Dominic Holden, news editor of The Stranger, has two long-form articles this week. One goes through the history of the viaduct/deep bore tunnel project, but the main one is a well-researched and thorough exploration of all the things that could go wrong with the deep-bore tunnel, and explains just how shoddy the contingency planning for these possibilities are. It’s almost enough to make one support a viaduct rebuild if the surface/transit option can’t happen — especially since the city is likely to mess up the new waterfront anyway.

WSDOT, via the stranger

Let’s spare a thought for the other big transportation tunnel project just getting started — the light rail tunnel from Pine Street to Roosevelt. Potential problems with ST’s project are both fewer and milder, and post-2001 their reserves have been generous. Furthermore, if ST has overruns the impact is a reduction in scope and delay in completion, rather than a raid on someone’s general fund. Nevertheless, tunneling risk is one of the best reasons to be a pessimist about ST coming through on time and on budget.

All this doesn’t mean tunnel projects are never worthwhile, but it does mean that contingency planning and risk management are very important. It’s especially important when the impact of overruns is likely to be a raid on funds allocated to better things, whether at the city level or the state level. Holden’s reporting  — possibly the local story of the year so far — shows how the deep-bore plan we’re being asked to commit is lacking.

Also, check out the 13-lane-width monstrosity at right.

110 Replies to “Fear the Tunnel”

  1. The Stranger? Really?

    You’re getting in bed with the half-truth, alarmist-for-money Stranger?

    I’m tempted to like the tunnel MORE knowing that The Stranger did one of its sub-Onion pieces on it.

      1. Na, I wouldn’t exactly call the Stranger an expert in this field either. And just raising “fears” about what might go wrong is the oldest trick in the anti’s book – raise a little FUD without doing any real in depth analysis and maybe you can still stop something….

        For a better insight into some of the issues on the tunnel and the thinking of the SCC, read the Conlin interview. It’s actually a lot better.

        And having that big, multi-lane monstrosity at the south end of the tunnel is a lot better than having something like that all along the waterfront. The tunnel actually allows the surface street improvements to be smaller, which allows the designers to dedicate more of the reclaimed acreage to green space.

      2. Holden spends a lot of time going through the probabilities of this kind of thing happening based on the historical track record. So it’s not just a bunch of “mights.”

      3. There is no rigorous development of probabilities or risks in Holden’s article – it’s just a bunch of “mights”. And he shows some pretty fundamental misunderstandings of the problems some of the other tunneling projects have encountered.

        It’s a FUD piece not worthy of serious thought or consideration.

      4. Not to mention a fundamental misrepresentation by the author of the purpose of money set aside for overruns due to cost inflation. Besides, this is the state and city budget projection for the project; there have been no contractor bids made as of yet. If recent construction bids made for Sound Transit work indicate anything, its that contractor bids are likely to come in well under budget in this economy. Let’s at least wait to see actual bids before freaking out.

      5. The cuts at the north portal are also left starkly uncapped and an exit/entrance to the north is developed at Denny Way, thus John Street is completely disconnected. WSDOT’s early design for the north portal with its exit/entrance north from Harrison would work better. The video shows only the northbound tunnel view, and how the entrance north from Western is retained. I’m recommending this entrance and the companion exit north at western NOT be retained. It’s surprising that this video simulation depicts a 6-lane cut/cover Tunnelite. I’m sorry, but no matter how you shake it, Tunnelite is simply better engineering and less risky than the DBT.

      6. Watch the video as traffic hits the north portal onto Lower Belltown closely and you’ll see the southbound lanes “descending” below the level of northbound lanes. This means the design is a ‘stacked’ cut/cover, just like I’ve been saying. I haven’t seen this video til today, yet my instincts told me this ‘stacked’ cut/cover was in the works. The video is dated Sept 2007.

        On southbound the aerial view, the exit from the Battery Street Tunnel is shown. Retaining these two ramps may be the problem WSDOT faced which required a complete rebuild of Battery Street Tunnel. Dropping these undesirable ramps could resolve that matter.

