Tunnel of Despair
Tunnel of Despair, flickr user jamesm

The more I think about the tunnel to replace the viaduct, the less I like it. I am certainly glad that it isn’t a new elevated option, but that’s only a small consolation. I wanted the surface option. My reasons are below the fold.

  1. The deep-bored tunnel was the most expensive of all the replacement options, $2.7 billion more than the cheapest surface option. For contrast, Central Link was about $2.4 billion. The entire streetcar network envisioned by the Streetcar study is just over $500 million. Take away the $125 million First Hill Streetcar funded by ST2, and you can almost build Central Link and the rest of the Streetcar network with just the difference. That is an expensive tunnel.
  2. Building this tunnel makes implementing any other future transit tunnel so much more complicated that it becomes nearly impossible. The perfect West Seattle-Ballard light rail alignment would be underground downtown.  With North Link built to Everett, East Link built to Redmond and Issaquah, and South Link down to Tacoma, in order to maintain service frequent enough to satisfy peak demand, the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel will not be able to carry any additional trains. A new downtown tunnel would have to be built, and while I admit that is likely a pipe dream (tunnel dream?), with an SR 99 tunnel, it becomes nearly impossible. Between the BNSF tunnel, the DSTT and the Battery Street tunnel, the project would already have been difficult. Add this First Avenue alignment and it becomes that much more complicated, as any tunnel would have to go under the BNSF in the CBD, this one somewhere around Westlake or Belltown and the Battery street tunnel. Possibly even the DSTT if the new transit tunnel were built under Fourth Ave.In order to build out light rail to Everett, Redmond, and South King and Pierce Counties, Sound Transit will have to pass another transit package. This package will have to include something for Seattle’s subarea, and the obvious choice is a Ballard-West Seattle line. If you build this tunnel, that route could be at best elevated, while it did have support at one time, has significant drawbacks compared to an underground routing. With the Eastern side of the city getting a subway, why shouldn’t the Western Side? At least the cheaper price tag makes an elevated solution quicker to build, but it complicates transfers to the DSTT and will cause massive disruptions on the streets it gets built on.
  3. Because the tunnel wouldn’t stop downtown, it not only encourage sprawl, it would worsen Rapid Ride BRT to Shoreline and West Seattle. The routes are going to have climb onto surface streets fairly far from the Central Business District, and there’s not a lot of employers all the way up on Denny or downtown Dearborn. This increases the number of service hours required to maintain the same frequency, the travel times and also the cost of operating the routes.
  4. Lastly the tunnel isn’t completely funded, and is likely to suck up transportation dollars for a long time. The state’s contribution is supposed to be $2.8 billion, but they’ve only set aside $2.4 billion so far. Some of us were hoping part of that money could go to mitigation projects like BRT, the First Avenue streetcar or pedestrian improvements. If the full portion , or more than the full portion in this case, is spent on the SR99 tunnel, there’s no money for these mitigation projects. Even if the project goes smoothly, and megaprojects have a history of problems. I hope for the best, but this thing could be a money pit for a long time.
  5. As Will from HA reminds us, we voted against a tunnel already! You might say, “that was a different tunnel”. Yeah this one is more expensive and more disruptive. Hurray! 

Oh well. I’d complain about the environmental aspects of cars shooting through downtown, but I’m not sure it’s really worth bothering. If this freeway didn’t already exist, no one would ever even consider building a $4 billion deep-bore tunnel, and saying the port needs a freeway doesn’t really make the project worth the price tag or the missed opportunities.

60 Replies to “I Hate This Tunnel”

  1. Something tells me this is an issue where Spock would find the tunnel “illogical,” but Kirk would see the beauty in it.

  2. Embrace your inner Tunnel.

    They could direct the vehicle exhausts into the downtown office buildings. After all many of them are empty already anyway.

    But seriously, the sooner we bury this road the better. If you think building a tunnel for cars is too expensive, no one here would ever support the costs for a transit tunnel heading that way anyway.

    There is a lot to like about this solution, and I’m betting transit supporters will ultimately realize that it is not going to kill all their tunnel pipe dreams.

