Should we continue with Bertha?

Here’s what we know so far about the SR-99 tunnelling project:

Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry analysed traffic data from the Alaskan way viaduct and noted this precipitous drop. Image from Sightline. Click for more information.

  1. Bertha, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) has been more or less completely blocked since early December.
  2. The TBM was damaged in part by a metal pipe WSDOT installed to study this tunnel project’s feasibility.[1]
  3. The tunneling won’t start again until the end of the summer, with the tunnelling contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) hoping it will begin by Sept. 1st at the earliest.
  4. The TBM had problems early on, during testing after construction in Japan.
  5. Internal reports from the STP and WSDOT show that there are more problems with coordination and oversight. It also shows that the tunnelling was never on track, even before the current stoppage.

Here’s what we know about the traffic and funding for the tunnelling:

  1. Viaduct traffic is down 40% in the past three years.
  2. In order to raise the needed tolls to help pay for the tunnel, more trips would need to go through the tunnel than currently travel the viaduct. It’s worth noting the viaduct serves more locations[2] than the tunnel would.
  3. WSDOT’s traffic projections have been off, as traffic as been declining on all roads, rather than increasing.
  4. There’s also confusion over who will pay for the now-certain cost-overruns.

All of these bullet points are new bits of information since we last voted on the tunnel, back in 2011. Take a look at this map here.

bertha_zone1_map

Bertha progress graphic from WSDOT.

Bertha is stuck fairly early on, which is extremely fortunate; contractors are able to build vertical tunnels down to where Bertha is to work on it, since there are no buildings over the tunnel there. Now look at the rest of the tunnel route. It goes under Pioneer Square, the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, etc. If the tunnel had become stuck there, it would have been much more difficult to create those channels, as vertical tunnelling would involve tearing out important civic institutions.

If these bearing seals have been bad twice, are we 100% sure they won’t be bad again? Are we sure there are no other old bits of rubbish and debris lying under downtown Seattle? Are we willing to risk digging under Pike Place Market to find out?

How many problems does a project need to have before we re-think its necessity? The risk is just far too great for the little use this tunnel is going to have. I think it’s time to pull the plug on Bertha and this tunnel.

[1]  That pipe was put in place in 2002, and was used as recently as 2010. It was also noted on maps and materials provided to the STP.

[2] You know, just downtown, Belltown, the cruise-ship terminal, and Denny Way.




Comments

  1. Jason Shindler says

    As I recall, STB wasn’t particularly excited by the tunnel project — so this conclusion doesn’t come as a huge shock to anyone. Kind of like the Republicans being unhappy with the Healthcare rollout, they didn’t really like the plan — so no surprise they didn’t like the execution. That doesn’t diminish your good points about the new information learned since the project began.

    For some comic relief, I wrote a piece on Cross Cut on what could come off Bertha. http://crosscut.com/2014/02/24/bertha-waterfront-tunnel/118891/bertha-tunnel-museum-jason-shindler/

    • Joseph Singer says

      Can you really say that you are surprised by people’s no confidence attitude with what has happened with the TBM since early December? Do you really want a west coast version of Boston’s “Big Dig” that goes on forever and ends up costing billions of dollars in overrun costs just so people won’t have to deal with Seattle and can pretty much bypass it (albeit for a hefty fee.) With all the engineering that went on prior to the start of work on the project why did no one know that there were obstacles in the TBM’s path that would impede its work?

      • Nathanael says

        There’s already two expressways if you want to avoid going onto the streets of Seattle (I-5 and I-405). What is the point in building a third one?

  2. Emily says

    Maybe it’s because I’m a boomer, but Bertha shown in the progress graphic by WSDOT looks just like it ought to have John Glenn inside, all ready to reenter the atmosphere.

    • RossB says

      That’s really funny. I never thought of it that way, but when you mentioned it, I totally saw it.

    • East Coast Cynic says

      If you leave 99 as is, the city or state could place a clock downtown—It starts from the day of work stoppage to the day of the inevitable earthquake collapse, which could be short term or years until it happens. But if you close it, I-5 becomes an almost immovable sea of cars—one that a pedestrian could walk on top of with minimal danger.

      • Chris says

        Or people would make difference decision about when and how they travel and where they live and work and I-5 will remain about as congested as it is because all urban freeways end up being congested.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Or, Chris, Seattle will make whatever surface changes are necessary for transit to let people move efficiently and enjoyably through Seattle. And necessary freight efficiently. If this involves a lot fewer automobiles, is that really a disaster on the order of a viaduct collapse at rush hour?

        Or just an opportunity to do what we’ll have to do in the future, tunnel or not, right now? Not completely anti- Deep Bore Tunnel- they’ve got one in Gothenburg, western Sweden- underneath a fine street rail system, and high speed light rail commuter routes too. And nice highway buses, with fair amount of fully reserved lane space.

        Which we can also do while we’re fixing Bertha and digging. As any bus trip after 10pm pn a weeknight shows, buses can run fairly fast if there’s no automobile traffic in the way. Same goes double for snow conditions. 40′ buses, especially the new double-deckers aren’t stopped by snow, but by all the crashed private cars in their way.

        A lot of operating hours on off-peak service could be saved by simply putting arterial traffic lights to flash yellow and cross-streets to get flashing red. As driver and passenger, really hate being aboard a bus stopped for a light with the nearest cross traffic in its garage fifteen miles away.

        Mark Dublin

      • DUNTSEA says

        East Coast Cynic, As a distant commentator you may not recall the grassroots Monorail project (1996-2002) which made significant progress toward answering the noncommercial transit needs of the very corridor which this STP is blundering to meet. If the city and state political machines had been more inclined to work with the significant planning of those 6 years rather than repeat balloting to shut it down, there would never have been need for a tunnel; and less expense. There was a great crowd downtown for the Kingdome demolition in 2008, I could picture a much better turnout for a STP implosion party!

  3. mic says

    Hubris is what keeps the money flowing freely to these projects. I think WSDOT has now paid about 90% of the billion contract to STP, and received about 10% of the Big-Dig.
    Government contracting – Gotta love it.

      • RossB says

        Yeah, that is the problem. This is a great idea, but it may not be practical at this point. I would love to see a serious analysis, instead of just “this is nuts” commentary. How much money would we save if we just stopped everything right now? What would it look like? My guess is that we really don’t have much choice at this point, we are already in too deep.

        It reminds me of the Northgate Park and Ride situation. Everyone agreed that it was crazy to build so much parking, but the legal situation forced it.

      • ThinkB4U says

        Yikes I need to get off this thread. I appreciate the thoughts but don’t have time.

  4. Chris Mealy says

    I think the purpose of the tunnel is to distribute government money to local businesses and union workers. Whether or not it can be completed is beside the point.

