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These images are of the meagre progress the tunnel project has made. Images courtesy WSDOT.

A couple of months back I asked whether we should continue with the deep-bore-tunnel (DBT) replacement for the SR-99 viaduct. At the time, Bertha, the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) had been blocked for months with no date for its unblocking (if that’s a word), traffic on the viaduct was way down (though that data appeared to be bad, other data does show decline), the tolling revenue looked to be much than expected and there was confusion over who would pay for the seemingly inevitable overruns. In the intervening weeks, we’ve learned a few more things:

  1. The TBM will be stuck for nearly another year, restarting only in March. Assuming it does become unblocked by that date, the machine would have been blocked for 16 total months. That will lead to a 14 month delay for a tunneling project that was meant originally to take 14 months to complete.
  2. The repairs to Bertha are meant to cost the tax payer another $125 million. Keep in mind, this is to repair a TBM that cost $80 million to begin with. The state has refused to pay this, though who will ultimately pay for any cost increases is certain to be only decided in court.
  3. However, we’ve learned that one of the construction companies behind the tunnel has a decades-long history of suing to get extra payments from public agencies. They successfully deflected blame when projects have gone sour, and have forced government agencies to spend millions in court and legal fees. The company is already asking for $62.6 million in change order, and that figure is not a part include the previously mentioned $125 million. The original tunnel contract was for just over $1 billion.

None of this is very surprising, but what is surprising is that state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson is now saying there’s a “small possibility” the project could be cancelled. Now, I don’t know if these statements come from a bargaining position or an earnest assessment of the situation, but I hope more people wake up to the possibility of cancelling this project sooner rather than later; this project is unnecessary and promises to be a money pit far into the foreseeable future. Let’s cancel it now rather than throw more good cash after the bad we’ve already buried in this tunnel.

105 Replies to “Latest on the DBT”

  1. A few questions about stopping the DBT:

    What would be required to halt the project? A decision by WSDOT? By the Mayor or City Council? A public initiative?

    How would the amount of the project done so far (boring plus all the pre-boring prep work) affect alternative options going forward?

    Eric

    1. Eric raises the real question. Sorry, but this post is lacking relevant information.

      First, you need to pull out the sunk costs, those are gone no matter what. If we are already contractually committed to the contractor for $1B (please help me here with the real amount), then the real decision is do we spend an additional $188M ($125M + $62.6M) to finish the tunnel and in return get some toll revenue to help pay off the bonds we already issued to pay for this (I assume it would be more than $188M, but maybe not).

      Or do we stop everything, lose $1B, get no toll revenue, and have to search for a new revenue source to pay for bonds we already issued to pay for nothing ($60 car tabs?).

      1. I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question. I’m not a lawyer and I haven’t read the contracts, but I imagine it’ll be settled in court not in the comments of this blog post.

        Also, pnigh, we are unlikely to get the tolling revenue we thought we were. See the previous post for details on that.

      2. Toll revenue is a myth. Drivers aren’t willing to pay $3.50 to pay off the debt; they’ll use other streets instead. They’ll use the tunnel if it’s free or the toll is 50c or $1. Then there’s the issue of the contractor taking a third of toll revenues as overhead, so even that $1 yields only 66c in debt payments.

      3. Mike, I think you’re just wrong about that. Toll revenue is not quite up to projections on SR-520, but it’s reasonably healthy, and I don’t see any reason to think the DBT would be any different when the alternatives are as congested and indirect as I-5 or surface streets through Belltown, downtown, and Sodo.

        People who aren’t used to paying tolls hate the idea, whine, moan, and tell pollsters they’ll NEVER PAY IT EVER. Then when the roadway is open they realize it’s really not so bad (often after using it “just this once” when really crunched for time), and quite a few of them end up paying it.

      4. So you’re willing to say “cancel it now” even though you have no idea how much it will cost us.

      5. And you’re willing to say “stick with it” even though you have no idea how much it will cost us, nor any idea how we will pay for it.

      6. There are plenty of roads where drivers will pay tolls, even with free alternatives.

        This isn’t one of them, because it isn’t particulary good as a route from anywhere to anywhere.