        The southbound aerial view also shows Alaskan Way. The Promenade is not a good idea with any replacement for managing traffic. It’ll be sacraficed to become either a 6-lane Alaskan Way, or, as in early designs (pre-Crunican), a 2-lane frontage road on the eastside with ‘islands’ between it and a 4-lane Alaskan Way. This best manages thru-traffic by dividing it from motorists looking to park.

        With the frontage road, the stoplights at Washington and Columbia may be removed by creating ‘superblock islands’ which make entering and exitting Coleman Dock simpler, safer and faster. A superblock island may also be created at Seneca.

        With the frontage road, the streetcar line may be reinstalled, east/west bus lines near Coleman Dock become possible, sufficient but not excessive curbside parking and a separate bikeway are created, much like the current arrangement sans AWV monstrosity. There’s still room to widen the seawall sidewalk 6′-12′ and add generous street trees and landscaping.

        Maybe this video gives you all a better understanding of why I continue my advocacy for Tunnelite.

      7. One more note: Building Tunnelite requires diverting SR99 traffic between Aurora and Alaskan Way via Broad Street ‘after’ Tunnelite is completed to the north portal at Pike and ready to operate from there south during the 2+ years for rebuilding the Lower Belltown and Aurora segments.

        A permanent bridge over the RR tracks at Broad Street is necessary and desirable. That bridge could incorporate an extension of the Waterfront Streetcar Line leading to the 1st Ave North/Queen Anne Couplet with the turnaround at Mercer Street. Now that would be a good way to go. My design for the south end of the Waterfront Streetcar Line has the westbound track on Main and the eastbound track one block over on Jackson. Hmmm.

      8. Tunnelite closes the AWV at least 2 years sooner than the Deep Bore Tunnel. The seawall is rebuilt at the same time.

      9. Yeah Zit, Tunnelite is like deep-bore-dumbass stone, but instead it’s a genuine gemstone.

      10. Reclaimed green space? Doubtful.

        All of those pretty drawings that show tress and grass are there to con the general public. The only green space we’ll see is the patch of grass in front of whatever condos the real estate developers build.

      11. I hope they build some condos, rather than a featureless park used 50 days a year.

      12. Exactly. Give me usable space over urban ‘green space’ any day. Seattle has enough parks in the city. I’d much rather preserve the real thing by putting people in the city and not spreading them further and further out into the countryside around the city.

      13. Sorry, I don’t have time to pick that article to shreds, although as a quick sample I can point out the “monstrosity” you’ve proudly echoed is not all the Highway 99 through road. Clever cropping makes it look the way they (and apparently, you) want it to look.

        No, there comes a time when you have to stop battling someone point-by-point, sometime after you realize it would take months of your life that you could never get back, and you simply have to discount the validity of the source.

        Thanks for the thoughtful response, though.

      14. I concur fully. We’ve actually had some pretty good success around here lately with tunnels, and as tunnels go the DBT just isn’t that difficult or risky of a tunnel (note, I’m not saying there isn’t any risk, just that it carries an acceptable level of risk.)

        It’s time to move on. Put the agreements in place to get started, try to get the overrun clause reformed at the state level, and get on with it. Time is a wasting.

      15. “We’ve actually had some pretty good success around here lately with tunnels”

        Where?

        “as tunnels go the DBT just isn’t that difficult or risky of a tunnel”

        Really? What do you base that on?

      16. Ah, have we forgotten already? The Beacon Hill tunnels that ST just dug for Link came in slightly under budget. The part that had difficulties was the deep mined station, but the DBT has no mined stations.

        Ya, they hit some sand pockets and had to do some remediation, but ST learned from that and made some changes for U-Link (TBM design and monitoring).

        I assume the State will learn from ST’s experiance too — there is a real advantage to not going first, namely it reduces your risk.