    1. Nope, not the way to build consensus. “Like it or else”. They will have to take on the 1st Avenue businesses to get this built, which includes the PDA. I predict a snarling raging battle over this.

      1. Because every decision is punctuated by a “so screw you, _______” statement. “No downtown exits, so screw you, downtown.” “No access for ballard/interbay freight traffic, so screw you, Ballard/Interbay.”, that’s why we need consensus.

        Or, you know, to consider the big picture instead of property values in West Seattle.

      2. Actually, I think it takes so long because so many people say ‘f*ck consensus’…

      3. That’s ludicrous. When has consensus EVER been faster than decisions with limited decisionmakers? “i.e. too many cooks in the kitchen” or “too many chiefs not enough [native americans.]”

      1. The only argument I’ve heard is circular. We need a highway because there’s traffic using the highway we have. There’s no actual discussion of what would happen in an alternative.

      2. Well, when the viaduct was closed for several weekdays for inspection after the Nisqually earthquake, I-5 came to a virtual halt at rush hour, as did 1st Ave, 4th Ave, Dexter Ave, Alaskan Way, Marginal Way, and every viable alternative.

        It’s funny how people who don’t use it think they don’t need it. Hello??? You think the 110,000 cars that drive on it every day are just going to stay home?

  3. I’m okay with this tunnel for the following reasons:
    1) The city/county are now on the hook and in heavy debt to citizens beyond the 30-40k regular commuters that will use this. The hundreds of thousands that just got handed a bill that goes against a previous “no” vote.
    2) They are also in debt for leaving the viaduct up, what was previously called a risk and was supposed to be torn down in 2012 “OR EVERYONE WILL DIE!!!!11one”
    3) The access point hinders freight mobility to Ballard/Interbay, contrary to what was supposedly a big selling point for a bypass.

    Accordingly, I feel we should request (and are owed) the following:
    1) Streetcar network (fast-track Ballard line as well)
    2) More pedestrian access to the waterfront
    3) More emphasis on transit in getting to downtown (i.e. MORE BUSES, PLS)
    4) Affordable residential on the waterfront, apartments
    5) Potential waterfront elevated/future LRT line to Ballard

    1. I’d totally be open for a Waterfront LRT route. That would be the most direct route between Ballard and West Seattle, the main issue would be finding a good elevated location to cross over the BNSF. My guess would be a short tunnel between Pike Street and Elliott Avenue/15th Ave.

      I know we all would love an elevated route but I’d be more open to an at-grade LRT route, small tunnel/bridges, to get the system running.

      Then I get those funny feelings that I want a monorail just to not get a headache on figuring out the best LRT route. I am sure ST has been thinking about this issue very, very, heavily. It is one of those rare corridors that just screams for Monorail but establishing a decent system that won’t fall apart (Bombardier, Las Vegas great example…)

      If I was presented with an option between LRT and Monorail, I’d probably toss up my blogging keys and get behind a Monorail proposal, simply because it would be the fastest route, potentially millions (billions less?) less than LRT for that particular corridor, and would be flexible enough to serve everyone (Ballard, Queen Anne, Downtown Seattle, Stadium District/SODO, and West Seattle)

      Ugh, I hate having those thoughts when you really sit and look at the corridor and know there is NO easy answer to this corridor. (waits for Monorail guys to say, told you so!)

      1. It can track up to Western at-grade, have a brief flyover at Elliott and then run elevated along the rail ROW to the west of 15th or as an arched elevated over the rails. From there, it would jog NE at Thorndyke and go under Salmon Bay, following 14th at-grade before going into a tunnel under Market (with a northbound spur track open just before the portal), travelling under Market 8 blocks before turning around at NW 54th just before the locks.

        The Ballard-bound alignment (B1) includes stations at:
        -Stadium Station
        -King Street Station/Qwest Field (1st & King)
        -Pier 50
        -Ferry Terminal
        -Pike Place Market

    2. How about we get Uncle Sam to build us a third tunnel at the same time, with it’s ends appropriatly situated to connect to a future Ballard to West Seattle Light rail Line.
      I do have an alternate route for a Ballard to West Seattle Light rail.