  2. Did mankind abandon journeys across the Sierra’s just because of a few setbacks like the Donner Party? No.
    Did we lose our interest in going to the moon or beyond due to failures? No.
    Did Boston flinch in face of massive cost overruns with the Big Dig? Hell No.
    We’re America. We reserve the right to stumble our way into the future as great explorers and proud of it.
    Dig, Baby, Dig!
    [sarcasm]

    1. Why does Sound Transit have a digging machine that works and Seattle is stuck with the Bertha?

      1. The ST machines are very standard rail tunnel-size TBM’s. Such machines have been boring rail tunnels for about four decades now and are a well-understood technology. True, sometimes they run into difficulties from insufficiently surveyed soils containing intrusions of anomalous rock or missed underground streams. Portland’s first West Hills tunnel suffered in that way.

        But over time such “surprises” have become less frequent as engineers have learned how thoroughly they need to investigate the path of the TBM.

        Bertha, however, is the world’s largest machine. Nobody has built a TBM of its diameter before and there have been concerns since the bearing had to be replaced with an “improved” design during tests in Japan that the different pressures on the cutting head between the top and bottom of the bore have been underestimated or that the engineering to accommodate them may have been insufficient.

        That’s the reason for questions about the bearing failure. Did it fail because in attempting to push through the blockage caused by the pipe the operators ran the machine at too high a rate, over-heating the bearing seals and wrecking it by letting sand get into the bearing body? Or is it that the design of the bearing and seals is faulty in some way not found in the testing, and the failure will recur even in the absence of another blockage simply from normal use?

        If it’s the former then we can be happy that the blockage and “test” of the machine’s upper limits happened in a (relatively) accessible location and lengthen the boring schedule so that it doesn’t recur. Another six or even twelve months of boring time consumed to avoid another failure would be a small cost to pay. If it’s the latter then the project may indeed become the disaster than some gleefully predict when the next failure occurs under the built portion of the central city.

  3. Put me down as in favor of cancelling now! But then, I was in favor of not starting in the first place.

  4. At this point it would cost more to cancel the project than to finish it And every day that goes by they continue to work on the North and South connections — and continue to bill the state. The only part of the project that has actually stopped is the tunnel boring itself.

    It’s not going to get stopped — it’s going to get done come heck or high water..Get over it and move on.

    1. What would cost more? Seems to me we could let the tunnel contractors off easy by saying we’ll just part ways.

      1. Contracts don’t work that way, and neither do contractors (particularly litigious ones). It’s the way the world works.

    2. Lynn Peterson doesn’t seem as confident as you are. Where are you getting your confidence from?

      1. What is a gross exaggeration? You said this:

        It’s not going to get stopped — it’s going to get done come heck or high water..Get over it and move on.

        Peterson was not nearly as black and white as this.

      2. If Peterson had called a press conference and the first words out of her mouth were about considering shutting down the project, you might have cause for concern. But, she was was asked by a reporter if the state had considered that option, she said they had. Any prudent project manager would have said the same thing. “Considering” all options, the state feels that other options are much more viable than shutting the project down.

    3. You post, it seems to me, must be assuming one of two things. A) If Bertha gets stuck again under a much more built area, we’ll be able to reach and fix it in some way that doesn’t add huge amounts of money to the cost of the project, or B) the chances of Bertha getting stuck again are vanishingly small. Both of these seem implausible to me.

      I’m not sure I’d take even money on the tunnel ever being finished. I could readily imagine a scenario in which Inslee sees pulling the plug on what will then be an increasingly unpopular boondoggle as something that will help his re-election chances.

      1. It seems like the right thing to do is to go to the cut-and-cover tunnel along the waterfront as some have suggested and live with no viaduct for three or four years. It has at least the possibility of continuing to serve the Ballard-Interbay corridor and makes the rebuilt seawall more effective.

        There may not be a way to link the completed work to such a project, though.

      2. Charles,

        I love transit; I used it to commute from Salmon Creek (north end Vancouver WA) to Nike for four years and to downtown for many years previously. But I do not believe that Seattle, given its hourglass geography and hills can function with just one freeway.

        Cars are going to be with us for along time; we can hope that they’ll be electric and eventually autonomous in order to lessen the havoc on pedestrians and cyclists they currently wreak. But they will continue to be the primary mode of transportation in the Puget Sound region for the foreseeable future.

      3. My “correction” was incorrect. I said what I believe correctly the first time. How about a “delete” option as well?

  5. I’d say stop it now too, but we’d still have to replace the viaduct with something.

    1. Do we, really?

      Other cities (San Francisco, Seoul, Houston) have successfully removed highways. Why can’t we?

