TBM Cutterhead Lift 120516 30s from Sound Transit Video on Vimeo.

Though Sound Transit’s Tunnel Boring Maching #1 (formerly ‘Brenda’) reached UW station in September, Sound Transit only retrieved the cutter head yesterday (because football). TBM #1 has been a true workhorse for Sound Transit, completing 6 of the 10 tunnel segments for University Link and Northgate Link on its own. It also picked up the slack when TBM #2 (‘Pamela’) broke down, finishing an extra segment from UDistrict Station to UW.

Aside from a short 0.5 mile conventionally mined tunnel under construction in Downtown Bellevue for East Link, Brenda’s repose marks a ceremonial end to transit tunneling for the next decade or so. Most remaining ST2 track miles (Northgate to Lynnwood, and International District to Overlake) are at-grade or elevated, as is the bulk of the recently passed Sound Transit 3. In a country that frequently builds at-grade rail on the cheap, it’s worth reiterating how fortunate we will have been to build an 8.5 mile subway from scratch.

The next tunnels? Possibly a short tunnel from The Triangle into West Seattle Junction, and of course the mammoth undertaking of boring a new subway from Queen Anne to the International District for the Ballard-Tacoma line. If we’re lucky judicious and efficient, we’ll be christening new TBMs by the early-2020s.

43 Replies to “3 Cheers for Brenda”

  1. They waited to make progress on a critical piece of infrastructure because of football? Seriously?

    1. They waited to remove a very large piece of machinery that wasn’t being used from the tunnel because of football. They probably had lots of other stuff they were doing in the meantime.

      1. Ya, it’s not like leaving it in the ground until after football season cost anything more or added to the schedule. And they weren’t’ going to finish the entry to Husky Stadium until after football season anyhow, so this *might* actually be the better way to do it.

        But hey, if leaving Brenda in the ground has anything to do with how will the Huskies have been playing, then I say, “Leave her in the ground forever!” What a season, and now with LR to the stadium too?

        Spectacular. Can’t wait for stadium access from the north.

      2. Is there time before the Huskies play ‘Bama to put Brenda in the ground somewhere underneath the Peach Bowl?

      3. Note they won all their road games; the only game they lost was at Husky Stadium. So I wouldn’t worry too much about Brenda in Atlanta.

      4. It’s the contractor’s TBM so it might have charged extra to leave the job open for so long.

    2. The University of Washington made Sound Transit wait to do this, it was not Sound Transit’s call.

      1. Time for a call to my state rep. The University of Washington is a state institution. Entertainment enterprises should take a back seat to infrastructure. They work for us.

      2. Call your state rep? Why? The tunnel boring was finished back in September. They waited until now to pull the TBM out because they need a bunch of space for the operation, right at the stadium’s front door. No harm was done leaving the TBM in the ground for a couple of months.

  2. Dollars to doughnuts ST tunnels under Salmon Bay. The difficulty of building and ramping to and from a 70’+ drawbridge, plus the fact that there’s not a lot of room to stick an aerial station at 15th and Market, combined with ST’s expertise in tunneling, pretty much ensures it. If I’m wrong, come find me in 2035 on Ballard Link and I’ll buy you a doughnut.

    If SDOT is smart, they’ll figure out a way to piggy back on that and bury 15th under Salmon Bay, leaving a drawbridge for bikes, buses and local access.

      1. Where all money comes from, the citizens. From the DOD to the smallest Library in a rural town, from barn raisings in our past to park clean-ups today, we co-operate as citizens and pay to improve out lot as a group.

    1. And after that reality sets in, the cost estimates will show ST could have served the same number of people more efficiently and much sooner by tunnelling from Ballard to a level junction in the U District.

      Or maybe they’ll realize that if a tunnel is necessary, they might as well route it through Fremont.

      1. I’m with you on Ballard->UW and kick the Ballard Link to ST4, but ST barely even gave that option a nod in ST3.

        Your second paragraph, if I recall correctly, was Option D of the alternates that ST released for Ballard Link, which garnered the most votes (of course, because it was the best, but most expensive option). Scott Kubly overrode his adoring public and went with the currently planned Ballard Link

      2. I am also a Ballard to UW fan, but SDOT staffers at Ballard open houses didn’t like Ballard to UW.– it took Seattle Subway to get the SDOT folks to even consider/urge studying UW to Ballard in their proposal to ST.

