Bertha is broken. Seals around the machine’s main bearing are damaged, meaning muck is inside the bearing, causing heat and damage. At minimum, it will take several months to repair the seals, and possibly replace the bearing. Governor Inslee has even been asked whether it’s “time to pull the plug”. I propose a thought experiment – if we were to cut our losses and stop now, carefully avoiding the sunk cost fallacy, what could the money left over do to meet our mobility needs in the corridor?

First, let’s consider the high risk of failure. There’s been no indication so far as to the cause of the seal damage, or whether it might happen again. This matches WSDOT’s unwillingness to discuss risk or plan adequate contingency, as we’ve seen throughout the project.

An anonymous source on the project has told us that despite comments by WSDOT, the repair will not be possible from behind the machine, only from the surface. If true, and without a clear plan for preventing the problem again, this raises a serious question – what happens if this happens again under a building, and at greater depth?

Let’s say that to avoid this eventuality, we stopped now. The state has spent about $2 billion of their $2.8 billion limit, assuming no overruns (cough). The Port of Seattle funding, separately, is intended for viaduct teardown and surface street construction. So what would that $800 million, assuming we could spend it on anything, get us?

  1. Reconnecting the street grid in South Lake Union. Part of the reason people have to use the viaduct in the first place is that Denny and Mercer are such a mess. Allowing that traffic to load balance across several more streets would make the entire grid more performant, at about 20,000 daily inbound/outbound trips to the 99 corridor. That’s $50 million.
  2. The Center City Connector. Increasing transit ridership downtown reduces demand on north-south streets, adding 30,000 daily trips. That’s ~$110 million, but is eligible for $30 million in federal funds.
  3. RapidRide bus priority projects. The Transit Master Plan identifies a lot of small capital improvements to give RapidRide priority, and there’s a good Metro analysis of what could improve RR. Altogether, the C and D lines could pick up 15,000 new riders for only about $10 million, $5 million of which could be federal.

Before we continue, let’s see where we are – with just three projects, we could serve more than 60,000 new trips, for less than $150 million in local dollars (plus operating costs for the center city connector). And SDOT just released their 2012 traffic data – showing there are only about 60,000 viaduct trips, without a large spike in delay elsewhere.

That’s just how cost-ineffective this tunnel really is – most of this capacity can be met with an order of magnitude less money. Sure, the trips in cars aren’t as fast, but the trips on transit are much faster, and there’s another $650 million to work with! So what would we do?

For rail to Ballard, we could make up the entire cost difference between an Interbay elevated route and the Ballard subway option, or if Sound Transit already has Ballard taken care of, build the entire streetcar portion of Option 9. Or, we could do all the engineering for rail to both Ballard and West Seattle, AND every bus priority project in the Transit Master Plan.

Of course, we won’t really get this money “back”. It’s important, though, to consider the massive opportunity cost of spending this much money on such a high risk single project. The tunnel was justified over and over by proponents by asserting that surface/transit/I-5 couldn’t cover the required trips. Even at this late date, there is still enough money to address those problems, and dramatically improve the city’s environmental footprint and many other measures we care about.

Oh, and one more thing – this assumes no cost overruns. If we considered what we could do with all that money, it could be a lot more. I would link you to the WSDOT surface/I-5/transit plan to consider some of the other improvements that could be made (and to cite the grid connection number), but they’ve recently locked both documents from the public.

137 Replies to “What Could $800 Million Do?”

    1. Concur 100%. ST has a better record than WSDOT on all phases of infrastructure development. If ST was in charge of this project we wouldn’t be having these problems.

      But hey, WSDOT will see this project through and it will be completed one way or another. And even if we could cancel it now, doing so would just divert the funding to sprawl inducing projects around the state (N-S Freeway in Spokane anyone?). Ben’s assertion that somehow this money belongs to Seattle is a total fallacy. That is not the way this state works.

      1. The portion being donated by the city, county, and Port would not go to other WSDOT projects. The city and county have a long list of non-highway projects waiting for funding. The money the Port would end up not spending on the viaduct tunnel could be used to get the Port’s credit rating out of junk bond status.

      2. Yes, there are some legislators from E. WA who are playing to their base by “swearing” that Seattle will pay, but what they say hardly matters. The City of Seattle won’t get stuck with the overruns — we aren’t even on the contract.

      3. I didn’t assert that this money could actually be USED for this stuff. In fact, I carefully addressed that, so please don’t put words in my mouth. :) It’s just an interesting thought experiment that helps us think about what we should be spending money on instead.

      4. Having grown up in the Greater Seattle Area, then spent the last 6 years in Spokane attending Gonzaga and EWU, and just moved back to the west side after graduation in June, I feel that I can officially say that while traffic on N Division St can really suck at times, it is worse here in the Greater Seattle Area. I live about 21 miles from my work, and if I leave at 6:05am, I watch the clock the whole way wondering if I’ll really make it to work by 7am. However, I have left my apt in Cheney at 6:05am, and not really worried if I would make it to Mead by 7am, which is 26 miles away; I would expect to arrive in Mead around 6:40-6:45am. Spokane could do with some more love, but you have to remember, over here we have two N-S freeways, and at the peak of rush hour, both are more backed up than I’ve ever seen I-90 or Division, except maybe that one summer a couple of years ago, they did construction on I-90 and shut it down to one lane and it took 35mins to get from GU to Fred Meyer on Thor and Freya via I-90. So, trust me when I say, Seattle needs it more!

      5. You know, if the suburban and outstate legislators (who choose how much money to give WSDOT) are swearing that Seattle will pay for the overruns, but Seattle isn’t actually on the contract and won’t pay for the overruns…

        …and the Port of Seattle is into Junk Bond territory…

        …nobody will pay for the overruns.

        Which means the project is guaranteed dead already. Because there will be overruns. There is no way in hell it’s going to be finished on budget if WSDOT has already spent $2 billion out of $2.8 billion and this is where they’re at.