      17. The Beacon Hill tunnels are like 1/3 the diameter of the proposed DBT, and were over budget, not under. The original estimate was $238 million, Obayashi won the bid at $280 million, and the final bill was $312 million.

        The contractors ignored the fact that they over excavated and would never have done anything about it had several sinkholes not appeared on Beacon Hill. The geology of Beacon Hill is also significantly different than Pioneer Square and Downtown.

      18. This notion that bigger is somehow riskier or scarier is just another version of FUD. Risk does not go up linearly with diameter. All the larger diameter really means is that you need a larger diameter TBM with appropriately sized lining segments. And we are only talking about a tunnel that is something like 2 feet larger in diameter (radius?) then some other tunnels that have already been successfully built. That is not high risk.

        The DBT is relatively simple compared to the Beacon Hill tunnel that has already been successfully built. It’s a single bore, only ~1.5 miles long, contains no mined cross-overs, no deep mined stations, and the soils are substantially similar to Beacon Hill.

        You are mixing apples and oranges with your cost data. I stand by my previous statements.

      19. I would agree with you here, except that this tunnel will be the world’s largest bored tunnel. There is usually issues when you scale up beyond the previous maximum size and you usually don’t find those out until you try and fail.

      20. It’s only like 2 feet larger then some other TBM built tunnels that have already been constructed. It’s hardly a monumental increase in size, and it certainly isn’t a monumental increase in risk.

      21. “You are mixing apples and oranges with your cost data.”

        Pointing out that the Beacon Hill Tunnel went over budget when you said it was under budget is mixing apples and oranges?

      22. The tunnel portion of the project most certainly was under budget. Contingency funds were part of the budget, just like on the proposed DBT project.

      23. Considering the DBT would run under a central business district, I’d call any tunnel qualifying as one of the top 10 largest a monumental increase in risk.

      24. “The tunnel portion of the project most certainly was under budget.”

        And you know this how?

      25. The difference is the 2nd Avenue Subway is being dug under the street through bedrock, not under building foundations through glacial till and filled in tide flats.

      26. But they have to freeze the ground to prevent mud from seeping in and causing nearby buildings to sink. It sounds to me like they’re concerned about the same risks Josh is.

      27. Still the experience digging (or not) the Brightwater tunnel should have some bearing on the risk involved. Of the 4 machines, two got stuck and have to be dug out, and one is still not fixed. As Mike O’Brien points out, what if it gets stuck under some building? The bonding doesn’t cover this sort of contingency, and it looks like Seattle taxpayers will have to cover the costs. And with a mega project like this it’s entirely possible for the contractor to go bankrupt and not be able to finish the job.

        This isn’t like overspending your allowance and then just asking dad for more money to finish the dog house project. This is billions of dollars, and for what? To move cars through downtown for $7 (rt), who’s going to pay that? Not anyone except during rush hour.

      28. I’m curious if anyone knows… If the TBM were to get stuck, why would they go through the trouble of digging down to it instead of having the new TBM tunnel from the opposite direction and then destroying the TBMs when they meet? Is there any reason a tunnel has to be dug in one direction or the other?

      29. Well, you’re assuming that the contractor is going to use two machines instead of just one plus all this would do is double your problem as you’d then have two machines to dig out. The reason they can dig from both directions with U Link is because they’ve got that be hole where the Capital Hill station is going to go to pull them out.

      30. Eric L: the direction in which you dig determines where you have to have construction staging and an armada of dump trucks hauling away the spoils. For example, both Link tunnels will be dug from Capitol Hill to downtown because going the other way would require disrupting service in the DSTT.

      31. Plus the TBM can’t be backed out of the tunnel, it has to be lifted out through a pit because the solid metal shell of the machine is actually larger than the diameter of the finished concrete lined tunnel behind it.