        Other than the length of time to build (due to another downtown tunnel being built), Ballard line isn’t bad– and it does cover Expedia and Amazon (assuming they are still in existence in 20 years). IIRC, Option D (as well as Ballard to UW) disappeared when West Seattle light rail became more inevitable.

      3. I think that ship has sailed – ST3 clearly mandated serving Uptown and Interbay, not Fremont.

        Ballard-UW is funded for study, not construction. If ST changes its mind it will need to go back to the voters.

      4. >> Ballard line isn’t bad

        No, it just isn’t as good as Ballard to the UW. The Ballard/Interbay line will primarily, if not exclusively serve people who live or work close to the stations and are headed that way. That isn’t a huge number of people. Ballard to UW would have transformed an entire region (everyone west of I-5 and north of the ship canal) speeding up travel to a lot more places (UW/Capitol Hill/downtown) directly or indirectly.

      5. What, no love for a station at Mercer and QA Ave? No love for a SLU station? Well then, I guess no reason to build a Metro 8 line if those stations aren’t important.

        Come on guys, a Ballard to UW line is transformative for people who live in Phinney Ridge and Wallingford, but that’s about it. Ballard trades a 1-seat ride to SLU for a 1-seat ride to U District; seems pretty even to me. You get a nifty Link transfer for the E-line… but lose a link transfer for Madison BRT?
        The rest of the region – i.e. everyone not living in the north Seattle bubble – loses stations to Seattle’s tech hub so… they can get one seat rides to upper Fremont?

        The alignment of the Ballard line is about building a 2nd downtown tunnel and adding stations to serve SLU. You tunnel to UW and you give up on the 2nd tunnel. The Interbay alignment is about serving uptown. You serve Fremont and you give up on a station at QA Ave, not just Smith Cove.

        Before we drop billions tunnel between two secondary nodes (Ballard & U District), why don’t we try and fix the 44 first?

      6. The Safeway parking lot gets a faster one seat ride to SLU than it current has. Everyone else in Ballard has to change from the 44 to Link at the Safeway parking lot.

      7. No, Ross. No, it wouldn’t “have trsnsformed the entire region”. Or at any rate not NEARLY as much as will serving the arc from Expedia to Amazon.

        Please get it that Ballard and Upper Fremont are not regional destinations and never will be. Modest employment clusters? Yes, certainly, but a practical Ballard-UW line wouldn’t even penetrate the actual Fremont cluster. The folks at SDOT aren’t wrong about this.

      8. You guys don’t get it. Just think it through. Seriously, pull up a map, and then imagine trying to get from one point to another. You pretty soon realize that the Ballard downtown route *only* serves that corridor and *only* areas very close to the station. Perpendicular areas — with the exception of Magnolia — are pretty much left out. Here is an example:

        Go one mile due east of Ballard and you are at 55th and Phinney Ridge. One mile. To get to the Ballard station it will take two buses, unless Metro decides to water down one of the few areas in Seattle that actually has a well functioning transit grid. So will someone who lives there actually take a bus to Link? Not if they are headed downtown. How about South Lake Union? No. What about Lower Queen Anne? Maybe, but that distance is so short that you might as well take the brand new 8, which (through there anyway) avoids the worst congestion, by driving over Aurora on a side street likely set aside just for buses. So you are basically left with the stop at Dravus as well as the stop for Expedia. Not exactly a huge number of people at either place, but at least it is something.

        Now look at Ballard to UW. Imagine, just for a second, stations at 24th NW, 15th NW, 8th NW, Phinney/Aurora (yes you can serve both places with one stop), Meridian and Brooklyn. So go ahead and pick a spot perpendicular to the train line. It is actually very easy, because buses run perpendicular to every single stop. Every single stop. Now remember, this train that goes to the UW, also either goes to downtown, or it is an easy, timed transfer to the train that goes downtown. Because of the short distance, and sparsity of stops, it is only about two minutes slower from Ballard to downtown that way versus the new Ballard line. That means it is an extremely fast way to go downtown. So let’s run through the corridors.

        If you live on 24th Ave N.W., do you ride that train? You do if you are headed to Fremont, Phinney Ridge, Wallingford, UW, Roosevelt, Northgate, Lake City, Lynnwood (and Everett) Capitol Hill and downtown. That is what I mean by a transformation. Just about anywhere you want to go — nearby or far away — is made better. Some of those trips involve two buses, some of them one; but all of them are made much faster. What is true of that corridor is true for the other corridors. In some cases (such as if you are on an Aurora bus) you may want to just stay on the bus. Nothing wrong with that. But if you want to go to the UW — the second biggest destination in the state — then this train would have saved you an enormous amount of time. So fast that they compete with driving, any time of day.