      1. The Embarcadero in SF was not a through way, though at one point it was planned to run all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was an extension of the Bay Bridge that allowed drivers to go a bit further north into the city. If the present day viaduct terminated at Seneca then you’d have a valid comparison.

      2. The present day viaduct isn’t a through way either!

        Seriously, look at how it dumps traffic onto city streets at the north end.

        I-5 is a through route expressway. I-405 is a through route expressway.

        SR-99 is already a “stops at traffic lights in business districts” route. It might as well be so for its whole distance.

      3. No stoplights from 85th or so to south of the First Avenue Bridge, though. For a really long way, it might as well be an expressway.

    2. A smaller, shallower tunnel as part of the seawall replacement that’s needed to be done anyway?

    3. Yes, this is the problem. Improvements to I-5, surface streets and additional transit was one of the original proposals (along with building a new viaduct and the tunnel). It would have been a lot cheaper, but it still isn’t free. No one suggested simply removing the viaduct because I-5 is already at capacity (as anyone on West Seattle knows).

      1. Surface+Transit was rated THE best choice in the EIS that conveniently was ignored by the city council in overriding the Mayors management of this process.

    4. I would be all for cancelling it provided a substantial transit alternative, e.g., elevated light rail/subway in the 99 corridor. Simply removing it without a transit alternative would be naive, short sighted and disastrous for some neighborhoods and peninsulas that rely on 99.

    5. If we cancel the tunnel, attention will return to the boulevard. There will be pressure to add lanes, which means widening it, which means displacing the bike lanes and greenway.

      However, the thoroughfare only goes north to Pike Street, then it moves away from the waterfront. The part between Pike Street and Broad Street has no high-volume outlet, so it will remain a small two-lane road in any scenario.

  6. Perhaps all the previous politicians and bureaucrats who championed this idea could have an extended ‘Ground Breaking Ceremony’ starting on the north end. They could keep digging with their gold painted shovels until they meet up with Bertha. There’s got to be more of them than the miners who dug the Great Northern tunnels by hand.
    Voila, DBT done.
    [serious sarcasm]

    1. mic,

      Yes, your post was “sarcasm” but just to be sure that nobody draws a stupid conclusion from it, remember that the GN tunnel is above sea level at all points and runs through the hill above Elliott Bay on which downtown Seattle sits. The DBT, at least in the part of the alignment it now occupies, is more like the Hudson River tunnels bored with a shield and compressed air. It’s below sea level right next to the ocean in thoroughly soaked soil.

  7. Now’s the time to transition to a cut and cover tunnel. The seawall’s getting replaced anyways. Maybe with a cut and cover, the monstrosity that Alaskan Way will become can go away?

    And we could use the incomplete tunnel as a layover spot for the decoupled RapidRide D! *ducks*

  8. Norah really raises the main point: Whether the DBT gets canceled or continued, what are we going to do about the legitimate transportation needs surrounding the project? But let’s also add the politics of the matter, which have always been more obstructive than either a damaged machine or the ground in front of it.

    Gothenburg, Sweden put a traffic tunnel under its waterfront. Oslo, Norway both tunneled and ran freeways under buildings. Boston? Now that Big Dig is finished, possible that result will justify expense. Time will tell. But every city above already had a first-rate transit system featuring both buses and extensive electric rail.

    Looking back, whatever the merits of the DBT itself, when Governor Gregoire vetoed (meaning killing something already passed by the Legislature) a $20 car tab fee, the people of Seattle should have pulled out every stop legal and political to block the project until the veto was rescinded or overridden.

    And kept on doing so until the State provided assistance deserved for the very large surface transit system needed to give anything like the DBT any chance of delivering as advertised. And to me, these points should be the main concentration now for every public entity involved. In law and politics, precedent is powerful- so I think it’s time we take a leaf from the private contractor mentioned.

    Suppose people in Seattle and also elsewhere in Washington State make any continued popular support for the project conditional on the project being being supplied with the public transit component it needed in the first place? And also, following Mr. Tutor’s well-proven example, become a pack of screaming polecats to cross? Notice he still doesn’t have any trouble getting contracts.

    Meantime, we could solve another major problem for all our tunneling efforts, not least the Seattle Subway. Can somebody please tell me how real moles find their way underground? Internet tells me they’re unbelievably fast and flexible- tempting to try and clone a really big one. But online sources really fink out about how they navigate.