      Start at the Tukwilla Sounder station, heading West crossing the North end of South center, I405 and I5 to join central link following 518 to the Tukwilla station. Continue following 518 and 148th into Burien. Turn North following Ambaum Blvd and 116th to Roxbury. Follow Roxbury and Barton West to the Fauntleory ferry terminal, Turn north and follow Fauntlerory Way and California Ave North Entering a Tunel, and then a Submerged tunnel (simular to the BART Submerged tunnel) at the Northern end of West Seattle. Turn East and enter a underground tunnel near the Downtown ferry docks under Maddison Street. Follow Maddison Street to Maddison park. Enter a second Submerged tunnel at Madison park, turning back to the west and under the UW and follow a 45th street and NW Market street alignment into Ballard to 15th. 15th North to Holman, 105th and Northgate. Northgae East to 522. 522 North to Woodinville.
      I would invision stations at minimum at the following locations Tukwilla Sounder, Southcenter Mall, Tukwilla Link, Burien, Inglesea, NW 16th & Roxbury, Arbour Heights, Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, Fauntleroy Way and California Ave, West Seattle, Downtown Ferry Terminal, Buss Tunnle, Madison and Broad, Madison and 23rd, Madison Park, UW, 45th and University, 45th and Stone, Market and 15th. 15th and 85th, Greenwood and 105th, Northgate Link, 522 and 125th, 522 and Balanger, 522 and 65th, 522 and 527, UW Bothell, Woodinville P&R.

      Yes it’s wanders a bit, however I think the area it covers would provide a large ridership, and crossing Link 4 times, with a direct Sounder connection, and possiable ESR connection, you should be able to transfer to more direct routs at somewhat frequent locations

      Lor Scara

      1. A couple of alternate routes on the above.

        After crossing I5 on Madison, turn north following Broadway, connecting to UW link at the Capitol Hill Station. At the Brooklyn station. seperate from North Link, and head West on 45th as per the above alignment.

        Instead of continuing from UW Bothell to Woodinville, Follow 405 North West with a station at Canyon Park and Alderwood Mall, then follow 525 North with stations at 99 and the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. This alignment gives us another intersection with Link (probably ST3), Sounder, and ESR (assuming that ESR is extended also to the UW Bothell campus)

  4. I was sitting on the bus in Downtown Seattle thinking about alignments, how the BNSF tunnel goes, etc. and I’ve came to a striking conclusion;

    The transit tunnel could still be built, depending on the soil, a deep bore tunnel for WS-Ballard could easily dip under the Alaskan Way Tunnel, BNSF Tunnel and it wouldn’t encounter the DSTT.

    The drawings I have shows the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel starting between 4th and 5th Avenue on Jackson, when it begins its descent down and to the left. The reason for this dip and turn is to allow the line go under the BNSF Railway Tunnel. The BNSF tunnel enters over at Washington Avenue and also turns to the left.

    The BNSF tunnel follows 2nd Avenue until University Street where it turns and heads towards and under the Pike Place Market and pops out behind the World Trade Center near Pier 66.

    Looking at the tunnel route for the AWT, I would say it would go under the BNSF near the Pike Place Market and would not come near the DTSS.

    This would allow the narrow twin bore LRT tunnels to be installed between 1st and 2nd Avenue or the route can run under any of these tunnels unless there is some regulation that I am not aware about that prevents from tunnel stacking in the United States. It will honestly comes down to money, depth, and length. Most LRV’s can navigate a 6% grade while it is at speed. The segment between I-5 and Tukwila Station is 5.38% with a speed of 55mph.

    If I was a smart planner for this region though, I would have also went with the tunnel option but would have provided the funding for transportation on top of the project in the event that an earthquake happens between now and the completion of the tunnel. Remember, it has been 8 years since the Nisqually Quake and were very much overdue for a good shake up soon.

    1. Pfft, just put an elevated line on the waterfront, branch through the BST for Aurora, around and up to Interbay for Ballard and a branch to West Seattle.

      It would be pretty. And fast!

      1. Given all the time and effort we just spent getting rid of an elevated structure on the waterfront, I highly doubt that we’ll see another one anytime soon. An elevated line through downtown is far more likely, in my opinion.