        I would say pull the plug now. The project was misconceived and was actually rejected by the original Alternatives Analysis, following which it was revived in a backroom deal at the legislature.

        Write off the sunk costs. Tear down the viaduct. Rebuild the seawall. And see what you can improve with whatever money is left.

    2. It’s a completely different kind of tunnel from ST’s projects. ST’s tunnels are run-of-the-mill light rail tunnels that have been done all over the world, including Portland’s Washington Park tunnel forty years ago. The viaduct tunnel is apparently the largest in the world and required a new size of machine. So it’s an order of magnitude riskier. But this is where ST’s management style comes in. This project has unprecedented risks no matter who manages it. But ST has become very conservative in its planning and budgeting. So ST’s likely reaction would be “No way” (refusing the project) or “Give us a lot larger contingency budget” (being more realistic about risks). That shows what WSDOT should have done. And if ST had demanded a significantly larger budget as a condiition of the project, that in turn would have made other options more attractive.

      1. Sure, we just don’t need to build the largest tunnel in the world, that’s all. We could build low risk Link projects instead. :)

      2. including Portland’s Washington Park tunnel forty years ago.

        Having walked through the tunnel before it was completed in 1996 (it was a special program done for the National Railway Historical Society quarterly board meeting held in Portland) I can assure you that the tunnel was not completed 40 years ago.

        Also, only part of the tunnel was done with a tunnel boring machine. The volcanic rock on the 1/3 west end of the tunnel is a type of rock they had never used a tunnel boring machine in before. TriMet decided they didn’t want to be the first to try it, so they asked that the tunnel contractor do the more conventional thing and just use explosive charges in that area – much to the chagrin of all the very wealthy dead people not living in the cemetery directly above that part of the tunnel.

        Really, $800 million should be able to purchase enough explosives to finish the tunnel just fine without a tunnel boring machine. I mean, really, you guys up there have Fort Lewis and the submarine base at Bangor and the navy yard at Bremerton, and that huge naval munitions depot as well. There must be someone up there that would enjoy blowing up most of northwest downtown, and create a tunnel while they are at it?

      3. “completed in 1996”

        Oops, I forgot that westside MAX was built several years after eastside MAX.

      4. ” So ST’s likely reaction would be “No way” (refusing the project) or “Give us a lot larger contingency budget” (being more realistic about risks). That shows what WSDOT should have done”

        Remember that WSDOT planners DID say “No way”. The deep bore tunnel was REJECTED in the preliminary screening in the “Alternatives Analysis”.

        It was revived by a backroom deal in the legislature. This is a matter of public record. It was in the newspapers at the time.

  1. I object to captioning Bertha as “Lemon”. The failure here is completely due to incompetent operation, not faulty machinery. Your photo caption absolves WSDOT of blame.

      1. Hmm. I stand correction. I’d read previously that there was “damage to the seal” which I assumed had come from hitting the pipe we left in the ground. I was unaware that the seal was faulty from manufacture.

        However, the lion’s share of the blame for this fiasco lies with WSDOT. I maintain that this region is ill-suited to doing major capital projects effectively.

      2. ya, sort of amazing how ST can get this done ahead of schedule and on budget, but Seattle Tunnel Partners can’t even make it 10% of the way before grinding to a halt.

        This is purely the fault of STP and the machine manufacturer/designer.

      3. Even better than ‘on budget’ after completing the most risky part of the construction they are $100 million UNDER budget.

        Go ST!

      4. No one is sure why there is damage to the seal. It is rearward of the cutter face, and relatively protected, normal design practices should have kept all but fine sandy mud from being close enough to wear on it. The pipe chunks DID quickly and expensively dull all the cutters, but it’s not particularly apparent that that damaged the seal in any way. From the pictures, what’s left of the pipe seems to be in chunks that could be readily discharged with the rest of the spoils.

        Until the failed seal and debris-packed bearing is exhumed from the machine, we won’t know what caused the failure for sure. My money is on faulty seal, as the VW ad spoof (1960 original) claims. But, if they pull it out and find the seal cut to shreds and the bearing packed with pipe-shavings, then the operator might have… voided the warranty.

      5. If the seal failure wasn’t caused by the debris, then maybe it was a manufacturer defective product (seal) or it was installed incorrectly. The obvious would be that the seal might have been damaged DUE to the pipe & debris. This whole thing smells as rotten as the gunk they’re sloshing through.

      6. Recall that the Deep Bore Tunnel was REJECTED as an option during the “Alternatives Analysis” phase of study due to the extremely unusual geology. It is quite possible that nobody is really sure how the materials in a TBM like Bertha holds up while drilling through this stuff, which is quite uncommon internationally. Let alone the pipe.

      1. Hasn’t the Governor changed since the one who made the backroom deal? Gregoire is the one who would have her ego tied up in the project, not Inslee.

  2. Maybe see if Canadian Pacific would be willing to take over the project? The British Columbia tunnel they built in 1988 is 9 miles long.

    An awful lot of people use highway 99 as what amounts to an eastern bypass to congestion on Interstate 5. Anything that reduces congestion on the various alternative routes would sure help. Sounder’s North Line goes through western Ballard and is close to Magnolia and other areas that serve as the origin for a number of these trips. Making Sounder’s North line more useful (more frequency, station in the western area of Ballard and an interchange station with bus 44, station in the Interbay area or Magnolia bridge, and other changes that would increase ridership on this route could help reduce congestion on Alaskan Way.

    1. Frankly, I would be fine with spending money to widen I-405, so long as part of the deal was that I-405 became the I-5 mainline. That would remove all of the existing through traffic from I-5 in Seattle, which would be a game changer in itself.

      1. Hmmm. I-105 from Lynnwood to Stewart/Union and I-305 from Tukwila to the I-90/Dearborn/James/Madison collector-distributor lanes. The express lanes could become a two-way transit roadway. The part of I-5 between Madison and Union could be reclaimed as a park.