    If reason is it’s classified, Edward Snowden deserves either a pardon or asylum in Seattle or both if he tells us.

    Mark Dublin

    1. So as I said above, attention will return to the boulevard. There would be pressure to widen it. What will we do then?

      For reference, the currently-proposed boulevard is six lanes south of Columbia Street (including transit lanes and ferry overflow capacity), and four lanes north of it.

  9. It still kills me that we’re going through all this effort for the sake of SR-99. If we have to bore a giant tunnel through downtown, why couldn’t it carry I-5 traffic? Then we could remove the elevated I-5 structure, which is ten times worse for Seattle than the viaduct is.

    1. I don’t know if it is ten times worse. I’m not sure which is worse, really. But I do know that one solution for I-5 through downtown is to cap it, which we already do (as Freeway Park). This could be extended in both directions. We could even get some money back by allowing some development there.

      The main reason the tunnel was proposed is because Nickels looked at the cost of a replacement viaduct and thought the tunnel was a good idea (since it was only a little bit more costly). I don’t agree with that decision, but no one just woke up one day and thought “Hey, let’s tear down a working freeway and put it underground”.

      My guess is that capping I-5 from about Mercer to Yesler would be a lot cheaper than the difference between a new viaduct and the tunnel. I agree that it would be better for the city, which is why your point is quite valid. Of course, for less than the cost of the tunnel, you could pay for improvements to I-5, surface streets, additional transit (the so called “surface option”) and a really big lid over I-5. To me, that would be much nicer for both transportation and the areas involved (and you would save money in the deal).

    2. You have a very good point. I think that tunnelling under where I-5 is should be easier, too, as that is rocky soil compared to the slushy, watery sand where Bertha is.

  10. Andrew, the transit circle jerk has to stop.

    No one wants cost overruns or the misappropriation of funds, but the behavior on this blog and the posting of inaccurate information has to stop. For example, in the post WSDOT Woes (https://seattletransitblog.com/2014/01/11/wsdots-woes/) STB accused WSDOT of sinking a pontoon, and that an 8″ metal pipe stopped Bertha. That was inaccurate and poor journalism.

    STB is now posting more inaccurate information about the schedule and budget of the project. The most current schedule and original project schedule have not changed. Yes, the tunneling partners are not able to make their proposed date, but the project will be completed by the date stipulated in the FRP. Check your facts.

    While a poorly structured contract and dubious choice of partners does not make for an ideal situation, it seems very unwise to abandon the project at this stage. What would your recommendation be problem arose with the Northgate Link expansion? Abandon that project because transit it highly subsidized and would waste more money?

    Andrew please do your homework in the future – posting inaccurate information will not help your cause and it impacts your credibility.

    1. Your history of inaccurate information is pretty inaccurate. First of all, the falling pontoon issue was a glib caption, unrelated to the main substance of the article, which we promptly and prominently corrected.

      The metal pipe issue was reported by DOT via the Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022626441_berthashaftsxml.html. I’m no huge fan of the Times, but Mike Lindblom gets his facts right.

      I agree with you, however, that the problem is not specifically the mismanagement of the DBT but its fundamental worthlessness. Or rather, its fundamental destructiveness to the environment, to transit, and the urban fabric.

      1. Inaccurate or not, STB’s posts on the tunnel are definitely using biased language that seems either sloppy or designed to mislead. For example, the summarization of the Q13 article using the phrase “meant to cost the taxpayers”, which implies that it is the correct and most likely outcome, not, as the article says, a “request” or bill from the company which the state denies it is responsible for. If someone files, say, a class action lawsuit against Apple, asking for $125M because they think iPhone screens break too easily, you would never say “Apple is meant to pay out $125M”. Perhaps “Apple asked to pay $125M” or “Apple might have to pay $125M” but it would certainly seem odd to say “Apple meant to pay $125M”.

      2. Nathaniel, in the following sentence I say the state has refused to pay this, and I link to the article for the total context.

        Are you not familiar how language works (context is important)?
        Are you not familiar how the hyperlinking works (you are supposed to click the blue text with underlines, that takes you to other webpages with more information)?

        I have no interest in misleading, this project is stupid enough as it is.

      3. I agree with you, however, that the problem is not specifically the mismanagement of the DBT but its fundamental worthlessness. Or rather, its fundamental destructiveness to the environment, to transit, and the urban fabric.