    • Brent says

      I heard the purpose was to move freight, but since it won’t connect to Interbay, we know it won’t do that very well, either, even if it is completed.

      • Nathanael says

        Definitely not for freight.

        I heard the purpose was to make a certain collection of owners of property happy.

    • Mike Orr says

      Many Legislators are anti-union and won’t lift a finger to keep Metro from cutting needed and productive service, so it’s not all about the unions. It’s about fearing the wrath of drivers if you slow down an existing highway segment with traffic lights.

  5. fletc3her says

    I don’t think the traffic analysis is worth anything. Yes, traffic is down on a highway that has been reduced to two tight through lanes, has a 40 MPH speed limit, and a couple 25 MPH right angle turns. That doesn’t really speak to what traffic will be like once the tunnel is open.

    The North end of the tunnel will be in the Seattle Center area and the South end will be in the Stadium area. Since it will hook up rather differently with the surface streets there is going to be a learning curve for drivers to figure out when it makes sense to take it. However, the only current viaduct trips that are definitely going to require a different route altogether are those that use the Spring and Columbia ramps.

    • jeik says

      The complaining about traffic on the Viaduct is a little overboard. I work on Harbor Island, and commute from North Seattle. I don’t drive a lot, but on days I do, the traffic has never really been that bad. Sure it’s slower where the speed limit is lower (duh!), but it is rarely backed up. It might take 5 more minutes on most days, which is something, but not enough to significantly change behavior.

      I think the point is not whether current traffic predicts traffic when the tunnel opens, but that traffic has declined significantly and it has not been a total disaster for businesses or even West Seattle commuters. If we had improved mobility in other ways, we might be better off all around.

      • ThinkB4U says

        I moved from West Seattle because of this project. It’s not just commuter traffic. It’s the hassles of construction which as projected, were already going to last a long time. Weekends, it was often hard to leave without a detour. I found a renter for my place who works in SODO–one of the few places still easy to get to.

    • Brent says

      You missed a few: There are also the trips to and from Elliot Ave and Interbay beyond. Various governmental entities are trying to figure out how to get the eventually-re-routed trips through Lower Queen Anne.

      Moreover, Highway 99′s capacity right now is more than it will be when the viaduct is closed completely forever and the tunnel (if it is finished) gets opened.

      Given the public’s ability to adapt, I don’t think we will face Carmageddon if the viaduct gets closed before the tunnel opens (if it ever does). But, we better be planning for a lot more buses and doing some engineering on high-capacity transit to West Seattle and Ballard, stat! The tunnel is still being billed as an urgent public safety project. (Um, wrong. Closing down the viaduct when it is no longer safe is an urgent public safety decision the govenor cannot shirk.)

      But, hey, if the tunnel is an urgent public safety emergency, then so is high-capacity transit to West Seattle and Ballard. Indeed, people using this transit will be a lot safer on it then in SOVs using the tunnel.

      • Ints says

        FYI the four additional access points are:
        NB Western Avenue off ramp, Bell Street on ramp
        SB Battery Street off ramp, Elloit Avenue on ramp.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Traffic on the viaduct may be down, but how has traffic changed on Elliot, Western, Denny, Airport Way, I-5 and the Avenues through downtown? Some of the disappeared auto trips may have converted to transit trips, but many of the cars that formerly used the Viaduct are now clogging the City’s streets instead of sitting on the Viaduct.

    • lazarus says

      Ya, big surprise. You shrink the road, reduce the speed by almost 50%, add a couple of crazy bends, and then act all shocked when traffic volume declines??

      And don’t forget, they have actively been closing the viaduct for various construction related reasons for months now, and such closures surely effective volume. I mean, let’s get real here. If you close a road volume will go down. I just don’t see the mystery.

      It’s sort of like cutting welfare and then saying, “Look! There are fewer people on welfare now! Let’s eliminate it completely because demand is plummeting.”

      But this project will be completed, and I really don’t think “Seattle property owners who benefit” are going to end up paying even one more additional cent. If the contractor ends up paying for this, or the machine manufacturer, then who really cares?

    • RossB says

      I agree with your first paragraph. I’m not so sure about the second one.

      With the lack of a Western exit, people will still probably take the viaduct to Ballard (from the south) but maybe not. Are they changing the ramps on Denny? Right now if you want to go westbound on Denny from northbound 99, you have to get off on Harrison and take a series of right turns (doubling back three blocks). Then you are on Denny (a street that is really crowded). Alternatives to Ballard include going via Fremont (39th). My guess is that as a result, 39th will be really crowded. I’m thinking that a lot of people who are going to the waterfront or Magnolia and maybe even Ballard will go through downtown on the surface streets. I also think you will see a lot fewer people cutting over from I-5 to 99 from the south. I think there will be a lot of shaking out that is done, and a lot of people will miss the old viaduct (and be terribly disappointed and shocked that the tunnel doesn’t have the same exits).

      I do think, though, that a lot of people will absolutely love the new tunnel (as much as they loved the old viaduct). They will gladly pay the extra money. In my opinion, that is why they should set the toll prices really high. It reminds me of some of the those HOT lanes. If the alternative is sitting in traffic, it is worth the extra money. For a truck driver, the choice is obvious. Pay the toll and get the goods there quicker.

      • Brent says

        Minimizing transport time will mean truck drivers will be using the waterfront Alaskan Way promenade highway as the path to get through downtown.

      • RossB says

        In some cases, yes — I think I said that. But in other cases they will take the viaduct. It all depends on traffic and where they are going. That reinforces the point I made in the last paragraph, though. I doubt there will be many who care what the fare is for the viaduct — they will pay it. Alternatives will be crowded (because 99 simply won’t work for a lot of people once they close all the exits) which will make 99 an even better value for the trips where it makes sense.

      • Nathanael says

        Some people will pay the tolls. The tolls will come nowhere close to covering costs. We have more experience of “toll avoidance” in the Northeast; your toll road has to be a lot better than the free road in order for it to cover its costs.

    • says

      There was this thing called the recession too. For a few years I could drive into the city on I-5 without delay. Now I can’t. I think it’s a bit naive to think the traffic went down because people started riding buses or taking taxis.

      • Orv says

        I’m actually less inclined to ride the bus, now, ironically. If I’m going to be stuck in stop and go traffic, I’d rather be sitting in my car than standing on the 197 with someone’s backpack wedged against my chest. The only reason I take the bus at all now is financial; it’s cheaper than paying to park.

      • PhillipG says

        Since 2010, Metro’s ridership has kept pace with population growth, while Sound Transit’s ridership growth has far exceeded population growth. It seems like mode shifts from cars to transit is the simplest explanation for this.