      2. ericn, that’s the smartest comment I’ve seen on this blog in a long time. Some here are over-thinking this issue, and can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re removing a blight, and reclaiming our waterfront. It makes no sense to replace one blight with another. To put anything other than a world-class park along the waterfront would be idiotic.

      3. I think you’re expecting an elevated rail line would be nearly as large as the viaduct, which means you’re wrong again.

      4. I think we will need a better transfer to/from the downtown transit tunnel than walking to or from the waterfront.

      5. I’ve always thought a horizontal pedestrian tunnel would be a great addition to the transit tunnel. Just slope slightly from under the University station to the waterfront, using travelators, and you could get to the waterfront in just a minute or two of walking. (or a few horizontal then slant-vertical sections with escalators, whatever is more constructible) We could also eventually connect with a downtown Sounder station (if ever desired) and with any future urban rail tunnel.

  5. If anyone saw Peter Newman talk last night it made Seattle look pathetic. He wasn’t discussing whether to build more freeways or not, he took the no for granted. He was explaining ways of repurposing highway land, and showing examples of this in Australia in Europe either through dismantling or putting in transit lines! I think what many people don’t understand is that removing this waterfront freeway can be an incredibly symbolic act and show that we really are on the progressive side of the new economy. Building a new freeway, underground or not, puts us in a category with Houston and Atlanta, not Portland and Boulder. We need to realize that the age of cheap fuel is over and without directing our city clearly towards a greener, less dependent city, we are doomed to decline dramatically in the decades to come.

    1. Thank you JoshMahar. Sam commented earlier that many are having difficulty seeing the forest from the trees. You’ve correctly and perfectly shown what others seem incapable of seeing – if we keep building highways “we are doomed to decline dramatically in the decades to come” People: Look ahead to the 2050s, not back to the 1950s, please!

  6. This tunnel is a moronic idea – bad urban planning, bad transportation planning, and a bad use of scarce money.

    The best solution would be a ballot initiative to kill this dead.

      1. The problem is those cranks want to replace the viaduct with another elevated structure.

        Which would be worse urban planning, worse transportation planning, and also a bad use of scarce money.

        I also don’t want the preceedent because some anti-rail crank might try something similar to kill one or more of the Link alignments.

  7. On point 2: I really think any second route is not ideal unless it basically intersects the DSTT anyway. We want a system where it is easy to get from West Seattle to Redmond or from Ballard to Capitol Hill. It would be ideal to have easy transfers at Westlake and at King street station at the very least. No transfer points are needed through downtown, and I am undecided on whether we want it to be redundant or whether we would want to take the opportunity to spread rapid transit to somewhere east or west of the downtown core like First Hill.

    On point 3: What do you define as sprawl? The vast majority of Viaduct traffic is making trips within Seattle, the rest from the nearest suburbs. These are places we want to grow. SR99 really doesn’t make sense for someone commuting from Enumclaw or Lake Stevens.

    I agree, though, that it’s too expensive, and it’s hard for me to take this seriously as a “final” decision given the open questions around funding. I kind of suspect that in another year we still won’t be sure what we’re building.

  8. Forgot to mention… How exactly would it worsen RapidRide to Shoreline and West Seattle? Under this plan these buses could get off SR99 at Denny and at the Stadiums. The south end is really about the same as under the surface plan, and on the north end, were you imagining that they would go through the Battery street tunnel? Why? To go down Western? It certainly isn’t any easier to get to 3rd Ave from there.

    1. It will worsen the already (IMHO) ridiculous RR West Seattle plan. The current proposed RR route uses the viaduct, of which the bus would exit at Seneca. It’s immediately right downtown. No surface street travel after West Seattle but for a block or two (hey, just like the current 54X!).

      Based on the graphic video I’ve seen, the “new” RR bus route would exit at Royal Brougham, travel surface streets through Pioneer Square (already a roadblock during rush hour) even if there’s no stops until the downtown “core” and have to deal with the extra vehicular traffic that will not be using the tunnel (since it’s down to two lanes with exits only before and after downtown) to get downtown. This is not faster. Only faster if dedicated bus lanes are installed (maybe it will use the bus corridor through SODO, even so, it’s got to get on surface streets at some point) and lights are timed to let buses through and there’s absolutely no traffic backups ever.