        Well, two things. First, the tunnel was not especially valuable when it started, and, second, now seems to be even less useful than it was at that time. Its value is going down over time.

      4. Andrew, in what sense is the tunnel less useful now than it was when it started, other than by potentially being delayed? It really hasn’t changed.

      5. Andrew: traffic on the viaduct has gone down because the viaduct has gotten less useful. That has nothing to do with the tunnel.

      6. Andrew: traffic on the viaduct has gone down because the viaduct has gotten less useful. That has nothing to do with the tunnel.

        The reason will are building the tunnel is because we have to tear down the viaduct. Right?
        The concern was we couldn’t take traffic off the viaduct and just let it loose onto the streets, because that would screw things up. Well, some of that traffic has been lost somehow and nothing seems screwed up.

        That indicates the tunnel is less useful, where useful is defined as “necessary”, which is the existential standard of whether we need it or not.

      7. Nathaniel, are you saying that STB should not have a particular point of view or “voice”? I disagree with you there. It has a voice that reflects the values of its founders and writers. I don’t always agree with their conclusions. If you detect bias against cars, it is a reflection of the view that cars are a long term harm to our environment, human health, and our economy. These values are backed up largely by facts. By advocating for the restructuring of our built environment to obviate the need for cars, it is posited that humans will fare better, our economy will be more grounded and our environment will be harmed less.

    2. The sinking of the pontoons was a joke, and I thought it was obvious and other people notified me it wasn’t. So I’m sorry. My credibility as a comedian definitely took a hit that day.

      You are dead wrong about the metal pipe, WSDOT and STP (the tunnel contractor) have agreed this much happened:
      1) The pipe was put there after the Nisqually quake to measure soil conditions.
      2) The pipe has been used many times for making the soil maps this very tunneling project requires.
      3) The pipe was used as recently as 2011 for soil studies.
      4) The pipe was on the maps that WSDOT gave to STP.

      STB is now posting more inaccurate information about the schedule and budget of the project. The most current schedule and original project schedule have not changed. Yes, the tunneling partners are not able to make their proposed date, but the project will be completed by the date stipulated in the FRP. Check your facts.

      100% false. The tunnel project is going to be at least 14 months late according to STP and WSDOT.

      While a poorly structured contract and dubious choice of partners does not make for an ideal situation, it seems very unwise to abandon the project at this stage. What would your recommendation be problem arose with the Northgate Link expansion? Abandon that project because transit it highly subsidized and would waste more money?

      You are missing half of the argument!
      1) Traffic on the viaduct is down. The data here isn’t perfect, but there is sufficient evidence to say that viaduct is less used today compared to 5 years ago.
      2) WSDOTs traffic models – which have a consistent record of over-estimate – now show the tunnel taking fewer vehicles than they originally anticipated.

      So the argument is: this is going to costs much more than we thought, and be much less useful than we thought. We have had so many problems, so early on, I feel at some point, we should be able to say it’s not worth it, rather than blindly continue on.

      I know outright cancelling the project is an unlikely outcome, but hopefully we remember this mess before we approve any other unnecessary, over-expensive projects.

      1. Of course traffic on the viaduct is down. Shrink the number of lanes, add a twisty chicane, and through in periodic construction closures and any highway will see its traffic volume decline. It’s a totally expected effect and is meaningless.

      2. Lazarus, the entire justification for the tunnel in the first place was we couldn’t tear the viaduct down because if traffic decreased it would be a disaster. Traffic has decreased, and now the only disaster is Bertha.

        You can’t have it both ways.

      3. Hmm, traffic counts being down on the viaduct suggest that the number of lanes in the tunnel will be more than adequate, removing the previous argument that the tunnel was among other things, undersized as a replacement.

      4. Hmm, traffic counts being down on the viaduct suggest that the number of lanes in the tunnel will be more than adequate

        Traffic counts on the viaduct are extremely indirect predictors of the tunnel usage. They are currently being depressed because the viaduct is much less accessible than it used to be. Traffic counts might bounce back if the tunnel is completed.

      5. The question isn’t whether they will bounce, it’s whether the tunnel is necessary. If we put tore out half of Wallingford to build a u-district-Ballard freeway, sure it’ll get some traffic. Do we need it? That’s a different question.

      6. I agree with you that the question is whether the tunnel is necessary, but the traffic counts are not evidence in your favor.