        Link could provide the people through-put. :)

        What’s not to love?

      2. What’s not to love? Haha!

        The problem with your idea, Aleks, is that the corridor around I-405 is already pretty built up in spots. The 116th/8th intersection in Bellevue is the busiest intersection in the state (though I’m lacking a citation and too lazy to search for it…) There’s not really room to widen 405 through downtown Bellevue anymore.

        So what if we just widen 405 north and south of Bellevue as is planned already? It won’t help ease the traffic in downtown Bellevue. Every evening that traffic is dead-stop. This means traffic has no incentive to take the longer bypass route through Bellevue instead of the shorter route through Seattle. It’s dead-stop traffic on either corridor.

        I immediately think of the 84/205 bypass around Portland. I might have taken it 20 years ago but now it’s just traffic in the city or traffic in the burbs. May as well enjoy the bridges over the river while I sit in my car.

        Cleary the right solution is to build trains everywhere and get all those people out of their cars. Easy-peasy.

      3. “the corridor around I-405 is already pretty built up in spots”

        But it’s those same Eastsiders who are the main ones pushing for the widening. “Decrease congestion on 405; make traffic flow more freely in downtown Bellevue.”

        If they do eventually make 405 the main freeway, the numbering is going to be a problem. Renumbering it to 5 would invalidate tousands of maps and confuse thousands of people. “My directions say to get off at NE 45th Street on I-5 in Seattle, exit 169.” “What do you mean the Canada-Mexico freeway doesn’t go to the largest city in the northwest?” Renumbering 5 to 405 would confuse people even more, and 205 is taken in Vancouver, so it would have to be 605 or 805. And you can’t give an odd first digit to a road that leaves the main highway and eventually rejoins it, because the odd number means it goes completely away from the highway and there’s no way back except turning around.

      4. J. Reddoch brought up odd numbers because the idea would be to turn I-5 in Seattle into two spurs, rather than a single loop. To start with, we would remove the segment through downtown; as time went on, we could continue paring back the spur roads until the north one went no further south than Northgate, and the south one went no further north than I-90.

        There’s no question that changing the numbering would be disruptive. But it’s been done before, elsewhere in the country. Also, note that I-95, the other major urban corridor N-S freeway, doesn’t go through Boston — you have to know to switch to I-93.

      5. @Aleks: Yes, I didn’t point out the spurs, but they are interesting.

        @Mike Orr: “Those same Eastsiders” is a very simplifying statement. There are a bunch of Eastsiders and they don’t all want exactly the same thing. I, for example, am not opposed to widening 405 north and south of Bellevue (as is planned) but I don’t think there’s any room to widen it inside of Bellevue. All in all, I don’t believe that we’ll ever solve the north-south traffic problem in this city and–unlike many Eastsiders–I’m ok with that. Those Seattleites might not understand, though :)

      6. People have dealt with renumberings before. They can deal with them again. We’re actually kind of used to them on the East Coast, they happen fairly often.

    2. I would like to see the viaduct torn down and not replaced, and most of the I5 downtown exits closed. Make 5 the through route and put a lid on more of it.

  3. We’ve already spent $2B?! I assume they’re all but done with both portals, overpasses, etc. that was supposed to cost the bulk of the money right? Wait – they haven’t started on those.

    1. Huh? The overpass at the south portal is already in operation and carrying traffic. Ditto for the Hwy-99 approach to the south portal. Work at the north portal is also progressing with lots of excavation completed and big pours coming soon.

      Saying that they haven’t started the work at the portals yet is just plain wrong — check the WSDOT cameras.

      1. I’m far from familiar with the details, but isn’t the $2B just for the “riddle in the middle” – specifically the tunnel and the portals? My understanding is that the overpass to the south was part of the south project that was funded separately. And it seems like the north work was all Mercer-Mess related. IIRC there are even parts of the Mercer-Mess project that they’ll have to re-do when the portal is constructed.

      2. construction is well underway at both portals and is progressing independently of the tunnel itself. Thus the contractor has some ability to recover lost time on the tunnel portion by continuing the work on the portals on the existing schedule.

        check the cams:

        I’m sure there will still be some delay in completing the total project, but it remains to be seen how much and who pays the tab (certainly not Seattle and highly unlikely to be WSDOT).

      3. From WSDOT’s website the $2 billion is for: “SR 99 Tunnel Project (Includes design-build project, north and south access contracts, and new north surface street connections.)”

        I’m guessing that the tunnel itself is two thirds of that or $1.3 billion if Seattle Tunnel Partners contract is any indication.

        And while the faulty links on WSDOT’s website are frustrating, I think the “on budget” link noted above refers not to the tunnel at all, but rather to the temporary SR 99 that replaces the gap adjacent to CLink field between the reminder of the viaduct and the at grade section next to the port.

    2. The money has been spent means it’s out of WSDOT’s hands and into that of the contractor though contracts. The contractor then spends that money on things like steel, concrete, excavators, manpower, etc. to build the project or gets those items lined up for future work.

      1. That’s strange. Generally, in government contracts you don’t pay for much before it’s done. You set up milestones, inspect what’s been done to make sure it complies with the contract, and then pay for it. Withholding payment is often the best way to fix problems.

  4. Well, I wrote Gov. Inslee asking him to pull the plug. Even if we got the tunnel for free, I think long-term it’s still not a good thing for the city. I agree with Ben, accept the sunk cost and move on. This project has disaster stamped all over it.

    1. I send a letter to MicroSoft asking for a refund every time I get a blue-screen-of-death on my PC. So far I haven’t heard anything back, but I will let you know when my refund arrives….

  5. Regarding the street grid, it’s worth noting that the existing plan is to build the north portal at Republican St. This means that the grid would be reconnected from Harrison St south, but that several important intersections north of there — including Republican, Roy, Valley, and Aloha — aren’t planned for reconnection. In the case of Republican, the portal itself will take up so much land that there’s no way a reconnection would be possible.

