begin in the coming days and could take up to 10 days to complete, according to STP.
WSDOT and STP continue to work together to address the “suspension for cause” that halted tunneling and barging operations on Jan. 14. STP crews are prepared to remove excavated soil by truck if tunneling resumes before the pier at Terminal 46 is repaired.
You can watch the pier repairs unfold on our construction camera. The labels on the image (above) call out some of the key elements you’ll see in the regularly updated time-lapse images.
Ground monitoring update
It’s been approximately two weeks since Seattle Tunnel Partners turned off the deep dewatering wells that were used to control groundwater near the access pit. There was some upward ground movement in the days following the shut-off, but the movement quickly stabilized. The degree of movement tapers off over several city blocks and is uniform in nature, which poses little to no risk of damage to the Alaskan Way Viaduct or buildings.
Some ground survey points in the vicinity of the pit show as much as 3/5 inch of upward movement since Jan. 22 when STP began turning off the wells. Some of the Alaskan Way Viaduct columns and buildings show similar movement.
STP had additional, shallower dewatering wells in operation during the tunneling machine repair effort. They turned off the final two shallow wells on Thursday evening. STP and WSDOT continue to monitor the ground, buildings, utilities and the viaduct.
When the digging stopped last month, WSDOT says, 1,280 feet of tunneling was complete, of the expected 9,270 feet.
Two weeks after WSDOT told its Highway 99 tunnel contractor to stop digging, it’s still not ready to give the green light for digging to resume, according to this update late today:
Last week, Seattle Tunnel Partners submitted their analysis of recent incidents on the SR 99 Tunnel Project. WSDOT and their tunnel experts determined STP’s analysis did not sufficiently address the cause of these incidents or specify how they would prevent them from occurring in the future.
(WSDOT graphic from January 13th)
WSDOT has notified the contractor that in order to lift the suspension for cause, STP must confirm that:
· The tunneling machine is operating as intended and meets the design-build contract’s technical requirements.
· All necessary training for staff on the tunneling machine is complete.
· The tunneling work plan is updated to address the issues that led to the sinkhole.
· Processes are in place to ensure STP’s tunneling work plan is followed.
· STP updates its quality program to ensure key quality program managers are involved in all tunneling activities.
It is STP’s responsibility to determine how to address these issues and ensure they are in compliance with the technical requirements of the contract. This section of the tunnel drive was designed to be a test section for operation of the tunneling machine. With approximately 250 feet of tunneling prior to reaching the next planned maintenance stop, demonstration of these steps is critical.
No indication of exactly how this is affecting the schedule aside from obviously pushing it back at least two weeks – including the expected Viaduct closure when the tunnel machine goes beneath it, previously expected to happen in March.
Just in, an update from WSDOT, following up on its order last week telling its contractor to stop Highway 99 tunneling because of recent incidents including a sinkhole and trouble with the barge that was receiving excavated material:
Last week, WSDOT notified Seattle Tunnel Partners that they must “suspend for cause” tunneling operations involving the tunneling machine and the loading of barges. WSDOT took this step to ensure STP’s work can proceed safely following recent incidents on the SR 99 Tunnel Project. Safety remains the top priority for the project and we can’t speculate on when tunneling will resume.
In response to the suspension for cause, STP has informed WSDOT they are analyzing the recent incidents and intend to provide follow-up information this week. WSDOT, in consultation with its tunneling experts, will then review the information and determine the appropriate next steps.
STP has notified WSDOT they plan to sequentially turn off the deep dewatering wells soon. These wells, which have been used to control groundwater, were previously scheduled to be shut off when the tunneling machine reaches the next planned maintenance stop. With tunneling operations currently on hold, STP has determined that there is an opportunity to turn off the wells earlier than planned. We will continue to monitor movement of the ground, structures, utilities and the viaduct. Additional information about our ground monitoring program can be found here.
WSDOT has been warning about lane closures on Highway 99 north of downtown for a long time – and now, they’re about to start. Just so everyone’s clear, they start tomorrow night, so they will not affect the Monday commutes (which will be lighter than usual anyway, because of the holiday). Here’s the latest info from WSDOT:
Drivers and bus riders should anticipate longer-than-normal commutes as construction crews reduce each direction of State Route 99/Aurora Avenue North by one lane between the Aurora Bridge and just north of Mercer Street. The median lanes in each direction will close for four to five weeks starting 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18.
*Beginning 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, a single median lane will be closed in each direction of SR 99/Aurora Avenue North between the Aurora Bridge and just north of Mercer Street
*Lane closures will remain in place for four to five weeks, until mid-February
*An additional lane in each direction will close at night and during several weekends including Jan. 23-24
During the first phase of this two-phase project, when the median lanes are closed, the southbound bus-only lane will open to all traffic. Drivers should use caution since buses will travel – and stop – in the lane with other vehicle traffic.