      7. I agree with you that the question is whether the tunnel is necessary, but the traffic counts are not evidence in your favor

        I don’t understand this. If the traffic goes down without catastrophe, the tunnel is less necessary right? If there were no traffic on the viaduct, would you believe me then? What if there was one car? The traffic on the viaduct is going down, it’s less than it was before. That means we need it less than before.

        The argument was that we couldn’t live without the viaduct unless we built a tunnel because X number of cars needed to go somewhere. Well now, Y% of X have disappeared from the viaduct already, without the tunnel, where Y is less than 100% but more than 0%. So now we know we don’t need the tunnel for Y% of X cars. So that means we need the tunnel roughly Y% less.

    3. @Bertha,

      I concur 100%. I check into this blog because I support “Transit” and want transit info. I do not check into this blog for a continuous rehash of anti-roads sentiment.

      This post is case in point — what does this have to do with “Transit”? Transit wasn’t even mentioned in the post, and we all know that this blog’s position is that the DBT has nothing to do with transit. So why isn’t this post off topic?

      This city is going to have a mufti-faceted transportation system that includes buses, rail, and yes, roads. We should be advocates for the proper mix of those commodities, but we should be adult enough to realize that in the end it will be a “mix”.

      The DBT debate is over. No amount of whining is going to cause this project to be abandoned.

      1. There was a debate?

        My experience was: Seattle got to vote for an enormous viaduct rebuild or a cut and cover tunnel, and said no to both. Then the state said “OK we’ll drill a tunnel. There will be no debate.”

        I still think the best option is to tear down the viaduct and improve surface streets. Traffic will readjust.

        Failing that, bring back the cut & cover option. If the deep bore had been presented as the fallback plan, the No rebuild, No cut & cover vote would have gone differently. If we were allowed to pick “which of these 3 (4) options should we do” instead of “do you like A?” “do you like B?”, we would not have picked the option we’ve been saddled with.

    4. Bertha, I wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind either in your present circumstances, but you yourself know that nobody at STB was at the controls when you hit the pipe. Just like you weren’t really designed to even think about it.

      Take some comfort from many years of experience: you’re not the only TBM that had to stay on the job longer than you planned. Happened with Portland Max under the zoo. That’s what overtime is for. And since you’re not a human public employee, nobody will write editorials claiming you don’t deserve it.

      And whether you get dug out or not, the same thing will happen to you. Your mechanical parts will be brought to the surface, repaired, and re-employed under some other ground. If you finish, your shield will be concreted into the end of your tunnel to remember you by.

      But by then, you’ll already be someplace, hopefully a long way from your present coordinates.

      Mark

    5. the project will be completed by the date stipulated in the FRP. Check your facts.

      Please. A prediction about the future is not a “fact” by any definition.

  11. Here is the history of the issue that I remember. Please add corrections if you know more.

    First the boring machine stopped because there were steel rods (girders) left over from a project from 2002.

    They had to drill some shafts and send divers down to remove these.

    Then they started up the machine but it overheated and had a burned up “o-ring” seal.

    At no point did I hear that the problems with the boring machine were related to hitting the steel rods…it was presented as two separate issues…so does that mean the machine broke down simply through the small amount of basic drilling it has completed? If so, then simply repairing it without ascertaining the cause of the breakdown could mean it would break down in the same fashion again.

    Back to the steel rods, we were supposed to be aware of these, have records and have delivered that information to the contractor. Why did none of these things happen? And was anyone reprimanded or punished (or have those people all retired…)? Are there any more “hidden gems” buried on the boring machines paths?

    Back to the McGinn plebiscite, where Seattlites voted (by a large majority) to build the tunnel, and then the subsequent deal between McGinn and Gregoire to spread cost overruns to the whole state, why did the whole state then not get to vote on the tunnel?

    1. Seattlites voted for the tunnel after voting against it in past elections (either direct votes or indirectly through candidates). Some people suspect that the final yes vote was people caving in to the fact that no matter how many times we vote no, the state would keep throwing it at us, so why keep fighting an unwinnable battle?

      And there was no state-wide vote on it, because everyone knew it would have been a landslide for “no tunnel”.

      The tunnel was going to be built from the beginning, no matter what, that’s pretty apparent now. All the votes and promises made were just smoke and mirrors.

      1. And there was no state-wide vote on it, because everyone knew it would have been a landslide for “no tunnel”.

        Absolutely true.

    2. To me there have been so many violations of sovereignty by the State of Washington that its impossible for me to support any of their schemes.