  9. Check out this cool simulation of the tunnel from WSDOT.

    The video shows that the deep bore tunnel passes about 160′ under the surface, way below the BNSF tunnel. There should be plenty of space for a LRT tunnel.

    I agree with what Brian said. It’s technically feasible, depending on soil conditions, to construct entire stations underground with very minimal ground disruption a la London tube stations.

    1. That’s a very interesting video.

      Also interesting that it is from WSDOT. I wonder how long it took to make and when the effort to make it was initiated.

    2. WSDOT has a Design Visualization Group that does these kinds of things. They had simulation videos for the viaduct options for at least a year now. I cannot recall if they used a private company to do the downtown 3-D model for them or not, shame on me for not paying attention in class.

  10. Transit people, this is our opportunity.

    Don’t kill the tunnel, make it bigger – to accomodate light rail as a third deck on top of the two decks of SR 99. As long as you’re digging a big expensive tunnel, it’s not that much more money to make it wider.

    The new line – call it Sound Transit 3 – could approximate the dead monorail, except via Westlake Ave and Fremont to Ballard and beyond instead of Interbay. You’d link it to the existing tunnel via an underground transfer station at or near University Street. Presto.

    Let’s make this happen, instead of either killing it or letting just a highway tunnel get built.

    1. That would be great, and probably the only way Ballard or West Seattle could get light rail in the next 20 years. But I’m guessing that if WSDOT thought it was possible to build a bigger tunnel, they would use the space to put in extra lanes for cars anyway.

      1. Strong pro-transit voters (among others) killed the first cut-and-cover tunnel proposal. I think my idea keeps the anti-tunnel initiative from passing.

    2. There’s two things making this difficult
      1) The routing for the isn’t perfect, since it turns north (from northwest) in belltown pretty south of the perfect LRT tunnel alignment. Somewhere like 3rd and Blanchard, where for LRT you’d want to turn north no south of denny. This is the smaller problem

      2) The TBM is likely already huge, 54′ in diametre. They do make bigger TBMs,
      http://toolmonger.com/2007/03/26/its-just-cool-herrenknecht-epb-shield-s-300/ that one’s 66 feet. But that increases the cost pretty dramatically, probably an additional 20~50% since you have to escavate that much more earth.

      1. I am awesome at math:
        66′, which is probably about the point where you can add a third level to the tunnel, has a 33′ radius, and the cross section would have an 3419.5 sq ft.
        54′ whic is the current tunnel design, has a 27′ radius and 2289 sq ft cross section.

        3419.5 is 149.4% of 2289, so it is almost exactly 50% more dirt.

      2. Does this seem crazy to anyone else? This would be the biggest TBM ever used in North America and one of the three biggest ever used on earth.

        It would be the only TBM of a significant size used through watery sand or even close to sea-level. The others have all be through rock or mountains, madrid at 2200 feet or the alps at, what 5,000 or more?

      3. Hmm, maybe if the engineers decided one large tunnel would not be feasable and went back to two smaller ones, then you might have enough room to squeeze a transit lane on each one.

    3. Adding size to this tunnel may be difficult. If this tunnel were to be built, it would be the largest diameter tunnel in the world (54′, current record is 52′ in Madrid).

      Second issue: getting out of the tunnel. I assume you want LR to stop downtown, which means 160′ elevators. Yes, they pulled something like that off on Beacon Hill, but I have to imagine that it might present some trouble downtown. A new LR tunnel really should be close to the surface.

      Third issue: it is absolutely vital that a Ballard to West Seattle Line INTERSECT the existing transit tunnel to facilitate easy transfers. That was one of the major problems with the monorail – it did not integrate well with the existing transit system.

      1. Why would this tunnel need to be so deep? Put it near the level of the bus tunnel, put light rail on the top level of the tunnel, and use the bus tunnel’s street access – you’d just need to ride up one more set of escalators.

      2. I think the tunnel is so deep in order to avoid building foundations in Belltown, the BNSF tunnel, and a 8′ sewer line. Also from what I read on tunneling, 2x the tunnel diameter is the depth where settling on properties adjacent to the alignment becomes much less of an issue.