    • Sophia Katt says

      Gregoire, Nickels, and Sims will prudently say nothing, because they have all conveniently moved out of office (as will all the Port commissioners who were among the biggest proponents of this waste mongering project) and away from any direct responsibility for the fiscal disaster to come.

      • mic says

        Making my point.
        Politicians KNOW they will never be held accountable for some horribly conceived mega-projects when they take twice as long and end up costing twice as much and do less than hyped in the beginning. Only taxpayers are ultimately held accountable, and even than that group knows the budgets and deficits will never be balanced.
        IS THIS NIRVANA?

      • Mike Orr says

        So tell your state officials you expect them to think beyond their current and next term. And also tell many corporations to think beyond the next quarter’s earnings report and their own golden parachutes.

  6. RapidRider says

    Betteridge’s law of headlines says no, but just because we shouldn’t continue, doesn’t say we won’t continue. This project never should have existed in the first place, but that didn’t stop WSDOT…

    • Brent says

      WSDOT didn’t decide to do this project. The Governor and Washington State Legislature did. If we had as many engineers as lawyers in the lege, I bet this project would have been on the cutting-room floor faster than you can nuke a pizza.

      A fresh assesment of why this project was approved, if it actually can deliver on the reasons for its approval, and how much those stated goals actually matter, may be in order.

      It fails to do anything for freight mobility. It is a clearly-inferior and more expensive way to move people than an armada of buses or a light rail line. It will not be done before the viaduct has to be closed for public safety. Why do we still need it?

      • Orv says

        Technically, Seattle decided to do this project. The state wanted to build another elevated structure, which would have been a much less risky project, but that wouldn’t have benefited property owners along the waterfront the way a tunnel will.

      • RossB says

        No, technically the state decided to do the project. It is not a city project. It is a state project, done with the cooperation of the city (as is common for state projects). As to what “the state” or “the city” wanted, it is a lot more complicated than that. The governor (the leader of the state) was all for this. So was the mayor at the time. However, it probably cost that mayor his job — losing in the primary for heavens sake (against ridiculously weak opponents).

        Then there are the referendums. The first one split, with a plurality, but not a majority, supporting a rebuild. The city voters, at that point, did not want a tunnel. After more work was done, they did vote to keep going, and the city council backed that approach. I’m sure there is plenty of ignorance. I’m sure a lot of people who voted for a rebuilt viaduct wanted what is already there (with downtown exits). I’m sure plenty of people who support the tunnel assume it will have those same exits. I’m sure plenty of people opposed the third alternative because they assumed it meant “doing nothing”, instead of investing in improvements in I-5 as well surface streets (ask anyone stuck in West Seattle traffic if they would like some improvement in I-5). There is simply no consensus on this issue.

      • Nathanael says

        The engineers wanted a shallow cut-and-cover tunnel. The advantage of this is that the seawall has to be replaced *anyway*, and it seemed fairly cheap to stuff a tunnel behind it. It actually would have had the same exits.

        The deep bore tunnel is an absurdity.

      • Orv says

        I simply didn’t see I-5 improvements as a possibility. The biggest choke point is the convention center, and there’s no way to widen it there. I-5 is as good as it’s ever going to get.

  7. John Bailo says

    The real need in this region is not for a 1/2 mile tunnel under downtown. What we need are Highways…lots of them.

    We need a waffle grid of highway in South King.

    We need a highway to the coast.

    We need a bridge over Elliot Bay.

    We need a year tunnel through the Cascades for year round snow free travel to Eastern Washington.

    So many really needed projects and all the money is spent in one square acre of Seattle!!

    • RossB says

      A tunnel through the Cascades would have been cool. Instead of building the viaduct by Denny Creek (south of Snoqualmie Pass) they could have expanded the train tunnel, which would have allowed you to skip the pass. Basically, you could have gone straight from Bandera, then through a tunnel and popped out at Hyak. This would have actually saved some distance as well, and probably never gotten above 2,000 feet on the west side (Hyak is about 2600 feet, but has a lot less snow and avalanche problems). The entire Snoqualmie Pass region would be quiet (except for small roads serving hikers and skiers). That would have been cool, but like all your ideas, will never happen (for the same reason). It is too expensive.

    • says

      More highways means more and longer driving trips (encouraged by fast driving speed, enforced by longer distances between things). More and longer driving trips means more energy usage (no future energy efficiency or alternative fuel technology is sufficient to avoid this, especially on the highway, and especially when the full energy usage of a car is considered, from factory to junkyard). More energy usage means more carbon emissions. More carbon emissions means more climate change.

      I didn’t know you hated life on Earth, Bailo.

      • Orv says

        Re energy use: Consider that every car sitting stationary on I-5 while the viaduct is closed is burning gasoline while getting 0 mpg.

      • says

        @Orv: People won’t tolerate sitting around daily — they’ll re-arrange their lives to avoid making daily freeway trips and driving downtown, like people do all over the world in cities that haven’t tried to accommodate ubiquitous driving.

      • Orv says

        @Al: So every job in Seattle is going to pay enough to afford a $1200-plus apartment downtown? Or is this based on the mythical “affordable housing” that never seems to materialize?

        Seattle has the traffic it does largely because people are commuting from places they can afford to live.

    • Andrew Smith says

      In Japan, they have tunnels like the one you describe through mountains. I’m sure they are expensive but they really would do more for freight than this ill-conceived tunnel.

      I am not sure I am for the other highways you suggest.

      • RossB says

        Yeah, there are plenty of tunnels in Europe, too. They have lived a lot longer in the mountains, with more people there, so they did a lot more work on them. I think the bypass of Snoqualmie pass would be cool, but it wouldn’t be cheap, and I doubt it would be worth it. Moving freight from one side of the pass to the other can take place via the railroad (where there are tunnels). Moving goods from one side of the city to the other, though, will take place via trucks. I don’t think this tunnel is a good value, but we have to understand that there would be an impact if we just shut down the viaduct. That is why the committee tasked with finding a solution came up with two ideas — build a new viaduct or pay for other improvements (to I-5, surface streets and transit). No one suggested doing nothing, or building a tunnel. It was only when Nickels saw the cost of the viaduct replacement that he thought a tunnel was a good idea (since a tunnel wouldn’t cost that much more). He completely ignored the findings of the committee and convinced the state to go along with it.

    • Anandakos says

      “We need a highway to the coast.”

      Um, er, we have “a highway to the coast”. True, it doesn’t have just one number from beginning to end, but it does go there, and it’s freeway all the way to just short of Aberdeen.

  8. Anon says

    Normally, I’m firmly for any such project once it starts, simply because A) the ship has sailed and B) I have real faith in engineers to overcome problems (our town was built that way). I also have a natural, deep-seated aversion to all the “I cant’s” out there, who are eager to tear down any project or idea. But the fact that the seals were breaking under test conditions in Japan is a red flag that can’t be ignored.