      Just like in the case of losing funding because of the inability to meet No Child Left Behind, the weight of incompetence and chicanery makes it impossible to know where to start.

      It’s almost time for the Feds to move in, declare this place bankrupt, and reset everything back to zero.

      1. Ironic considering this is one of the wealthiest places on the planet and it can’t even fund its government adequately.

        But that speaks more to the selfishness of the people that live here and their tax averse culture.

      2. “Violations of Sovereignty?” Dude, those are words that have meaning, not just salad garnishes…

  12. I know the DBT isn’t ideal but for the love of God please just finish this tunnel. If you think that the rest of this state enjoys putting the proverbial pins in the Seattle voodoo doll now, wait until the city demands stopping this project after already committing billions of dollars for nothing except a partially-completed tunnel and a giant tunnel boring machine left underground.

    If you kill this project, you’re not going to magically get some cut and cover tunnel or magical transit solution just because you want it. You need legislative allies you don’t have (i.e. anyone outside of Seattle), some sort of cohesive vision and the mental discipline and patience to convince a critical mass of people that ’20-30 years of going in circles wasn’t enough so let’s do another 10-20 years because this time we’ll get it right’.

    People are mentally fatigued from all the crap that everyone went through with this whole thing just to get where we’re at now; you think they want to start ALL over and go through this hellish process AGAIN?

    Why do you think the state Legislature would want to start cooperating with Seattle now if they haven’t before? What’s in it for them when they get easy PR points for screwing Seattle over?

    At some point, you have to make a goddamn decision and stick with it. 20-30 years was long enough to handwring and create blue-ribbon panels and have all of the other BS that come along with the Seattle Process. How much more sitting around and patting ourselves on the back and saying how great we are do we need?

    The DBT is not a great solution but there’s no guarantee that killing this is going to yield anything better with another 10-20 years of handwringing and political shenanigans. Put the screws to the contractor, make them pay, and finish the job.

    1. Pretty much this.

      If the DBT is completed a bit late and a bit over budget, people will gripe a bit and move on. If the DBT is canceled, there won’t be another major tunnel under Seattle in our lifetimes, including the rail tunnels we so desperately need.

      The state legislature would have every political incentive at that point to starve Seattle of transportation funding by any means necessary. And, remember, we need the state legislature’s (or, even more unlikely, the statewide electorate’s) buy-in to build pretty much anything of real significance.

      Our transportation future after a canceled DBT would be mixed-traffic streetcars.

      I have to say that I find “Pull the plug” sentiment to be very shortsighted.

      1. Two weeks ago I would have agreed with this, but the reaction to Sound Transit rededicating their Northlink TBM surprised me. Almost universally the media explained how different this was from the 99 TBM, about half the time in the headlines.

        If ST can maintain their record of success I think the Seattle electorate will be able to mentally separate tunnel projects.

      2. Problem is, David, what if the project was so fatally flawed from the beginning that its completion would leave a worse result for transportation, local and Statewide, than its cancellation? Not saying “is”, but “what if?”

        The decades- long expense of a real mistake would far exceed the (literally) sunk costs now- and we’d have less money to put things right. Something that any legislature, present or future, would like any less than it likes anything Seattle does now, or has done to date. Or will ever do.

        It might be a good thing that we’ve got an extra year to see what other ideas we can put into action toward the main result from transit’s point of view. As a habit of mind, I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat present condition of the legislature as permanent. Like all public employees, their contracts are subject to alteration.

        Especially if their present approach makes the same true of the State of Washington itself. Being an Abolitionist I don’t like secession- and frankly that’s what much of the Legislature is working on-but I also think that the more Seattle shows that it’s able, willing, and ready to take care of itself, the less likely Fort (Whatever it Was) at Discovery Park will be shelled by either side.

        The fast action on the local funding initiative sets a very good example. Seattle Subways is another one- maybe its plan can take sub-Waterfront events into account. And as for surface streetcars, I doubt the future of tramway right of way hangs on this tunnel either way- including the necessary line on the Waterfront itself, whatever’s going by underneath it, cars or moles.

        Mark Dublin

      3. Matthew, the local media are masters of nuance compared to the Washington state legislature and most of its members’ suburban and rural electorates. Don’t forget that it is the statewide electorate, not the Seattle electorate, we are up against. “No More MONEY PIT$ for $eattle” will become a statewide rallying cry, and it will work, if we have months of nonstop headlines about having thrown $1.5 billion literally into a hole in the ground.