        The tunnel would have to be quite a bit larger in order to accomidate 4 lanes plus two link tracks.

        Since there is only one tunnel I do wonder what they are planning on doing for emergency exits/access.

  11. Someone in the West Seattle Blog comments posted a great WSDOT video of the tunnel and how it interacts with all the other tunnels we have. It appears that this tunnel will be over 100 feet under street level all the way through downtown, which should be ample depth to put a transit tunnel above. The major obstacle to a new transit tunnel is the BNSF tunnel, which will go over the 99 tunnel around Union Street.

    1. The 2 lane each direction tunnel— which I liken to $4B indoor plumbing for the s**t verses the outhouse we currently use, either way it’s the same crap going through the system. I wonder if as they’re studying Rapid Ride for Aurora Ave N if it isn’t okay now to take more of the right of way for sidewalks, transit, bike lanes, bus lanes and buffer? That way the Mercer Mess can go down to 2 lanes each direction instead of 3 and we can get the bottleneck out of the way at the source which is when the cars are still in their garages and not delay it until South Lake Union / Uptown.

      Where on earth is the message to get out of your car in all this? Yikes. By the way, did you see the elephant in the room moon walking through that press conference with Gregoire, Sims, and Nickels?

  12. Too bad this won’t be “shovel-ready” for at least 3 years. No federal windfall for Washington state, I guess. Thanks for all the indecision, Gregoire!

  13. Is there a water pumping system when or if the Tunnel floods?

    Is there an emergency air system in case the Tunnel collapses?

    Is there an evacuation system from the Tunnel and for people leaving the waterfront in case of earthquake or tsunami type event?

    How many exit doors will be available in case of emergency?

    Will there be a walk path built throughout the tunnel so handicap people can move in wheel chairs and biker use if needed.

  14. I oppose the tunnel for many reasons. First, it flies in the face of democracy. A whopping 70% of Seattle voters voted ‘no’ on this. For Christine Gregoire, Greg Nickels, et al, to have pushed forth in trying to get this tunnel built over and above the objections of the people definitly goes against democracy, because a democracy is supposed to be a government by the people, not a dictatorship by the politicians. But we did fire Greg Nickels, didn’t we?

    There are also many safety issues involved here but to enumerate these would take a lot of space.

    And isn’t it interesting that even though American politicians want “We the People” to be paranoid about terrorism so that the politicians can strip us of our constitutional rights, they don’t mention terroism and tunnel in the same breath. Why? Because the pro-tunnel politicians know that the tunnel would be a prime target for terrorism, and there’s not much the government can do to prevent it. What’s the government going to do: make all the cars pass through a metal detector?

    Then there’s cost: 4 and a 1/4 billion dollars for starters + cost over-runs. And anytime the politicians conspire with big business this way to fleece the public, there are always cost over-runs.

    And who would use this tunnel? I’ve read that 100,000 motorists per day use the viaduct. Oh? Is this 100,000 different motorists each day making a one way trip, driving off into the sunset never to be seen or heard from again? Or is it more like 50,000 motorists per day making a round trip? This is an example of how statistics don’t lie but liars (big business/government) can learn to manipulate statistics. And for the most part, it’s probably the same 50,000 per day.

    Then let’s talk about environment. Is this tunnel supposed to help get people to stop using their cars and start thinking about our planet? Not hardly! Our government is determined to keep people IN cars. For instance, our federal government was giving tax breaks to people to buy new cars, even though “energy saving” cars are very bad for the environment. How so? It takes a lot of energy and uses a lot resources and causes a lot of pollution just to manufacture a new car. And that’s before you even buy it and drive it. New cars! Tunnels! This is all in an effort to boost the profits of corporate power: the auto industry, oil industry, etc.

    Many people who gripe about higher taxes are among the first to vote these taxes in. Of the 30% who voted “yes” on the tunnel, how many of them complain about big government spending and higher taxes? How many of them, for instance, complain about welfare programs? This tunnel would amount to welfare for the people who are too self-centered to stop driving their cars, or at least drive them less.

    PS I was born in Seattle and am proud to say that I have never had a car. And It’s probably been several decades since the last time I was on the viaduct.

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