    And then there’s the traffic study (fletcher I think you missed the point here), which definitively confirms the surface and transit position. That position was: transit patterns are both fluid and malleable, so we don’t have to protect the artery itself…by the time the project is done, a large number of viaduct users will have changed either their workplace or their home (as a natural course of life); indeed the impact from the construction itself will likely reinforce that trend.

    Take those two together, and I think Andrew has a valid case to make.

    At this point I don’t know whether they should move forward with the dig, or revert to S & T…
    …but if you pay me enough I would be happy to make the call for you, LOL.

    • Brent says

      The engineers are being paid to build a tunnel and a few highway lanes. They have not been tasked with figuring out how to make the tunnel useful for moving freight (which it isn’t), finding political excuses to keep the viaduct up beyond the end of its safe lifespan, or redesigning the street grid.

      When the engineers say an O-ring is a problem, the politicians should learn to listen. Governor, are you listening to the engineers regarding when the viaduct needs to cease having traffic on it?

      • Nathaniel says

        I’m not sure why you say it’s not useful for freight. The tunnel option was modeled to cut freight through-traffic trip times by ~45 minutes compared to the “just tear down the viaduct option” which is what people seem to be arguing for. I seem to recall reading that it produced similar times to the Surface/I-5/Transit option, but that ship HAS sailed regardless of whether continue the tunnel project, it would be many years away, the money for it is gone and new money for it is far short of guaranteed.

    • Anon says

      This post from upstream is a real-life proof point to what the advocates of S&T were claiming. The homeowner moved closer to work, and rented out their West Seattle home to someone who had a job nearby in SODO. This kind of turnover would happen regardless-even if the Nisqually quake had never happened-and is actually reinforced by the construction project. Therefore, the objective of planners shouldn’t have been whether to rebuild/replace/sink 99, but once the viaduct was removed, how to serve and shape projected local/regional transportation needs.

      ThinkB4U says:

      March 7, 2014 at 9:34 am

      I moved from West Seattle because of this project. It’s not just commuter traffic. It’s the hassles of construction which as projected, were already going to last a long time. Weekends, it was often hard to leave without a detour. I found a renter for my place who works in SODO–one of the few places still easy to get to.

      • Andrew Smith says

        yes. I think the decreasing viaduct traffic also suggests something similar.

      • Orv says

        It’s funny, around the time the debate started to veer away from an elevated replacement, my first thought was, “Well, I’m *definitely* never going to buy a place in West Seattle; it won’t be possible to get *anywhere* from there pretty soon.”

        One of the things I’ve noticed about urbanists, both here and on The Stranger, is they don’t really consider West Seattle to be part of Seattle. To them it’s an evil suburb, like Renton or Kent.

    • says

      Just because something is started doesn’t mean it should be finished. That goes for a crummy book, a bad movie or a lousy pizza pie. To say you must complete because you started risks throwing good money after bad. Sunk costs are gone. You should only consider future costs.

      Though I don’t want to douse your optimism, you’re right, there are lots of smart, creative people. (And if it doesn’t work out, it makes a nice addition to the underground tour.)

      • Nathaniel says

        I considered the sunk funds fallacy on this but I am not sure it is relevant at this point. Neither the tunnel project’s benefits nor costs have changed (yet), so the same calculation should still apply as before. Since there are also costs associated with stopping, it’s not like we get to just stop “for free”, and there are definite benefits of the tunnel as well that WOULD go away. The calculation is complicated and would have to be based on difficult or even outright subjective measurements of cost/benefit analysis for things like changes to work and living arrangements, tourism and parks. It’s hardly a clean-cut case for killing the project.

    • Matthew Johnson says

      Yeah, Bruce, Andrew is saying its a bad idea b/c it’s late. Good catch.

      The issue is whether it is a worthwhile investment or not. If it’s not needed then it isn’t needed at the current price, but definitely not with a couple hundred mil tacked on.

    • Andrew Smith says

      The lateness isn’t the only problem, reducing it to that is just trolling.

      • Brent says

        Gentlemen, I don’t think STB bloggers are trying to “troll” each other. Can’t Bruce be cynical once in a while?

      • djw says

        Trolling one’s own blog is an ancient and venerable practice. He’s not being cynical, he’s misrepresenting the post.

        The case for sticking with the tunnel seems pretty terrible to me, but Bruce is a smart guy whose views I respect. If he thinks it can be defended, he should do it.

  9. Sean says

    I wish I could dream that stubbornness wasn’t a impediment to logic. They will build the tunnel whether it makes sense or not.

  10. Jeff Dubrule says

    Sorry. The die is cast. We’re “All In”. This is Too Bertha To Fail!
    Best to give up now, and move to a city/state that hasn’t bankrupted itself on bearings & rescue-holes.

    • Andrew Smith says

      Yeah we should commit ourselves to throw as much money down this pit as we can.

      • lazarus says

        It is unclear if the State and/or taxpayers will pay anything above the agreed to contract price for this no matter how screwed up it gets.

        if the cost of all these problems fall on the contractor and/or TBM manufacturer, then personally I don’t give a rat’s arss how much it ends up costing.

        It’s a Design Build contract, the buck will stop with the people doing the designing and the building, and that isn’t the State. Ya, they will try to say, “it was the pipe,” but it is pretty clear that it wasn’t.

        I’d hate to be the contractor right now, but we shouldn’t be too worried (yet).

      • Andrew Smith says

        I wonder how easy it actually is to enforce those clauses. They’ll find something to pin on WSDOT/SDOT or the city.

      • says

        @lazarus – all the contractor needs to do is file for bankruptcy and dissolve the partnership, right? Probably even sell any remaining assets back to its founders (as creditors) for pennies on the dollar. I don’t know a lot about joint ventures, but one of the points from Wikipedia is “it has a separate liability from that of its founders, except for invested capital.” Sounds to me like there’s a limit to what they be willing to accept before they threatened to walk if more money wasn’t forthcoming. Pretty sure they’re not going to be the ones that get soaked.

    • RossB says

      “Too Bertha to Fail!”

      Love it. Won’t be too long before that phrase makes it into the local media.

  11. Glenn in Portland says

    OK, so the tunnel machine isn’t going so well in this size of tunnel. What about switching to drill and blast? That is what they did for the MAX tunnel in Portland when they hit a rock strata that was of a type that had never been cut with a TBM before.

    Or, since they want to redevelop the waterfront anyway, just handle that, tunneling, and viaduct demolition in one huge explosion?