Contractor crews working for the Washington State Department of Transportation need access to the median lanes to build four large sign foundations for the future SR 99 tunnel.
WSDOT encourages drivers and bus riders to plan ahead as additional congestion is expected on Aurora Avenue North. Consider alternative travel modes such as ride-sharing or carpooling, or traveling in off-peak times. Keep informed by using King County Metro’s rider alerts or trip planning tools as well as WSDOT’s travel tools and SDOT’s traveler information page.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 12:13 PM: Just in from WSDOT:
The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program (WSDOT) is in the process of notifying Seattle Tunnel Partners to suspend tunneling operations involving the tunnel boring machine, a “Suspension for Cause” in contractual terms, until such time as WSDOT lifts the suspension in writing. We will provide a copy of the letter after it is delivered to STP.
The following is a statement from Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson:
“In light of recent incidents on the SR 99 Tunnel Project, WSDOT is notifying the contractor that they must suspend tunneling work for cause. I share the Governor’s concern for public safety and we want to ensure that the contractor has the right protocols in place to proceed with their work safely.
We are asking that the contractor complete root cause analysis and take the appropriate steps to ensure that incidents, such as the sinkhole near the repair pit, do not occur again. STP will not be allowed to resume tunneling until their analysis and work plans meet the satisfaction of our experts.
I want to remind everyone that replacing the viaduct is critical to public safety. We have conducted surveys of the viaduct and no movement has been observed; surveys will continue. The tunneling work must proceed, but it must proceed safely.”
This week alone, besides the 35′ x 20′ x 15′ sinkhole, there also was trouble with the barge being used for excavation spoils. WSDOT stresses, however, that other work – such as the Highway 99 lane closures starting next week for tunnel-related sign installation – goes on. More as we get it. Per WSDOT’s “Follow Bertha” page, as of Tuesday, 1,280 feet of tunneling had been completed, of 9,270 feet in all.
P.S. Checking our archives – available via Google cache until our full site is up – we note that yesterday was the seventh anniversary of the announcement by then-Gov. Gregoire, then-Mayor Nickels, and then-County Executive Sims that a deep-bore tunnel had been chosen to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
4:02 PM UPDATE: As promised, WSDOT has made public the letter sent to Seattle Tunnel Partners. You can read it in its entirety here. Here’s what’s at the heart of it:
WSDOT has determined that STP has failed to correct conditions unsafe for the Project personnel or general public, and failed to comply with Governmental Approvals, Law, or otherwise carry out the requirements of the Contract Documents. Therefore, WSDOT has the authority to suspend work for cause, pursuant to Contract Sections 14.2 (a) and 14.2(b) and Technical Requirements Section 184.108.40.206.5.
On the night of January 12, 2016, a sinkhole was detected over the tunnel. The full extent of ground loss is not yet determined and settlement is increasing. STP has yet to provide a detailed analysis of the cause of the observed ground settlement, or a plan for modifying tunneling operations to ensure positive ground control at all stages of tunneling (TR 2.32), and to prevent settlement outside of tolerance in the future (see TR 2.52).
On Tuesday January 12, 201 6, STP’s barge filling operation resulted in a barge listing beyond STP’s control. As a result the barge was either let go or broke free from the pier, spilling tunnel spoils into Elliott Bay, and drifted out of control damaging both Terminal 46 and Pier 48. These events created an unpermitted spill of material and posed a hazard to project personnel and the public.
WSDOT requests a meeting with STP within 24 hours to address this matter.
4:10 PM: More news today from WSDOT, the day after the Highway 99 tunneling machine had to stop while they sorted out a problem with the barge that was collecting excavation spoils. The barge problem isn’t fixed yet, but they brought in some trucks, and digging resumed. Then came a sinkhole. Here’s the WSDOT update sent this afternoon:
Seattle Tunnel Partners resumed mining Tuesday evening, using trucks to remove excavated material while they continued working to resolve an issue with a soil-removal barge. STP crews resumed excavation at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Approximately two hours later, a sinkhole developed within STP’s work zone near South Main Street, about 35 feet north of the access pit. It is located more than 100 feet south of the cutterhead’s current location, in ground that crews mined through last week. STP filled the sinkhole overnight with 250 cubic yards of concrete.
This section of the tunnel drive is protected by an underground wall built by STP before tunneling. The wall was designed to isolate ground movement and protect the nearby Alaskan Way Viaduct. A manual survey of the viaduct conducted after the sinkhole developed found no movement. WSDOT and STP will continue surveying and monitoring the ground, viaduct, utilities and other structures.