    But if we pull the plug, we could easily rebuild the grid all the way up to Aloha. :)

    1. Okay, honest question: do you not think that traffic lights at Republican, Roy, Valley, and Aloha would have deleterious effects on SR 99 throughput?

      The bridge and everything north of it for about four miles is essentially a speedway with extremely wide light spacing. That keeps traffic off the bridge.

      Throwing five city-block-spaced traffic lights before the major arterial is a huge change. The arterial serves to divert a lot of traffic, reducing the effects of the subsequent stop lights.

      1. You don’t need traffic lights at every intersection. Dexter has lights at Harrison, Mercer, Roy, and Aloha. That’s only four lights.

        More broadly, if we don’t rebuild the viaduct, then the SR-99 routing through downtown will be along arterial streets with grade crossings. So we’re already removing the ability of traffic to go from north of the ship canal to south of downtown without hitting any lights.

        I can’t give an authoritative answer on how it would impact traffic. Some vehicles would switch to I-5 or 15th W; some vehicles would shift to other local streets (e.g. Dexter/Westlake); some people would shift to transit or other modes; some trips might not happen. Congestion would probably get worse, and Aurora would move slower. But in exchange for removing the wall between LQA and SLU, I would happily pay that price.

        If that’s completely unacceptable, then another approach is to build a cut-and-cover extension of the Battery St tunnel to north of Aloha St. That’s not my favorite use of money, but I think it would be a lot cheaper and a lot less risky than the deep-bore tunnel, and the end result would be much better for the city.

      2. Without a tunnel there will be a substantial amount of reduced demand through that corridor. The only real effect would be moving back where Aurora ends by a few blocks. But it’s important to remember there are substantial traffic benefits from reconnecting the grid. Denny Way and Mercer are notorious for being riddled with traffic and having additional east west streets between SLU and Queen Anne, would alleviate some of this congestion and the substantial negative impacts it has on transit and local trips in the area. In fact I wound not be shocked to find out that simply regridding Aurora from Aloha street south would make up for most of the “auto congestion” benefits that come from the tunnel.

        Reconnecting the gird will also be a boon to the land values in the area by making the area around aurora in SLU walkable. One of the biggest problems with the tunnel project is that it effectively condemns this area, particularly north of Mercer to being relatively unwalkable. Maybe it will be harder to get to downtown with a regridded Aurora, but the more SLU becomes a desirable place to be the less difference it makes.

      3. “So we’re already removing the ability of traffic to go from north of the ship canal to south of downtown without hitting any lights.”
        (You mean without taking I-5, I presume.)

  6. Pull the plug because of a problem or setback? Does this hold true for projects you believe in, as well? Or does it just apply to projects you are opposed to? Thank God you people are only blog commenters and not current or historical leaders, otherwise nothing would have ever gotten done. If any of you “pull the plug!” people were in power, every time a project was around 11% complete, and then encountered a setback, you would cancel the entire project, and we wouldn’t have: Space missions; The Hoover dam; Airplanes; Ocean travel. I hope to live long enough to one day see a space ship land on the surface of the sun and see a U.S. astronaut walk upon it, and make our country proud. That won’t happen if someone pulls the plus because of some major setback.

    1. Yes. Having cars bypass Seattle is very much like landing a man on the moon.

      ” I hope to live long enough to one day see a space ship land on the surface of the sun and see a U.S. astronaut walk upon it, and make our country proud. ”

      Please tell me this is satire.

      1. It’s not. All of the World’s Leading Transit Experts agree that both surface and bored transit is a viable and necessary service for Sunlings. Of course, their active road building program must come first.

      2. Matt, I have this question for people who were against the viaduct tunnel, and now are Pull-the-pluggers: Name one project that you supported and believed in, which encountered a problem (like Bertha getting stuck), and you then immediately believe the entire project should be scrapped. If this were a struck drill for light rail under Queen Anne, nobody would be calling for pulling the plug. Problem with tunnel construction for cars = pull the plug. Problem with tunnel for trains = we have to finish this.

      3. Sam, A project worth doing should be completed even if there are reasonable overruns.

        However a project NOT worth doing should be cut at the earliest time possible, and we most definitely shouldn’t chase bad money with good.

      4. The tunnel was approved by a backroom deal between the second-former mayor, second-former city council, and former governor, without consulting the public and after we had voted no on other tunnels. The public later may have expressed support through an ambiguous indirect referendum. So many of the players are different now, and that gives a small chance for a collective change of mind.

      5. The Space Shuttle is an example of a project I supported and believed in, that hit numerous set-backs and then believed clearly should have been scrapped post Challenger – and for more than just safety reasons.

        The thinking behind Bertha actually reminds me quite a bit of the design, development and deployment of the STS. Most complicated “solution” to a nonexistent problem, with a near complete disregard for contingency planning, then deploying that design and running it beyond realistic design parameters.

      6. The US version of the International Space Station is another project where I supported “pulling the plug” — and under a very smart administration, we *did*.

        An ISS was a good idea, but it had ended up being grotesquely misdesigned and turning into an overbudget nightmare with parts which kept failing.

        The Russians said “Hey, we have a functional space station which works, wanna use that?” The engineers committed to the ISS wanted to continue with the original plan, but eventually the US government said, “OK, sure, we’ll use Mir 2 as the basis for a very different ISS.” Much cheaper and it worked better.

    2. “I hope to live long enough to one day see a space ship land on the surface of the sun and see a U.S. astronaut walk upon it, and make our country proud.”

      Have you been watching too much Stephen Colbert, Sam? You really need to turn off the tube, get out of the house, and enjoy the view from your new urban village. Congratulations on your new digs in Ballard, and your success in contributing to the gentrification of, and ruination of the character of, Ballard.

      BTW, Are you saying the viaduct replacement project is only 11% complete? That’s wonderful news!

      1. I see some clear differences in writing style between Bellevue Sam and Ballard Sam. Bellevue Sam has style and flair. Ballard Sam may be making the same arguments, but without the high artistic touch of our Sam.