    • Orv says

      The other thing is, this was generally considered the most difficult part of the bore, *and* the machine is new. By design, they’re working the kinks out during a period when it can be reached. I’m not a tunnel fan (I favored an elevated replacement) but I think it’s a little soon to start panicking.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        While tunnel boring machines are certainly preferred for most situations, they have built tunnels using drill and blast in Hong Kong (which is a fairly densely populated and developed urban area). They even have a way of doing this that reduces the impact on the surrounding area. Witness:
        http://tunneltalk.com/Hong-Kong-4Dec2013-Pioneering-double-deck-blasting-method-for-successful-South-Island-Line-drill-blast-excavation.php
        So, it isn’t as if drill and blast in an urban setting is a completely new experience.

        With the MAX line, they knew that the last few hundred feet or so would have to be done using drill and blast anyway, so it was just a matter of expanding the length of the drill and blast area. Drill and blast was working from west to east, and the tunnel boring machine was going east to west. They just met in a different location than originally planned. It did add to the cost, mind you. There are certainly reasons TBMs are preferred if possible.

        The biggest problem they had on the Portland MAX line was that a cemetery made a very large commotion about how the dead that were buried there would not be able to rest in peace with blasting going on directly under the cemetery. Apparently, the above ground blasting used to expand US Highway 26 through the same area were not enough to wake the dead.
        (not to mention bulldozers, power shovels, dump trucks and front end loaders…)

    • mic says

      Hmmmm???
      I wonder if we could sell Bertha to Oregon, then just drill twin bores under the Columbia River. One pass up and back, voila, 8 lane freeway. Glenn, call your Governor.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        I wonder if we could sell Bertha to Oregon, then just drill twin bores under the Columbia River. One pass up and back, voila, 8 lane freeway.

        Letters to the editor of the Oregonian have been suggesting that for some months now, despite the headlines in our paper about the problems with Bertha. They want a nearly 200 foot tall bridge to go over the river, which interferes with the FAA airspace of a couple of airports, but the river is dredged to only 45 feet deep. Unlike downtown Seattle, there shouldn’t be too much in the way of urban underground obstacles. I’m no tunneling expert, but it sure seems like tunneling would be vastly simpler than trying to put a bridge in there.

        Unfortunately, these days things that make sense don’t seem to have highly paid lobbyists from several construction firms being paid to tell the governor and legislature what to think.

        I assume that something similar happened with the Highway 99 Tunnel in Seattle.

    • Nathanael says

      “Or, since they want to redevelop the waterfront anyway, just handle that, tunneling, and viaduct demolition in one huge explosion?”

      This was, in a less violent form, the original “combined seawall/tunnel” plan.

      I have no idea why, but this was violently opposed by some property owners, who got the ear of the former governor.

    • yvrlutyens says

      Drill and blast only works in hard rock. The deep bore is through waterlogged fill and glacial till. This type of tunnelling requires a full shield to stop the tunnel face from collapsing.

    • Alex Francis Burchard says

      During the noted period of traffic decline, employment in center city Seattle has shot upwards. You are wrong.

      • Alex Francis Burchard says

        The county has had rapidly falling unemployment as well as a whole. The recession was in 2008-09, the traffic fell off in 2010-12, when we were well into recovering, and jobs were increasing quickly.

  12. Al S. says

    This is a good observation to examine more closely. However, using a two-way daily average traffic flow doesn’t really tell the story of “why”, especially when the drop is so significant in such a short period of time. An hour-by-hour analysis, a directional analysis and a travel time analysis would tell us more about if it was because of mode shifts, path shifts, time-of-day shifts or trips being cancelled. The other question is whether or not there were variations between days or weeks like when ramps were closed or nearby intersections were restricted.

  13. Sean says

    My not so secret plan is a future adaptive reuse of the tunnel to convert the top deck to a light rail deck, create an above ground stadium station, mine out a Colman dock/Pike Place/Belltown station, then continue the tunnel north to Fremont/Ballard at the north end. Perhaps the bottom deck could even have auto access to a rebuilt Colman dock. But I’m sure there are significant engineering problems to say the least.

    • RossB says

      Wouldn’t it be simpler to take one lane and turn it into BRT? Add stations, instead of off ramps. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be that expensive (in the millions, instead of the billions). You only need a small pedestrian tunnel/escalator to the surface. It blocks traffic, but if that lane is BRT, then so be it. If done right, you could have grade separation from West Seattle to Fremont (and beyond).

      You would still have one lane for freight and folks who are willing to pay the price for a fast ride (five bucks a pop would be a bargain to some). I really like that idea, but unfortunately, it is quite rare to “take” an existing lane, and turn it into HOV, let alone bus only. (It could be HOV, but car poolers would have to either be locked into the lane and wait for the buses to load/unload or you could have a dangerous situation).

      • Sean says

        BRT could be an interim solution, but I would think that having 3-4 car trains would save on labor costs while maximizing the use of the right of way. It’s also a shame that autos from the ferry don’t have direct access to the tunnel. If the Colman dock was relocated to Pier 48 a streetcar loop could serve it from the FHSC and then the autos who don’t want to go to downtown could stay off the waterfront.

        Unfortunately I am sure that the powers that be will lower the costs when traffic is low to justify the project. Of course they could sell half the tunnel capacity to pay for some of the cost overruns.

    • Brent says

      The top deck is needed for a mezzanine in which to place the ORCA vending machines.

  14. David Lawson says

    Way, way too early to know whether pulling the plug would be an intelligent decision or not. At this point, most of the money is sunk, so the question is whether this tunnel is worth the cost of the remaining budget and the overruns, not whether it’s worth the total cost.

    We should be able to evaluate the repair plan and the revised timeline in more concrete detail shortly.

    • David Lawson says

      One more thought. Even though the tunnel will serve only the barest amount of transit, I disagree with those transit advocates (and, to be clear, this view is not expressed in Andrew’s post) who see the tunnel as inherently harmful or a net negative. I think it’s clear that it wasn’t and isn’t the best use of the money, not by a long shot. But there will be some transportation value to it. (I will use it regularly when it opens, as someone who lives in North Seattle and has a close relative in West Seattle.) And if the tunnel were stopped the money would almost certainly go to worse highway projects, not to the Sound Transit tunnels we all really want to see.

      • Aleks says

        Looks like I just missed your comment.

        I think you’re not giving enough credit to the continued risk. Bertha stopping where it is now isn’t so bad. What happens if Bertha gets stuck underneath any of the important buildings along the tunnel route? Many people did not even consider the risk of Bertha stopping when they originally voted yes for the tunnel; now that it’s happened, the prospect of danger has become more real, and even a completely successful repair can’t take away the risk that something will unexpectedly go wrong in a more difficult place.