      32. Interesting piece on U Link construction, University Link’s Sound Strategy. Looks like they will use three TBMs. One for the DT to Capital Hill section and two for the UW to Capital Hill section so that they finish at the same time. If they’re using only one for both tunnels to DT then I would assume they dig one tunnel in each direction rather than try and move the critter back to the same starting point. For UW to Capital Hill I’d think they’d want to start one from each direction to minimize earth movement and possible interference. From the UW I would think barging out the excavated material would be the most cost effective and least disruptive for traffic and neighbors. It sounds like the shell for all of them will be left in place. So yes, a second TBM could dig from the opposite direction and meet up with one that’s stuck but TBMs don’t come cheap and the time delay could be substantial as well. Then again, digging it out could cost just as much. The job is supposed to be bid/design so really the issue of cost overruns from this fall on the contractor. I think there’s little chance that the mega corporations bidding the job will go bankrupt and even if they do WSDOT would be remiss in not insuring against this.

      33. As far as I know all of the U link tunnels are being dug from Capitol Hill. Apparently there is some merit in centalizing spoils removal among other things.

      34. There digging the 2 tubes from UW to Capitol Hill simultaneously, with the dirt being removed from the UW station site. They’re digging the 2 tubes from Capitol Hill to Pine Street one at a time, each time in the direction from Capitol Hill to Pine Street.

  2. Well, we always knew the University Link tunnel would be the most expensive and precarious part of the project. It’s also the most essential part, which is why the tunnel was never eliminated in favor of a cheaper surface/elevated route. So if ST gets into cost overruns with the University Link tunnel, that’s still a better use of money than anything else ST does.

    It would be ironic if the Link tunnel ends up singing along merrily while the viaduct tunnel ends up in delays and overruns. That might make people more inclined to support a second transit tunnel downtown.

    1. That might make people more inclined to support a second transit tunnel downtown.

      I’m gonna assume it will be like Boston, one bad experience with tunneling and all tunneling projects are blacklisted. The North-South Rail Link continues to be a casualty of the Big Dig’s problems.

      1. The problem area was the cut and cover tunnel, where they left their viaduct standing above it and trenched under. The viaduct came down after the tunnel was finished.

    1. Even sadder to consider that these renderings always look much nicer than the eventual finished product.

    2. Gotta love the portals at both ends choked with abundant traffic lanes all funneling in and ramps looping around like spaghetti. Seems more appropriate for 1950s Los Angeles than 21st century Seattle.

      1. (Well the link didn’t work and it’s too long too paste.)

        Check out what the intersection of Mercer and 99 looks like now from above on google or bing, if you want see ugly.

  3. Don’t worry folks, after the bickering with the state, we’ll end up with another elevated highway that’s 1.5 times wider than the current one.

      1. The 1.5 time wider is for the double decker, a single deck would be even larger or less lanes.

      2. Less lanes than the current viaduct but the same four lanes as the DBT. Remember, all the plans so far are looking at at least six lanes on the surface in addition to the DBT. Also, an elevated roadway could be made transit accessible in the future whereas the DBT it’s pretty much what it is forever and ever.

    1. We could go with four lanes and keep it at roughly the same width it is now. As a bonus, the city would save $200m or so, which might be the difference between light rail to West Seattle or not.

      1. I was thinking four lanes (same as the tunnel). The current viaduct is three in each direction isn’t it? (shows how much I use that section of road.) Today’s standards for lane widths and shoulders would mean roughly I’d guess about 1.5 times wider. But run it on top of the surface street using either center piers or outside supports and cross beams. In another 50 years we might not need it at all. Why sink all the money into a tunnel that won’t ever be useful for transit and could be obsolete before it’s amortized the cost.

    1. 21′, or about 7 times smaller than the DBT if you look at surface area of the cutting face of the TBM.

  4. Thank you! It’s about time that some media outlet publishes a picture of what’s being proposed on the south end of the tunnel. It’s a freeway interchange straight out of Los Angeles… And that’s after tremendous work by the Tunnel team to improve their designs.