        If there must be a first human to set foot upon the Sun, I think our Sam would be a worthier choice.

      2. I think “both” Sams are the same.

        Same precise Rainier Valley examples. Same appeals to emotion and distortions of logic. Same open maligning of anyone who disagrees as an intruder and an imposer on what Seattle should be.

        Not to mention that the “other” Sam launched right out of the gate by mentioning STB, and by construing as fringe every “urbanist” who frequents these pages.

        He’s not attempting humor on MyBallard because he knows the crusty suburban guard doesn’t get humor. Same author, different rhetorical approach.

    3. No. A project worth doing should be completed even if there are reasonable overruns.

      However a project NOT worth doing should be cut at the earliest time possible, and we most definitely shouldn’t chase bad money with good.

    4. Remember WPPSS?
      That was a lot bigger, and Washington got over it.
      I also say pull the plug.
      This replacement for SR99
      needs a total rethinking,
      with real provisions for connectivity and transit.

  7. Apropos of little here, that Metro C/D Line improvement analysis contains the following gem of dry humor (regarding post-shakeup ridership decreases on 32nd Ave NW):

    North of Northwest 85th Street, all off-peak service was eliminated so activity dropped by 58%. However, most of this activity is likely to have been drivers who board and alight to stretch their legs and get some fresh air at the route terminal.

    1. Reading over the route data, I think the most surprising findings from the report are:

      – An increase in ridership on the 24, for no discernable reason
      – An increase in ridership on the 19th Ave segment of the 12, and a corresponding decrease on the 15th Ave segment of the 10

      I don’t really know what to make of that.

      1. The 24 ridership increase is due to two things:
        1) the addition of more office space along Elliott, and
        2) the 124 through-route (some of the “riders” are not really 24 riders, but 124 riders who just happen to ride north of Union).

      2. Sorry, I should have been more specific. Ridership on the 24 increased by 13% along the segment between Magnolia/Emerson and 34th/McGraw. It also increased by 10% and 5% along different segments within Magnolia. So unless all of these new riders are people who live in Magnolia and work in the new offices on Elliott, I don’t think either of your explanations tell the whole story.

      3. People near the 12 know that Bruce is gunning for it, so they’re trying to bump up the numbers to head him off. I’ve been riding it back and forth from Galer to Madison every day for weeks. ;-)

        Seriously though, that’s strange. I know a new apartment building opened recently on 19th, but I can’t think that would pull people off the 10.

      4. To visit a friend in Magnolia, the 33 is much more convenient but the schedule changes over the past year have made the 24 a bit better choice in terms of there actually being a bus coming when I am transferring from something else.

        Also, it seems like every time I visit, some house or other in Magnolia has been demolished and is being replaced by an apartment building – though true this is happening along the eastern edge of the 24 and areas closer to the 33 rather than the western edge of the 24. Some of those apartments between Lawton Park and Magnolia Manor Park are huge, and it seems like they keep extending slowly southward.

      1. Then there is the tressle replacement/doubling project (which is having its open house tonight in Tacoma), construction of the second track to Lakewood (paid for by Amtrak, IIRC, if the money doens’t get sequestered), the extra daily runs ($50 million a pop up front IIRC), the efforts to build more parking around Sounder stations, as well as the possibility of studying extending Sounder as far as Olympia. Which if these would you deprioritize in order to speed up Federal Way Link construction?

      2. Throw in some long range bike lanes too!

        But no, I asked that we increase the pace of building out to the furthest extent of King County and beyond, not trade one leg for the other.

    1. We should also have built high-capacity transit between 1972 and 1995 when federal matching funds were much higher.

      1. You should have not had the supermajority requirements in place when the Forward Thrust ballot measure went on the ballot.

        Supermajority requirements are OK for things like amending the Constitution — which can be used to do things like establish a dictatorship, so it should require a huge supermajority. And they’re appropriate for juries which can convict people and lock them in prison.

        But normal governmental projects should operate by majority vote.

  8. Instead of cancelling the project and filling in the hole with cement, maybe this tunnel could be the start of the path to get Hyperloop under downtown.

    1. Underground apodments?

      Could be like the hollowed out asteroid that Arthur C. Clarke described in “Rendezvous with Rama”.

  9. Suppose the plug is pulled and the project is abandoned? Is there any possible use for the great big hole to nowhere that would result?
    I don’t live in Seattle (just like visiting the place) so I have no idea what use an underground cavern could be put to, but it has got to be something!

    1. We already have a number of freeway ramps to nowhere around here. If this project does get canceled, a tunnel to nowhere wouldn’t be much different. (Well ok, it will be a lot more expensive than those hanging ramps)

      1. Given that this is Seattle, I think that would be the awesomest use of the tunnel. It would be one hell of a crazy party space. Probably really strict occupancy limits due to being an underground tunnel, though.

  10. Ben, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I’m doing both. Is that an acceptable reaction? Anyway, when I saw mention of pulling the cutter head out of the ground for repairs, I was stunned. I’m not sure the other commenters here are grasping the magnitude of the problem facing Bertha, and just how much more money it will take to get “her” back online.

    1. If the repair had to happen in the tunel, how large of a seperation would be needed to dismount the cutter head from the main body, and have full access to replace/repair the seals and bearings?
      Could the last ring be pulled, the head disconnected, and Birtha backed up without the head to grant access?

      1. By design (and I am a novice observer when it comes to TBM, so dont quote me) a TBM only goes forward.
        To go backward, you would have to pull the ring sets already deployed behind the TBM (freeing space for it to back into), and then have something in front of the TBM to push against, (as well as something to push with). What I think could possiably be done is to push against the cutter head, this would require adding multiple “Temporary” jacks (hydrolic pistons) to the main body.
        Again treat this as a novice suggestion, with no real TBM experience other than the discover chanel.