        I think that the tunnel does have two strong net negatives: the giant north and south portals, and especially the north one. That will kill a lot of land use in an important area for a long time to come. From an urbanist perspective, I don’t really care about having a tunnel underneath downtown so long as it doesn’t have any ramps (which it blissfully doesn’t), but I’m not sure that the marginal mobility benefits of the tunnel make up for the catastrophic mobility impediments from the portals.

        There’s also another net negative, which is that the tunnel reinforces the idea that SR-99 should be a grade-separated freeway (at least for a core portion). If you put SR-99 onto a surface boulevard, then you might as well put in grade crossings between Denny and N 65th, too.

        From a selfish perspective, if the state took the money they would have spent on the tunnel and instead spent it on some suburban or rural highway, I wouldn’t really care. My biggest fear is that the cancelled tunnel would be replaced with a new elevated structure, which would really be a disaster. But if we manage to convince the powers that be to stop the tunnel, then I think we’ll have demonstrated enough political power to ensure that we don’t get a new viaduct instead.

      • David Lawson says

        I don’t see the portals as quite as bad as you are making out.

        The south portal is huge and ugly, but I can’t really bring myself to care. That is not an area that was going to become an urban neighborhood anytime in the foreseeable future. Without the tunnel, it would have remained mostly industrial with some space devoted to ferry terminal traffic and overflow parking of sports-event cars. With the portal, we’ve lost some of the industrial use, and gained a few more highway lanes, but there’s no huge loss, and very little potential that will go unrealized.

        You are right that the north portal, by contrast, is in an absolutely critical area. And it does definitely take away some potentially valuable land forever — one full block, and about one-third of another block, while devoting a significant amount of space to cars. But compared with what’s there today, it’s a net pedestrian mobility improvement, and it really isn’t a pedestrian mobility “catastrophe” no matter how you look at it. Harrison (and Thomas and John south of it) will now be fully navigable by pedestrians. Two blocks away, Mercer still won’t be great (stupid underpass), but it will be much more walkable than the Mercer that’s there today. The only path that will be permanently off-limits to pedestrians is Republican, and the only blocks that will be even problematic from an urbanist perspective are the four bounded by Dexter, Mercer, Harrison, and 6th.

        You are right that there will be some risk in restarting the machine, but I don’t think we know how much yet. Perhaps if we’re lucky WSDOT or STP might even tell us some useful information, whether voluntarily or through a FOIA request. That is part of what we need to evaluate as they tell us more about the planned next steps.

      • Sean says

        How much would you be willing to pay to use the tunnel? Would you drive offpeak? If Seattle wasn’t so obsessed with parking on Alaskan Way, they could covert it into a HOT lane for a surface express option.

      • David Lawson says

        I will only drive offpeak — I don’t tend to visit my relatives (or drive at all) during rush hour. :)

        I would pay up to about $4 to use the tunnel. Don’t tell WSDOT.

        Alaskan Way and the tunnel really serve two very different paths, which is a fact a lot of this debate has been missing from the very beginning. Alaskan Way travels northwest/southeast, connecting Magnolia/Ballard/Interbay with the waterfront and passing along the edge of downtown. The tunnel (and the viaduct before it) effectively travel due north/south, connecting central north Seattle with the waterfront and bypassing a chunk of the downtown core. My particular situation (not to be generalized) is that the first path isn’t really useful to me, while the second is.

      • Aleks says

        I agree with you that the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement *project* will dramatically improve the situation in the vicinity of the north portal. However, the most important improvement you describe simply comes from reconnecting the street grid south of Republican. If we started now, we could finish that project in six months, and it would cost a tiny fraction of the money it will cost to build the north portal (let alone what it would cost to finish tunneling). The existence of the north portal itself will completely kill Republican. And it will make Mercer much worse than if we simply closed all the underpasses and created a regular at-grade intersection, which we can’t do if the portal is there.

        I’m also less concerned about the south portal, but it’s still a negative for me. And for me, the mobility benefit of the tunnel is so small to begin with that it’s easily cancelled out by even the small impact of the south portal, let alone the big impact of the north one.

        At this point, I frankly don’t trust WSDOT or STP to provide reliable information about the continued risk of tunneling. I was a strong tunnel opponent back when we had the most recent vote, and even I hadn’t heard about the seal problems uncovered during testing in Japan.

      • Kacie says

        The tunnel serves a different path only in the sense that it lacks ramps at Western, so it can’t be used for travel to/from Magnolia/Ballard/Interbay. But the viaduct (combined with the Battery St. Tunnel) serves exactly the same path as Alaskan Way (combined with Broad Street).

      • Alex Bailey says

        David Lawson: Your analysis of the north portal ignores all the streets north of Mercer. Without the tunnel, Roy, Valley and Aloha streets could also be reconnected with normal intersections. Now I don’t think that makes the tunnel a net negative, but it is a substantial opportunity cost above and beyond the sticker price of the tunnel itself.

      • David Lawson says

        Alex Bailey: I agree, but I think there is also a cost to reconnecting that much of the grid. I see a role (again disagreeing with some urbanists) for a fast Aurora (particularly in the absence of 99-corridor rail), and I’m not sure a series of 9 or 10 signalized intersections before we even reach Denny would be good for transit or mobility. Just think of the poor E line; TSP couldn’t make it sail unimpeded through that sort of a grid.

      • Aleks says

        I’m not sure we’d need 9 signalized intersections. Dexter only has 4: Harrison, Mercer, Roy, and Aloha. (And when the two-way Mercer project is done, it’s not clear that the intersection at Roy needs to exist, either.) That’s a sufficiently low signal density for TSP to be effective.

        North of Aloha, there aren’t any intersections worth reconnecting until you get north of the ship canal. The model is the portion of Aurora north of 73rd. It’s still an arterial, but there are traffic lights at arterial intersections, and the rest of the grid is connected (albeit difficult to cross). More concretely:

        The overpass/underpasses at 38th St could probably stay in place, since the elevation is so weird there.

        The underpasses at 46th and 50th (and they are underpasses — everything is at grade level except for half of the cross street’s ROW) could be removed, replacing them with signalized intersections with TSP.

        For every other intersection between 38th and 50th, the grid could be reconnected, but without adding traffic signals. So you could cross, but only when it’s quiet, just like any other arterial.

        Between 50th and 73rd, Aurora runs along the park or the water, so there’s no grid to reconnect to.

        That’s a total of 5-6 traffic signals between 73rd and Denny (depends on what you do with Roy). That’s about as many as 15th NW has over the same distance. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

      • Alex Bailey says

        I think concern about Rapid Ride E getting stuck in a lot of signals is a bit overblown. For starters, in theory reconnecting the grid would make that area much more of a destination then it is now. So while Rapid Ride E would have to navigate an additional three signals, its coverage would also be enhanced. In addition, good signal prioritization would alleviate most of the speed concerns. And if speed was really a problem you could give Aurora the Denny treatment through the SLU stretch, prohibiting left turns at all but one or two cross streets, in order to speed up the light cycle.