The cause of the sinkhole is still under investigation. STP is analyzing the portion of the tunnel that crews have excavated since mining resumed. There is no indication that any other locations have experienced ground loss.
STP is reviewing their daily operations as a result of this incident. Immediately they will enhance monitoring protocols by requiring crews to manually verify the amount of soil removed during excavation of each ring.
The protocols STP outlined to enhance monitoring were used in the first 1,000 feet of tunneling and WSDOT is disappointed they were not used when STP restarted tunneling in December 2015. STP has several hundred feet of mining before they reach the next planned maintenance stop. Before leaving the maintenance stop, STP’s operational protocols will undergo an additional review by an expert to assure public safety.
STP has temporarily stopped mining to prepare the muck storage pit to receive excavated material. They plan to resume tunneling this week using trucks to remove excavated material. …
Safety remains our top priority as we work to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct. We expect STP to further investigate this incident and take the appropriate corrective action as they continue to build this important project.
ADDED 6:31 PM: We asked WSDOT’s project spokesperson Laura Newborn about the sinkhole’s size: “According to Chris Dixon, the dimensions of the sinkhole were 35 feet long, 20 feet wide and 15 feet deep.”
(looking through the aquarium’s front hall, back at the crowd gathering to watch)
ORIGINAL 2 PM REPORT: We’re at the Seattle Aquarium along with a few hundred political, business and community leaders to watch Governor Gregoire sign the Alaskan Way Viaduct deep-bored tunnel bill into law. The event’s scheduled to start in a few minutes; West Seattle-residing political leaders scheduled to be here include King County Council Chair Dow Constantine (who we’ve already seen) and Mayor Nickels; political theater outside included anti-tunnel mayoral challenger Michael McGinn talking with reporters, calling this a multibillion-dollar boondoggle and saying it’s not too late for the city to pull out. More as it happens.
2:23 PM UPDATE: The speeches are under way before the actual signing. After the mayor spoke (iPhone photo above), the governor said it took “guts” for legislators to approve this. To those who say it can’t be done, she said bluntly — “Watch us.” She opened by declaring, the era of The Viaduct “is over.” For emphasis, she repeated it: “It’s over. It’s over.” And she went on to say it would have been hard to anticipate a year ago that this history-making day would arrive. She stood at a podium next to the aquarium’s fish-filled wall, with about 20 political leaders surrounding her, and acknowledged many others, including members of the Stakeholders’ Advisory Committee who reviewed options over more than a year (though ultimately, their process ended with a recommendation different than the one proceeding now, West Seattle’s SAC reps Vlad Oustimovitch and Pete Spalding both support the deep-bored tunnel).
(WSB video of the bill-signing, added 2:46 pm)
2:31 PM UPDATE: The governor just signed SB 5768 – the tunnel bill – into law. A long round of applause followed. Everyone here has just been invited to a champagne reception – as for us, we’re catching the 3:20 King County Water Taxi back to West Seattle. Looks like more bill signings are ensuing here at the Aquarium as well. Meantime, the state hopes to start building the tunnel next year – to finish it in 2015 – and to keep The Viaduct up, as long as it’s deemed safe, until after the tunnel opens, at which time it would be torn down.
3:02 PM UPDATE: Official statement from Council Chair Constantine, just e-mailed (note he’s in our video):
“I was honored to join Governor Chris Gregoire for today’s signing of Senate Bill 5768, the legislation to fund the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel and surface roadway improvements.
“First, I think we have crafted a creative solution to a longstanding problem. A new elevated freeway would not have been an acceptable solution. I am glad we have moved beyond the antiquated practice of forcing freeways through cities. The Alaskan Way Viaduct has long been an ugly, noisy wall separating downtown from the waterfront. Its removal is a first, necessary step in reconnecting our central city.
“Secondly, I am proud to have been involved in helping to negotiate this solution. I made many trips to Olympia over the last year to meet with Governor Gregoire, former County Executive Ron Sims, Mayor Greg Nickels and legislative leaders as part of the Viaduct Oversight Committee. The deep-bore tunnel and a surface boulevard—combined with improvements to the Spokane Street Viaduct and the creation of a new stadium interchange for State Route 99—will maintain access for West Seattle and South King County residents to and through downtown Seattle. And, critically, because the tunnel will not share the alignment of the old viaduct structure, we also have the opportunity to maintain traffic on the SR 99 corridor during construction.
“I support this solution and will work to implement it.
“The challenge to Seattle and King County is to provide the other surface and transit improvements needed to make local transportation work. We now must consider how this work will be funded, how quickly it can be implemented, and how we will be able to sustain the needed transit service in the future.”
Adding one other clip from the event – the governor’s message to tunnel skeptics – may still be processing so please be patient:
One such skeptic, mayoral candidate Michael McGinn – we talked with him outside the event – will add that later.