      2. TBMs can usually be pulled backwards; this is done fairly routinely. But I’m thinking of the sort which go through hard rock, and they’re pulled backwards *before* the tunnel lining is put in place. *Even when doing that*, it typically takes just as long to pull the TBM backwards as it does to move them forwards while drilling.

        In this case, with the rings in place, either the rings have to be removed (and they’re grouted in place IIRC, so this would be a massive waste and piece of duplicate work, causing huge cost overruns) — or, more likely, the TBM will have to be disassembled and taken out in pieces. Then, after fixing it, reassembled on-site. This process will take MONTHS at a minimum.

    2. Exactly this. And remember, this is probably the best possible place for this problem to occur. Could you imagine the costs of performing this repair under Belltown?

  11. The reason we’re getting the tunnel in the first place is not because the Queen Anne street grid is broken or downtown circulation is unoptimal or RapidRide has too many obstacles. It’s because northwest Seattle wants a low-volume freeway to the airport, stadiums, West Seattle, and southbound I-5 (via a future 509 extension). The rest of north Seattle is moderately interested in it (to bypass I-5 congestion), and other areas have sympathy with them (“If I support their freeway now, hopefully they’ll support my freeway later.”)

    That’s the major hurdle in cancelling the project: the people who will benefit from this freeway without paying 100% of its costs, and the knee-jerk general support of highways no matter what the cost. And they think they’re entitled to it because it’s replacing an existing freeway rather than being a brand new corridor.

    So the odds against cancelling this project are high, but I’d certainly support it. Ben’s projects, sure. But it would also return attention to the Alaskan Way boulevard. How does the planned boulevard compare to the “Surface & Transit” alternative? Would it have to be widened further, and if so how much? Or, as I thought I read, traffic volumes on the boulevard will be the same with or without the tunnel, so it wouldn’t need to be changed further.

  12. This is a lot of ridiculous hand wringing and monday-morning quarterbacking by people who sit on the sidelines and only throw stones. It’s a machine, it can and will be fixed by STP. It’s not going to be pretty, and it’s bound to be dramatic. I think the Seattle Transit Blog and its commenters shouldn’t get too boisterous about this — ST is one missed pipe away from a similar fate north of the ship canal.

    Let’s help each other out. At the end of the day we’re all on the same side.

    1. As Bruce and others have said, the issue is not that the project has overruns, but that it’s still a fundamentally bad project.

      We’re all on the same side — we want the best city we can possibly have. I think that cancelling the tunnel will do more to accomplish that objective than finishing it would.

  13. It would be best that all of us hope that this tunnel is built as close to on time and on budget as possible. We need the general public to have faith in ALL large infrastructure projects. Make no mistake, if the tunnel was to be stopped it would have serious repercussions on the voter approval of ANY future projects be it transit or not.

    All great cities have a mix of controlled access roads and grade separated transit. Anyone who thinks we need all of one and none of the other is wrong.

    For all those who think that ST can do no wrong, please remember how late and over budget Link was. Please remember that we didn’t get a first hill station. This is not meant as a damning statement, just a reminder of historical fact.

    Seattle is 20 years behind on it maintenance and it’s road and transit capacity.


    1. I’m very glad Sound Transit looked at the high risk of building First Hill and changed their project in response, building a surface option. WSDOT needs to do the same thing. :)

      1. I wonder what the cost/risk analysis was for the SR99 tunnel? I assume that smaller twin tunnels were studied as well.

      2. The Alternatives Analysis REJECTED the SR99 tunnel as too risky, too expensive, and too ineffective.

        This is why WSDOT proposed the combined “shallow tunnel with seawall”. The seawall has to be rebuilt *anyway*, which requires ripping up the harborfront and building a giant wall. The idea was, if you put a road tunnel on one side of that wall, it doesn’t cost that much extra. And indeed, the shallow tunnel plan was quite cost-effective and appeared to have low risk. It was also possible for it to have exits to downtown.

        The deep-bore tunnel was simply rejected outright in the Alternatives Analysis. It was selected afterwards in a backroom deal by mostly-departed elected officials. This is a matter of public record.

    2. Many great cities have freeways only outside the inner city, and boulevards inside them. London and Vancouver for instance. New York and San Francisco have freeways only in one corner of the city, and if you remember, Manhattan’s crosstown freeways were famously stopped. So we have real-world comparisions of cities with freeways through the middle of them and cities without them. The cities without them have thriving pedestrian districts and more comprehensive transit, so it’s easier to do your daily errands without needing a car, and in some of them over 50% of residents don’t even have a car. Those pedestrian districts make the city a more pleasant place to be in, and not surprisingly there’s high demand to live in them and high real estate values.

      All this is not necessarily an argument against this particular freeway, but on the other hand you can’t say “all cities have controlled-access roads” so this particular freeway is worthwhile.

      You’re right that a tunnel failure may cause the public to turn against all large infrastructure projects, but not necessarily. It would be one more negative factor against a backdrop of several positive and negative factors, and the public’s impatience that we really need to make transit better now and can’t wait any longer, or the city’s future will slip away.

      1. It’s interesting to observe that many of the problems with street-level transit in Seattle can be traced to the chokepoints that our limited-access roadways have created.

        As an example, imagine that there were no I-5, and that the street grid connected across Aurora. Consider how many of our buses would run better:

        – Denny and Mercer would have much less traffic, as cars diverted to John, Thomas, Harrison, Republican, Roy, Valley, and Aloha. This would dramatically improve the 8’s reliability.

        – The 2S, 3S, 4S, and 12 would no longer get caught in freeway traffic while making their way up to First Hill.

        – The 44 and 48N wouldn’t get stuck behind freeway traffic on 85th and 45th/Market.

        Now, obviously, I’m a huge fan of subways, and I think they’re worth spending big bucks on. But in large part, the reason that we have such a dire need for transit tunnels is that we’ve done such a good job at destroying the street grid. Fix that, and all of a sudden, it becomes possible to build European-style exclusive-lane surface rail that actually runs at a reasonable speed, for a fraction of the cost of tunneling or elevating.