        While I don’t think SR 99 is useless I think it isn’t particularly useful. Between Green Lake and Georgetown the distance between SR 99 and I-5 never exceeds 1.2 miles, and I-5 has far more utility for long distance trips because it continues north towards Everett and south towards Tacoma. Many trips on SR 99 are either trips that could easily be handled on the regular grid or on I-5 without much inconvenience, especially if I-5 was congestion priced.

        It’s also worth noting that all the points being made about SR 99 through SLU could be said about SR 99 through Fremont/Wallingford. East west traffic through that area is miserable during rush hour and route 44 among other things would probably benefit from a regridding up there.

      • says

        On the north portal, there’s the space the highway takes up, plus the “border vacuum” that surrounds any such highway. Even if losing the tunnel didn’t result in any more streets connecting across Aurora, getting rid of the access ramps and portal would push back the footprint of the highway and the border vacuum. It would make a Mercer-ish stop for the E Line much easier, too.

        As for the transportation value of the tunnel, at this point I assign anything that provides private car mobility without at least similar gains for other sorts of transportation negative value, because it encourages and enforces auto-dependence. Supposedly the tunnel will provide a net reduction in vehicle capacity compared to the full-capacity viaduct. But if we’re comparing a situation where we finish the tunnel as planned to one where we give up and focus on HOV paths into downtown and getting downtown I-5 users out of the way of through traffic, the latter is preferable (as long as the HOV stuff is pretty comprehensive) because it de-prioritizes SOV trips into downtown and doesn’t give through-going SOVs such a huge advantage over transit users.

        I don’t suggest that my case be the public face of tunnel opposition, but when I write my representatives that’s what I tell them. That we need a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, thus VMT, thus freeway lane-miles. Because more driving has such negative consequences the normal engineering thought that congestion is the worst evil and the economy is best supported by any mobility gains falls flat. Congestion is productive if it encourages shorter trips and less driving. Even if reducing fossil fuel consumption locally makes no direct difference (because every drop of oil dug up will be burned), reducing consumption and dependence on fossil fuels will help us going forward when we reduce production in the future (voluntarily or otherwise).

      • Wells says

        Lawson n’ Aleks, please read this reply to your concerns:
        BERTHA MUST BORE NO MORE!

        Plan B:
        Direct Bore to Stacked Box Cut-Cover/Tunnel/Seawall,
        finish at Pike. (see FEIS)

        North Portal:
        Extend BST (Battery Street Tunnel) to Harrison (see DEIS).
        Retain BSU (Broad Street Underpass) for better access
        to extended BST. (amended DEIS configuration)

        Aurora/Mercer Overpass:
        Retain 4-lane width. NO Turn lanes for SR99 access.
        Widen sidewalks. (see DEIS)

        Lower Belltown:
        Either TWO-intersections with stoplights (or)
        Rebuild SR99 ‘beneath’ Elliott/Western.
        (South entrance downhill ramp. North exit uphill ramp)
        Lower Belltown to Pike segment per choice.
        Both possibly connect Elliott/Western
        to Alaskan Way boulevard.

        This Stacked Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall arrangement
        is the only earthquake resistant tunnel possible. Buildings above the bore tunnel will not survive even moderate earthquake damage along entire length and
        dreadful building collapse a dire probability.

        The North Portal arrangement reconnects Harrison, Thomas and John Streets the exact same way. The southbound entrance to SR99 from westbound Mercer is safer and quicker. Aurora Overpass widened only for the sidewalk/pedway mostly for quick bike routes.

        Probably costs more, but displaces least traffic, manages displaced traffic better, and builds an earthquake barrier Seawall. The Drill-Fill Sea-Fence method is NOT impermeable to fracturing thus more seawater inland converting compact clay into a thick mud bed surrounding the bore shell. Over time, extreme siltration creates cavernous voids which collapse to the surface beneath building foundations. Powerful earthquake forces cause the bore to oscillate and transmit destructive forces its entire length. Bye bye Pioneer Square, The Underground, any vulnerable building above the bore tunnel.

      • Aleks says

        Extend BST (Battery Street Tunnel) to Harrison (see DEIS).

        The state is proposing to close the Battery St Tunnel due to safety concerns. I don’t think keeping it open is feasible.

        Retain BSU (Broad Street Underpass) for better access to extended BST. (amended DEIS configuration)

        Really? Broad Street is an urban blight, every bit as bad as the Viaduct. Removing it permanently is one of the best parts of this whole effort. This fix seems worse than the problem.

        If we have to have any limited-access freeways in downtown Seattle, Mercer is the best access point. It’s an ultra-wide street that serves primarily as a regional corridor. I would prefer to see us focus on grid improvements to make it easier to travel between Mercer and other parts of Seattle.

        Rebuild SR99 ‘beneath’ Elliott/Western.

        If we have to have a limited-access freeway through downtown, I agree that a tunnel that runs underneath surface streets seems a lot better than a tunnel that runs underneath buildings. It seems much less seismically risky. But I’m not a civil engineer.

        Probably costs more, but displaces least traffic, manages displaced traffic better, and builds an earthquake barrier Seawall.

        Why is displacing traffic a bad thing? City grids have proven themselves to be much better at handing local traffic than limited-access freeways. The fact that the tunnel has no exits south of Mercer and north of Atlantic is one of its best features. The grid could easily handle 100% of viaduct traffic, especially when you consider all the traffic that currently goes out of its way to use the viaduct.

    • Aleks says

      If you believe that the project will make Seattle better, but at a high cost, then the new information we’ve gained should only affect our decision at the margins.

      However, there are many people who believe that the new project will make Seattle worse; that no matter how much money we’ve spent, we’re better off without the completed tunnel than with it. In that case, the new information is just political ammunition to help us make the case that the tunnel should be cancelled. It’s another chance to cancel a project that shouldn’t have been approved in the first place.

      • David Lawson says

        “However, there are many people who believe that the new project will make Seattle worse; that no matter how much money we’ve spent, we’re better off without the completed tunnel than with it.”

        That is the viewpoint that I can’t agree with, or really even understand.

      • Aleks says

        I tried to explain this a bit above. I’ll let you respond to my points there, rather than having the same conversation twice :)

      • Orv says

        David: There are a lot of people who resent the influx of population and basically crave a “lesser Seattle,” one more like it was in the early 90′s. Punishing people who have to commute by car or freeway bus is one means to try to achieve that.