  5. Yet another reason to open the transit market to any and all would be providers.

  6. “Also, check out the 13-lane-width monstrosity at right.”

    Would you prefer if the State removed the adjacent surface streets and eliminated all connections to downtown from SR 99? I’m pretty sure this would negatively impact transit times from West Seattle (not a scientific statement, just a guess…)

    Additionally, the purpose of this project is greater than just moving people (and improving safety). A significant component of this project is improving freight mobility to/from the Port of Seattle. Whether you like it or not, the Port is a key economic driver for the region and we’re lucky to have it.

    1. Most traffic from the port is headed to I-90 and I-5, not SR-99. There are a lot of things they could do to improve freight movement through the port that don’t involve a tunnel under downtown.

      1. Indeed – we only need one mega-highway piercing the narrow throat of Seattle. Highway 99 should come as far north as the north end of the First South Bridge, and as far south as 145th Street. There perhaps may have been a need for two mega-highways through the city in the 20th Century, but not in the 21st.

      2. There might be other options for improving freight mobility through Seattle, but I seriously doubt they would be as good economically as the DBT.

        Just saying there are other options doesn’t mean that there are actually other “good” or “cost effective” options. Frankly, there aren’t.

      3. Just saying the automobile tunnel (not to be confused with the Downtown Bus Tunnel) will move freight doesn’t make it so. Do you know how freight is going to get between Interbay and the north porthole?

    2. Do please tell us, Zed, from which piers do these trucks come? Where are they getting on Hwy 99 now? Where do they leave the Highway, and what are the most common destinations of these trucks when leaving from a POS facility. In 2009, how many trucks/day or week or month traveled on Highway 99 between Spokane Street and Aurora and Broad destined to a POS facility or originating at a POS facility?
      I have yet to see any credible information or metrics from a reliable source to justify this cry of “The Port depends on Hwy 99”. I ride the 55 or 56X somewhat frequently and I don’t see a parade of trucks waiting to get on the viaduct or leaving it. Mostly I see KCMetro coaches and SOV automobiles w/ oodles of trucks headed east on the Spokane Street Viaduct to I-5. I’ll admit, my evidence is anecdotal.

      1. The metrics are in the Freight Segmentation Report, pages 8 and 18 (PDF numbers):

        http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/579A7E3F-1F42-4D3D-A722-93D389BC04FF/0/Seattle_Freight_Segmentation_Study_August08.pdf

        You are correct Lloyd, much more freight uses the interstates. It’s about 4.8% of viaduct traffic.

        By the way, the city did a survey of industrial center businesses and what they actually want is fewer SOVs (“commuter solutions to driving alone have the best chance of reducing congestion”):
        http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/awv_find.htm
        Building a tunnel with high toll rates is one way to accomplish that I guess, but there are better alternatives, such as a transit MVET that the governor doesn’t veto.

      2. Huh? I’m confused by your question Lloyd, I said that most trucks were headed to I-90 and I-5, not SR-99. Most of the traffic is container traffic making a beeline out of the state, not headed to Greenwood.

      3. It looks like it’s actually Matt’s comments about SR-99 being for freight that Lloyd is replying to.

    3. I still don’t get how this project helps the Port of Seattle. The Port is trying to move most of that freight to either I-5 or I-90. Most of it, really, to I-90. For getting to I-90, the Port now has the Royal Brougham overpass, along with the slightly older one on the south side of Safeco. (BTW, WSDOT really fucked up the pedestrian connection to Safeco from the light rail station with that Royal Brougham overpass design).

      Yeah, maybe the tunnel eases some commuter pressure on I-5 north to free up some freight capacity, but there’s not much freight going North from the Port, anyway. Most freight going into Canada, and even much of what goes through the I-90 corridor in the US, comes through the British Columbia ports. That leaves I-5 South. The tunnel won’t help the Port there either. Tunnel money would have been much better spent on improving the connections to the Port from SR 509 and Marginal Way to improve Port access to I-5 South.