        Mark, I just can’t possibly see how the project’s completion could be such a horrible result. Waste of money? Sure. But the viaduct isn’t horrible as a transportation corridor and this won’t be either. (For me, personally, it will be exceedingly useful and well worth the toll.)

      4. But the viaduct isn’t horrible as a transportation corridor and this won’t be either.

        1) A majority of viaduct users are travelling to or from downtown

        2) As 90/520 use patterns show, Puget Sound drivers are highly toll-avoidant. The viaduct is free.

        But the awfulness of the project isn’t remotely dependent on that. I don’t understand how anyone who believes global warming is real can support using scarce infrastructure resources on an entirely car-centric megaproject that primarily benefits those who wish to bypass dense neighborhoods easily.

      5. I don’t think 90/520 use patterns show at all that our drivers are “highly toll-avoidant.” They show that the drivers, like drivers everywhere else, are weakly toll-avoidant. 520 is still well used at most times of day.

        I think the rosiest forecasts of DBT traffic weren’t grounded in reality, but the idea that it will be a desert wasteland as everyone crawls through downtown on Wall Street and Second Avenue isn’t either.

        Look, I didn’t support the project in this form when it was on the drawing board. But abandoning it now just gets us the worst of all worlds — most of the money is already gone, Seattle’s credibility with those that have to green-light future transit projects takes a huge hit, and the alternative isn’t and can’t be well planned without extraordinary expense given the construction that has already occurred.

    2. The DBT is not a great solution but there’s no guarantee that killing this is going to yield anything better with another 10-20 years of handwringing and political shenanigans. Put the screws to the contractor, make them pay, and finish the job.

      This would be a nice outcome, but, sadly, I think it is unlikely. We’ve spent a billion or whatever, sure, but I suspect when this is all said and done we’ll have spent several times that.

      1. But does it really matter what the final price tag is at this point?

        Certainly if the tunnel contractor has to pay the overruns I could care less. I mean, who cares if a some contractor loses his profit margin or has to dump some of his own cash into a project he screwed up? Such a thing is not on the taxpayer.

        And if the state has to dump another pile of cash into finishing this project, then ultimately isn’t that a good thing? Because if the state didn’t dump their funding into the DBT, then they would be dumping it into some suburban sprawl creating freeway in E. Wa instead. And we all know that would be a good thing.

      2. Or the state says ‘if you want us to finish the tunnel, you’ve got to pay for all these suburban/exurban/rural freeways’.

      3. Or alternatively, the rest of the state is told “if you want us to pay for all these suburban/exurban/rural freeways, we need to finish this tunnel.”

      4. Or alternatively, the rest of the state is told “if you want us to pay for all these suburban/exurban/rural freeways, we need to finish this tunnel.”

        Well, some of us don’t want to pay for those freeways or the tunnel.

  13. By the time Bertha is restarted, a drill and blast team could have reduced by third the amount of work it needs to do.

    1. You’re going to drill and blast through the muck that’s down there? And how will you keep the water away?

      1. You can’t come from the waterfront end with a new tunneling face because Bertha sits in the way from that direction. To switch to drill and blast you would have to start tunneling from the other tunnel portal, and there should be decent bedrock in the north end to tunnel through.

  14. +1 on the post.

    Stop this project now before we get taken to the cleaners for the cost overruns only to have the Bertha get stuck again anothre 1000 feet in. It’s only 1/9 of the way done – meaning it has about 8/9ths of its risk left. Keep in mind, this would have been a lower risk project if they had done 4 ST size TBM holes (1/7th the volume per) than to do this crazy bleeding edge thing.

    Also — we don’t need a second highway through downtown Seattle. Most cities have zero highways cutting through them. This tunnel was the wrong solution from the start. Lets ditch it and fix our mobility issues the right way.

    1. Yeah, the pro-finish the tunnel people here seem to be relying on the assumption that the current delay/problem is the only major one the project will face. They very badly need to re-read their Flyvbjerg and take a long look in the mirror.

  15. This project will not be cancelled. It will be completed in 2016. We all need to move on and focus on new transit projects. This blog should concentrate more on a 2nd ave subway and less on the dbt.

    1. Confident posturing here. Interested in a wager? Will the tunnel be open for traffic on January 1 2017? I’ll take no. Even money?

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