      • Wells says

        The Drill-Fill Sea-Fence method is NOT impermeable to fracturing thus more seawater inland converting compact clay into a thick mud bed surrounding the bore shell. Over time, predicted siltration creates cavernous voids which collapse to the surface beneath building foundations. Powerful earthquake forces cause the bore to oscillate and transmit destructive forces its entire length. Bye bye Pioneer Square, bye bye Underground, bye bye any vulnerable building above the bore tunnel.

        It’s unthinkable, but true.
        The bore tunnel will destroy Seattle.

  15. Fil says

    Sightline has it’s is agenda. This blog has it’s agenda. The tunnel was agreed to by the state and the people of Seattle voted yes to this tunnel. As I’ve said before, we all should hope that this tunnel is finished as close to on time and budget as possible. Failure to do so only strengthens those who want neither roads or rail built. We are all in this together, no one transportation mode meets all of our needs. We need to focus on future transit projects and promote real density all over the city.

    • Andrew Smith says

      I agree with you, like 99%. If things do go totally haywire we should cancel the project.

      BTW, “it’s” is “it is”, not the possessive, which is “its”.

    • mic says

      Sort of – speaking of agendas, Mr.McGinn found out the hard way which rings needed kissing in the beginning. Blogs and social media is just background noise compared to a wealthy developer/contributor’s ‘request’ for amenities and projects that make their shoreline property worth a lot more, at the general public’s expense. Am I tired of getting screwed by the government? – sort of.

  16. asdf says

    I’m yet to hear anyone outside of alternative transportation blogs seriously propose killing the tunnel now, so I say what’s the point. If the idea becomes mainstream enough for the Seattle Times to advocate for it in an editorial, then I will start to pay attention.

  17. Wanderer says

    I know you can’t prove things by analogy, but this looks an awful lot like the Embarcadero Freeway situation in San Francisco. There’s the hated elevated freeway, blocking access to the waterfront. In San Francisco, the Loma Prieta earthquake damages the freeway, takes it out of service. Debate begins on whether to rebuild or demolish the road. Chinatown leadership predicts that Chinatown will dry up and blow away if the freeway is demolished. Freeway is demolished, surface boulevard is built. Chinatown does not dry up and blow away. Traffic is bad along The Embarcadero and in Downtown San Francisco, as it has been for decades, but people get where they’re going one way or another.

    Would the scenario be different in Seattle?

    • Fil says

      San Fransisco is not paradise, nor is it perfect. I don’t think we should just resign ourselves to terrible traffic, just as we should not resign ourselves to terrible transit. Great cities need to work to improve both. Rush hour traffic on Alaskan way after everything is build will be worse than it is today. We need to look forward and push for a second transit tunnel through downtown serving the west side of the city from shoreline to Des Moines and not expend energy trying to stop existing projects.

      We need to invest in all forms of transportation.

    • Wells says

      The Embarcadero viaduct was not a thru-highway. It was meant to become one eventually extending west to meet the Golden Gate Bridge. Taking it down meant traffic redirection that was possible. The two to not compare well. The Boston Big Dig does not compare well with the AWV replacement either. Boston wisely built a cut-cover tunnel next to its waterfront and vulnerable old buildings.

      • Aleks says

        The Seattle DOT prepared a guide comparing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with several other examples of freeway removal/redesign. The Big Dig and Embarcadero are on the list, as are many others.

        Perhaps the most interesting example is in South Korea. They completely removed a freeway that carried 168,000 vehicles per day, about 5/8 of which was through traffic. There were essentially no adverse impacts on local traffic; in fact, a concurrent project to institute congestion pricing downtown actually succeeded in *reducing* traffic downtown.

        I think the real lesson here is that every example of freeway removal is different. What they have in common is that separating the regional road network from the local network pretty much always improves traffic. I-5 in Seattle easily has enough capacity to accommodate all the regional traffic that we currently have, especially if we take action to remove local traffic from I-5 (such as by closing some of the interchanges in downtown Seattle).

        In some respects, I think the AWV tunnel is actually very well-designed from a system perspective. It has no access points downtown, which means that it will not carry any local traffic. It’s underground, so it will not adversely affect the surrounding land use. I only have two complaints about the tunnel. The first is that we’re burying the wrong highway — I-5 is clearly much more important, and it’s also much more harmful to downtown Seattle. The second is that building the world’s biggest deep-bore tunnel through a seismic hot spot seems way too risky for me.

        If we were twin-boring smaller tunnels underneath I-5, I would have voted for the project. By my estimation, about 2/3 of traffic on I-5 (about 185,000 vehicles per day) is through-traffic, plus another ~40,000 vehicles per day from the viaduct. A pair of 3-lane tunnels, with no exits between Mercer and SR-519, would easily be able to handle this level of traffic.

      • Wells says

        “Extend BST (Battery Street Tunnel) to Harrison (see DEIS).
        Retain BSU (Broad Street Underpass) for better access to extended BST.”

        Aleks replies, “The state proposes closing the Battery St Tunnel due to safety concerns. I don’t think keeping it open is feasible. Broad Street is an urban blight. Removing it is one of the best parts. This fix seems worse than the problem.”

        The safety concern with the BST is its lack of shoulders. However, extending it is feasible and safer than the deep bore tunnel. The BSU will soon have a landscaped entry ramp from Mercer and exit ramp to Harrison; not bad. Retaining it offers a simpler, “safer” entrance to SR99 south. The bore tunnel entrance requires a ‘merge left’ on Mercer to a ‘left turn stoplight’, then a 2nd left lane stoplight. A widened Mercer beneath the Aurora overpass will be a place pedestrians avoid. Bicyclists would use widened sidewalks on both sides if the left-turn is rejected.

        Aleks says, “With any limited-access freeway in downtown Seattle, Mercer is the best access. It’s a wide street that serves primarily as a regional corridor.”

        Mercer already has too much traffic. Widening Mercer to Elliott increases traffic through ‘residential’ Queen Anne and the “dangerously steep” Mercer Place hill. The safer access to SR99 is Lower Belltown. Elliott is a ‘commercial’ corridor, near level, straight, least stoplights.

        Aleks says, “Why is displacing traffic a bad thing?

        It’s a bad thing to displace the traffic to/from Ballard (35,000 daily) because it is redirected from suitably ‘commercial’ Elliott/Western through ‘residential’ Queen Anne, also navigating the dangerously steep Mercer Place hill. Redirecting traffic from the 1st Ave access at Columbia/Spring, OTOH, is excellent because that access leads to dangerous hillclimb/descent on steep downtown streets and more traffic on 1st Ave which should be dedicated to transit and pedestrian amenities.

  18. SouthLakeUnionCorruption says

    Send the corrupt property owning profiteers go down there with shovels and come back up when theyre done digging.

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