      Maybe the voters should repeal the Port’s property tax levy for, among other wasteful expenditures, blowing $300 million of our property tax dollars on the tunnel project.

  7. My only objection to all of the artwork is that it shows a smattering of cars. That may be what it will look like early on a Sunday morning but to be more accurate it should be shown with at least one direction packed with rush hour traffic. Make no mistake, it *will* look like that 5, 10, or even 20 years from now.

    I’ve lived in Seattle all of my 42 years and have seen every single highway go from smooth flowing after being newly expanded to a congested mess during rush hour. Why would 99 be any different? Even I-90 is getting pretty ugly these days and it’s just over 20 years old.

  8. If you want to see might coulds just look at what happened in Boston with the “Big Dig.”

    1. Soooo what happened? Care to explain or are you just throwing out the “Big Dig” phrase much like politicians always throw out “terrorists” whenever they need money and support for horrible policies?

    2. Might I also point out that this project is not the Big Dig. This is a different tunnel under different circumstances. While there may be some similarities, you are not comparing apples to apples.

    3. The Big Dig has nothing to do with the DBT. The DBT is simple compared to the Big Dig and uses completely different, and proven technology. Throwing out the term “Big Dig” is just FUD.

  9. Well, let me throw in my $542’s worth (my share of the 1.9B cost), and I don’t even live in Seattle anymore or ever plan to use it.
    As the article points out, Seattle is being led down a path after voting down a similar measure, without the benefit an EIS, expert review, detail costs and risk assessment, or knowing how much there on the hook for if things go sour.
    For the city known for its public process paralysis, it sure looks like a good ole railroad job to me. Just ram it to ’em and get started digging, then it’s too late to stop.

  10. I like how its a dead end tunnel, at least thats how they showed it in the rendering above. I guess it doesnt connect into Aurora. :)

    What happens to the old Battery Tunnel?

      1. seems there could be potential to have an architecture/urban design conceptual competition to look at other uses for it. there could be an opportunity to create a highline-like (albeit in a tunnel) grand pedestrian/bicycle promenade linking the waterfront to denny park.

  11. Why o why would we build such a huge freeway through Pioneer Square and that section of Sodo? 13 lanes, really??

  12. I see some new arguments here and coming from Council Member Conlin, namely, that if we don’t let the state force this down our throat, the state will force something worse down our throat; and that the main benefit of this project is to open up the waterfront.

    Let me take the second argument first: The pictures from WSDOT pretty much tell the story. There won’t be much space for waterfront open space. The waterfront will be essentially the top layer in a triple-deck design, and it will be clogged with … freight trucks.

    As has been discussed to death, freight will generally not go through the tunnel, as it really isn’t designed for moving freight (no matter how many times someone says that is the reason for building it), since it doesn’t have good connection from Interbay.

    If someone really wants to rehash the argument, I’m ready.

    As to the first argument (that the state has a worse plan they are ready to force down our throats), consider the view if you were a legislator. You know that freight needs to move somehow, that jobs need to be created somewhere, and that the budget also needs to be balanced. You have a bunch of people from Snohomish County, Pierce County, Whatcom County, and King County begging for more authority to raise revenue locally for transit. If they get that authority, you can tell your constituents you helped balance the budget, create construction jobs, and get cars out of the way of freight (which is going to use the waterfront no matter what we do), while *not raising state taxes*.

    The biggest hole in my own argument, I suppose, is that they haven’t done it yet. To paraphrase what one legislator once told me: Olympia is as fast as its slowest elected official. And we sure do have some slow ones in Olympia.

    It’s essential for the future of transit, but not enough, to kill the automobile tunnel. We then need to be down in Olympia lobbying for local taxing authority to solve the problems the legislators need solved. If we have to wait for a certain governor and a certain Senate Transportation Committee chair to retire in order for logic to prevail, we can wait an extra couple years. Their time is running out soon enough.