      2. You’re brilliant, again. OMG is is almost all of them. The gap between the Aurora buses and Fremont. The long walk around I-5 between First Hill and Chinatown, and from Bellevue & Pine to Yale & Stewart, the 45th & 50th overpasses in the U-District, the lack of an overpass at Northgate TC, the James Street crawl, the couple of access points on west Beacon Hill (Where there houses there before I-5?), etc.

  14. Ben,

    Would presently support decision to either to pull the machine out in pieces or leave it in the ground forever, whichever costs less. But not for anything to do with either money or tunneling. For reason that every governmental agency involved is presently being blind pig-stupid about effect of replacing a viaduct that carried a huge amount of local traffic with a tunnel that carries none.

    Worse, the tunnel will not carry a single wheel of public transit, express or local. And every piece of discussion of transit, especially on the Waterfront, includes a routine apology over the irreconcilable demands that, after the years and the hundreds of millions, will still leave transit slow and lame. I don’t have the constitution of Paul W. Locke, for decades the dean of Seattle’s public comment corps. Science doesn’t make either a haz-mat suit or an antidote against death by futility exposure.

    But life, travel, and reading show me some other things. In both Gothenburg, Sweden and Oslo, Norway, excellent transit systems, including beautiful and well-accepted street rail in crowded maritime settings much like ours, are supplemented by covered automobile freeways. Gothenburg has a tunnel. Oslo goes surface with buildings on top.

    Tunneling’s chief advancement has been in killing so many fewer workers than in earlier times. Read “The Chunnel” Drew Fetherston- excellently readable by non-engineers. Massive political headaches, and technical mistakes and miscommunications between the top engineers in the world. Screaming boardroom arguments in two languages at once. But mainly, a trade where concepts like “straight line” and “sea level” are matters of debate.

    Good case that Waterfront tunnel should wait until one of the local bio firms can genetically engineer an enormous furry mole, not mechanical. These creatures can sense by sound, touch, and smell what the ground’s got ahead of them. Alaskan Way grub and worm problem would go away, with soil much improved for gardening. Too bad for golf if one got away, though. For humans, any tunneling schedule is a crap-shoot. Whatever agency signs the papers.

    I think you already know that your own citywide subway project, which I strongly support, is going to face the same planet ahead of its cutters. But also some ideas on how we get the necessary practical wisdom and leadership into the control cabs of the public agencies running the whole projects. “Chunnel” work crews really did have to start work with the question “Where’s France?” Lower Queen Anne, officials should already know.

    Mark Dublin

    1. For reason that every governmental agency involved is presently being blind pig-stupid about effect of replacing a viaduct that carried a huge amount of local traffic with a tunnel that carries none.

      While I agree with most of your post, I think this criticism is a bit misplaced.

      There are many, many problems with the old viaduct. One of them is that, as an elevated highway, it kills several blocks of downtown, and separates the waterfront from the rest of the city. Another is that limited-access roadways simply aren’t good at meeting local transit demands.

      City street grids are designed to accommodate huge quantities of diverse traffic, moving at a variety of speeds, coming from a variety of origins, and going to a variety of destinations. Trying to channel all of that traffic onto a single roadway, and through a handful of entrance and exit ramps, is guaranteed to be a disaster.

      The fact that the deep bore tunnel won’t be useful for local traffic is, in my opinion, a good thing. It means that we’ll avoid turning city streets into car sewers.

      Having said that, I don’t think that we should be spending so much money on infrastructure that’s primarily useful for long-distance transit, when we’ve done so much to *hinder* local mobility. I would prefer that we invest in improvements for *local* trips, such as reconnecting the street grid, and building high-capacity transit. And if’s absolutely crucial that we have freeway tunnels underneath Seattle, I would much prefer that they carried I-5 traffic, since I-5 has done much more to damage Seattle at the street level than SR-99 did.

      1. Aleks, the “pig stupid” reference is good example of long-term toxic futility poisoning, and I probably owe an apology to individual people I know who work for these agencies.

        What’s really getting me is not the tunnel itself. Like I said, Oslo and Gothenburg each have a waterfront highway tunnel, to cope with through-route constrictions similar to ours. What I can’t stand is the continuing absence of a transit plan that will really address the magnitude of the problem. Which is that above the new Tunnel, private cars will join horse drawn freight wagons in aging pictures.

        The Port of Seattle and trucking interests need to start sitting down, someplace open and public, with the City and Metro Transit to figure out how to coordinate really vital and critical freight transportation needs with buses and streetcars.

        And especially on Alaskan Way after the rebuild, both Seattle and the State of Washington need to accept the idea not that through traffic and buses have to regrettably slow each other down worse than now, but that now that the new tunnel is the through motor route, the Waterfront isn’t.


      2. And especially on Alaskan Way after the rebuild, both Seattle and the State of Washington need to accept the idea not that through traffic and buses have to regrettably slow each other down worse than now, but that now that the new tunnel is the through motor route, the Waterfront isn’t.

        Ballard, Magnolia and parts of western Queen Anne will likely still use 15th and Alaskan Way as a through route to the south, since the on-ramp from 15th -> Elliott Avenue -> Western Avenue -> 99 viaduct will not be duplicated with the tunnel. I would hope that Alaskan Way can become a more pleasant place once the tunnel is finished and some of the Alaskan Way traffic is gone, but I just don’t see that traffic being reduced at all with the current plan.

    2. “until one of the local bio firms can genetically engineer an enormous furry mole, not mechanical. These creatures can sense by sound, touch, and smell what the ground’s got ahead of them. ”

      OK, wow. :-)

  15. Worse, the tunnel will not carry a single wheel of public transit, express or local.

    This is mostly true, but some nits should be picked. It’s not a *complete* zero for transit.

    The tunnel, in all likelihood, will be the main deadhead route for buses headed to and from terminals in all of central North Seattle. There would be meaningful extra cost in sending all of those buses along I-5.