    1. Let Bill Gates fund the waterfront development if he’s willing to. My main concern is not to spend a massive amount of money on overruns that takes money away from future transit and basic city services. I don’t like the base cost of the tunnel but I can live with it for the sake of regional unity, but if the tunnel can be eliminated so much the better. McGinn is right to demand that the overrun clause be stricken, and several people are being disingenuous when they say “let’s not slow down” when a basic issue like financing is unresolved.

      Several pro-tunnel advocates in the newspaper articles don’t even understand Seattle’s position. Seattle voted against a tunnel and an elevated highway. Granted, they didn’t vote against this tunnel which is substantially different, but at least part of the vote can be seen as anti-tunnel-cost in general. And if we didn’t vote on this tunnel, why not? Why not have a referendum since out tax money is being committed to it. The people who obligated Seattle to the tunnel were ex-mayor Nickels and the City Council, not the people of Seattle. Yes, one can say they were Seattle’s freely elected representatives, but it was a sneaky thing to do to the “no” voters, so why again can’t we have a referendum on this tunnel?

  13. At Beacon Hill Tunnel, $312m is not the final bill. There are still multi-million dollar claims underway by Obayashi. Budgets aside, if you want to take Beacon Hill as a warning about the Highway 99 tunnel, I suspect that voids are a more pressing risk.

  14. 1. Remind me again: What exactly is the purpose of the Waterfron deep bore Tunnel? Through car traffic? Through truck traffic? With so few access points, its purpose has got to be different from the Viaduct’s.

    2. Whatever the benefits or evils of automobile travel, how can I support any four billion dollar transportation project that doesn’t spend a dime specifically for transit? To be fair, even the “Surface and Transit” alternatives are pretty vague. For four billion dollars, I want to see some serious electric rail included-with the Waterfront Streetcar just as an appetizer!

    Mark Dublin

    1. To keep the SR 99 corridor connected? I guess since that’s the state highway that’s what the state cares about. And that’s a pretty large chunk of the viaduct traffic, but it doesn’t serve the Elliot/Western corridor, which is about 40% of the traffic, so that plus the downtown traffic move to Alaskan Way. So after spending all this money to put the traffic underground, we still need to build about 50% of a surface boulevard solution. That’s the main thing I don’t like about this particular solution, but then I don’t like any of the options. I guess the state is happy so long as SR 99 remains a highway, they don’t particularly care whether it’s harder to get to Ballard.

    2. Oh, and the state money comes from the gas tax and can’t be spent on transit. The Seattle money could be, but all of it is needed to build the highway and the state won’t contribute more. I’m sure if we asked for transit to be included the state would say “That sounds like a great idea, why don’t you add a billion to the total cost and come up with that much more money yourself and build whatever transit you want?” In pretty much any alternative involving transit, the transit will have to be locally funded and not come out of the $2 billion the state has allocated.

      1. so they cant even use money for transit as a bargaining tool to get their prized road project built? or to mitigate traffic impacts of a new road project?

      2. You’d think, but that money would have to come out of the general fund, and that’s in a pretty tight spot right now, so they’re not about to come up with money for transit, and the money already budgeted for the viaduct can’t go to transit.

  15. Note that the Seattle Times admitted, in a very small article in the Wednesday, July 7, paper, that the Brightwater tunnel cost overruns will GO UP from the current new estimate that Dominic quoted.

    So, you’re right, Dominic was not accurate.

    The amounts he gave were TOO LOW.

    I stand by my projected cost overrun of $1 BILLION to $4 BILLION.

    Not including the insurance and lawsuit from the inevitable tunnel fire.

    1. Look at the cost overruns for the Oakland Bay Bridge now its $6.3 billion from $1.1 billion in 1997

    2. Don’t forget the flooding when the water level rises as well! (or an earthquake ruptures the tunnel.)

      Nothing like building below sea level to guarantee the worst possible location for a tunnel.