    The tunnel also has potential to carry a limited amount of commuter service, particularly a route from West Seattle to SLU as SLU grows, a trip which is particularly poorly served by existing and planned options.

    1. You’re right, but that doesn’t really make me feel better. :) The problem with the tunnel is that it privileges long trips over short ones. What you’re saying is that the tunnel will also privilege one-way express transit trips over shorter, local ones.

      If someone’s going from West Seattle to SLU during rush hour, then sure, I’d prefer they take transit than drive. But I would rather focus on building a transit network that makes short trips as easy as long ones.

      1. You’re right, but that doesn’t really make me feel better. :) The problem with the tunnel is that it privileges long trips over short ones.

        Depends on how it is done. There is a lot of congestion in the transit tunnel. The more people that can be diverted from the tunnel services to other areas the better for those that are using the surface transit routes or the tunnel. The 99 tunnel could be a decent way to do this. There are a bunch of local routes that converge at the Seattle Center and SLU, and there are a bunch of routes that converge on Jackson Street. The hwy 99 tunnel might offer a good connection for those going from one end of downtown to the other without having to add to the congestion in the transit tunnel or the surface routes.

        Though, my preference would be to rebuild the Waterfront Streetcar as something more usable, consuming the out of use track along the east side of the grain elevator near the Amgen Bridge (thus connecting it with 24, 33, and RapidRide) and also serve the ferry terminal as well. However, the proposed redevelopment of Alaskan Way doesn’t seem to propose much in the way of transit improvements.

      2. “Though, my preference would be to rebuild the Waterfront Streetcar as something more usable, consuming the out of use track along the east side of the grain elevator near the Amgen Bridge (thus connecting it with 24, 33, and RapidRide) and also serve the ferry terminal as well. However, the proposed redevelopment of Alaskan Way doesn’t seem to propose much in the way of transit improvements.”
        I think that rebuilding the waterfront streetcar would be a good idea for local service and the express buses could use the highway 99 tunnel to get to where they need to go.

  16. On the other side of the argument, we could argue WSDOT caught an arrow in the knee which just may have saved them from getting on in the face. IF the seal problem is not merely fixed but definitively addressed with this repair operation, as one would hope, we/they will have lucked out that it happened now and not when she was under Belltown. Still not an ideal situation to be sure, but the lesser disaster that saves the greater one.

  17. So, ever since I took a geology class a couple of summers ago, I’ve become very interested in liquefaction, and what would happen to downtown Seattle during and major earthquake, like around 9.0…So, after reading this article, I began to wonder how having a huge tunnel under buildings which are built on soil which is HIGHLY susceptible to liquefaction would impact this phenomenon. Interestingly, I haven’t been able to find any research on it, or any research on the tunnel and ground above it would fair during an earthquake compared to how the above ground viaduct fared. People have compared this tunnel to the one in Boston (which I know nothing about really), except I did read something that said the two projects are very different because Boston’s soil is very old and the water table is deep; Seattle’s water table level is very close to the surface. Obviously we can’t plan for every natural disaster, but with the fact that half of the buildings in Seattle need to be retrofitted with liquefaction in mind already, why can’t I find a single place where this has been addressed?

    I don’t live anywhere near downtown, I rarely go downtown, and I HATED driving on the viaduct because I drove on it one time shortly after I got my license when I was 16, and I had to drive next to a semi on the outside lane in the narrowest part, and it was so freaking scary that I did whatever I could to avoid it from then on out. However, I realize that traffic through downtown Seattle impacts even my lovely commute from Lynnwood to Duvall. I want traffic in Seattle to function better, but I also want to know what would happen in the event of a major earthquake, are we at all prepared. Could Ben’s surface street improvement models combined with research on what we might be able to install below ground to prevent liquefaction, or how we might be able to build in a way that the soil below could liquefy and the street above could stay fairly stable.

    When in this geology class, we all asked what would happen to Seattle if Mt. Rainier erupted. My teacher told us that the actual eruption of Mt. Rainier shouldn’t really do anything to Seattle, they believe the ash will flow in a way similar to Mt. St. Helen’s. However, Tacoma would be over taken by lahar flows. No, what she said would be the problem for Seattle, is that Mt. Rainier’s eruption is expected to coincide with a major earthquake, like a 9.0 magnitude, and downtown Seattle is built upon soft, sandy, liquidy soil that would liquefy in an earthquake of that magnitude, and large parts of the city would probably sink into the ground. How will this new tunnel effect this? If it will make the effects of liquefaction worse, I say scrap it now! If it somehow will improve the outcome in the event of liquefaction, I say proceed regardless of cost.

    1. “So, after reading this article, I began to wonder how having a huge tunnel under buildings which are built on soil which is HIGHLY susceptible to liquefaction would impact this phenomenon. Interestingly, I haven’t been able to find any research on it, or any research on the tunnel and ground above it would fair during an earthquake compared to how the above ground viaduct fared. ”

      This was one of the things mentioned in the original Alternatives Analysis study. Nobody has a clue, because there is no comparable tunnel anywhere in the world. This is one of several reasons why the Alternatives Analysis REJECTED the Deep Bore Tunnel option.

      The Deep Bore Tunnel, having been rejected by the engineers, was revived by a backroom deal in Olympia. This is a matter of public record.

      It is the worst project in the United States.

  18. A “thought experiment” that doesn’t consider intermodal is disingenuous left-wing bullshit.

    1. Yeah, the tunnel was a thought experiment among politicians with no understanding of engineering. It has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar hypothesis. But they forgot about freight. Freight is the big loser in the design of this multi-billion dollar thought experiment once the direct route to Interbay and Ballard gets cut.

      1. I haven’t seen a proper analysis of the freight flows in Seattle. It’s quite obvious that the Deep Bore Tunnel is useless for them, however. A proper freight plan might have a number of elements (expansion of on-dock rail for container traffic, etc.), but it’s hard to design one without understanding the existing freight flows.

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