  16. I found Holden’s writing on this topic clever at times, but the reporting was moronic. Just my opinion but the reporting lacks credibility.

  17. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the following:

    “The current Alaskan Way Viaduct carries about 110,000 cars a day. Once the tunnel opens in 2015, the number of cars using Highway 99 through downtown Seattle will drop to 46,000 cars a day, according to a tolling study by the state. Cars that want to go downtown can’t use the tunnel because it will have no downtown exits. And people who don’t want to pay the toll won’t use it. During peak hours, the trip will be $4 one way and $3.50 the other.”

    That menas that 64,000 car trips either disappear or find other routes. It means that the $4 billion tunnel serves only 42% of the current viaduct trips. Aside from all the tunneling cost risks, is to a good use of our regional transportation to resources to spend so much money on capacity that serves so few people?

    The major function of the existing viaduct is to distribute traffic from north and south/west of the city into the city, not to carry through-traffic. Aurora Avene to the North and East Marginal to the south are not fast through routes – they are city arterials that for ancient historical reasons still have a state highway number.

    Truck traffic wants to reach I-5 and I-90. The new Edgar Martinez (S. Atlantic St) and new Spokane Street are the efficient truck routes. The viaduct doesn’t carry a lot of trucks. The whole argument that the port or freight needs this tunnel are falsehoods used by the tunnel promoters (mainly the engineering and construction industries and unions) who see it more effective to claim it’s a freight route than to admit it’s a car route to be used by few.

    People who want to see the viaduct come down should be promoting that interest without coupling it to this expensive tunnel that doesn’t do enough to justify its enormous cost. And the city of Seattle (and Seattle taxpayers) should protect themselves in the event that the costs are unconstrained. This project does not deserve to go forward in the way it is currently designed or funded.

    1. Well, it’s a $2 billion dollar tunnel, not $4 billion. But to answer the question, “is it worth it?” let’s look at the tolls. Say it’s $4 all day every day and 46,000 people are willing to part with their hard earned dollars. $2 billion divided by $4 is 500 million. Divide again by 46,000 people per day and again by 365 days per year and it would take 30 years to pay off the tunnel. Tolls haven’t been set yet but I highly doubt you’d get all 46,000 people to pay $4. I’m guessing 46,000 is probably weekday traffic and the calculation doesn’t take into account the cost of interest on the debt. So, no I don’t think it’s worth the cost. A billion dollars a mile for a four lane road is tough to justify.

      I don’t see the tunnel promoters as “mainly the engineering and construction industries and unions”. I see the tunnel promoters (perpetrators might be a better word) as Governor Gregoire and Mayor Nickles. Maybe they’re shills for the unions and construction industry but personally I see it more as an attempt of legacy building by leaving behind a bunch of infrastructure that irregardless of how misconceived it got built because of them. I’d put the current Seattle City Council in the same boat.

  18. The only sensible tunnel is some version of the cut/cover Tunnelite. WSDOT still misleads the public about its supposed ‘construction disruption’ because leading up to the March 2007 vote, the only replacement option its directors seriously considered was another elevated which they gambled the public would approve. Constructing Tunnelite is a modest disruption waterfront businesses can survive along with the unavoidable mess of removing the AWV, rebuilding the seawall and Alaskan Way. Tunnelite closes the AWV at least 2 years before the DBT. All studies show Tunnelite engineering ably manages traffic best with the least environmental impact. WSDOT and SDOT directors and department heads are trying to avoid apprehension and conviction of criminal charges related to dishonestly misleading propaganda, rigged studies, and dereliction of duty. Douglas MacDonald and Grace Crunican should be convicted of these charges and face jail time. WSDOT is a rogue agency.

    1. I didn’t know civil engineers could be charged with dereliction of duty. WSDOT isn’t the military. Your delusions crack me up.

  19. MacDonald got out while the getting was good, but the damage was done under his watch. Maybe he knew by then the project would spiral out of control, crash and burn.

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