        That is what I mean by saying it is a transformation of an entire region. That whole area has much faster transit times to just about everywhere. Unfortunately, you can’t say that about Ballard to UW, because most of potential crossing buses make no sense. They would lead up steep hillsides, or into the water. Even where they do make sense — like Magnolia — the results are limited. So someone in Greenwood, for example, would look at Ballard to UW and say “Great — Now I can get just about anywhere in the city very quickly. Downtown, UW, Ballard, Capitol Hill — everywhere!”. But someone in Magnolia would not get to UW or any place north of the ship canal any faster.

        That is not transformational. That is what happens when you don’t plan properly, and confuse a subway with commuter rail, and commuter rail with a subway. Sound Transit is very good at this. They are going to build a subway out to Tacoma. Not downtown, mind you, but the Tacoma Dome, where very few people live or work. It will take a very long ways (over an hour) to get anywhere in Seattle. Stops along the way won’t be that popular, because there simply aren’t that many people or activities there (No offense, it is just the nature of suburbs). Meanwhile, they are building rail to Ballard and treating it like a commuter line. Yes, you will be able to get to downtown very fast — but you won’t be able to get much of anyplace else (Lower Queen Anne being the exception). They ignore the fact that if you ran a train line from Ballard to the UW, huge numbers of people would ride it — many of which are not headed to either Ballard or the UW! That is what happens in a big city! That is what a subway does. It doesn’t just get people downtown, but it gets them from neighborhood to neighborhood. If you’ve ever ridden a subway, you’ll notice this. All day long people are getting on and off at various stops. That is why you build subways. It is what makes them worth it.

    2. The difficulty of building and ramping to and from a 70’+ drawbridge

      The upper deck of the Steel Bridge in Portland, over which MAX goes, is at 72 feet of clearance above the standard river level when the lower deck gets folded into the upper deck.

      Start with the fact that the land around the bridge isn’t at 0 feet above the Ship Canal, then figure you may be an additional 15 feet or so on an elevated structure anyway to cross over all the stuff at Fisherman’s Terminal, and you’re really only climbing maybe 20 or 30 feet.

      When you get to the north side, there is a hill there, so you drop down even less.

      1. ST should do everything in its power not to repeat the mistakes that Portland made when they decided to run so many MAX lines over the Steel Bridge. That bridge is a weak link in the Portland system.

      2. Of course.

        It would also be good to avoid using a bridge owned by a major freight railroad (UP owns the Steel Bridge), but none of these seem like they are things ST is considering. The only thing they are considering is a 70 foot bridge clearance, and the Steel shows this isn’t such a huge obstacle.

      3. The simplest MAX subway is a mere 1.5 miles long, to route Blue/Red/Green lines from a combined Rose Quarter/Convention Center subway station, under the Willamette, then south along Naito Pkwy to a Saturday Mkt station, then to its west portal under the Morrison/Belmont bridgehead. That’s it. Yellow/Orange lines remain on the Steel Bridge and run on the transit mall. The MAX system is near full build-out. It’s 88 stations offer 10x more development potential than Link LRT will ever have if Sound Transit wonks get their way. The 2nd Ave Subway idea is stupid.

      4. There’s development potential, and then there’s what actually happens.

        We’re getting a nice new self storage warehouse at the 17th & Center MAX station. It’s just down the street from the one at 17th and Holgate. I suppose it’s something better than vacant land.

        Tightest damn rental residential market in the country, and that’s the best our idiotic zoning can do around a MAX station on the inner east side.

        I wish we could get his urbanist densityness Martin H Duke to visit one of our city council meetings and give them a well earned tongue lashing.

        The simplest Subway is maybe what you suggest.

        The best investment is a different matter and would be akin to what Link is doing, and put a tunnel between downtown Portland and the central eastside, converting to an elevated structure above Powell out to the Green Line.

        Or something like that. The 4, 14 and 9 could really use something to absorb some overflow. That would be closer to Link than anything we currently have. There’s people that take the Green Line al the way around inner southeast to get to downtown because the 4, 14, 15, 17 and to some extent 9, 10 and 19 are too slow and crowded. The 14 is back up to a bus every 5 to 7 minutes and it’s still overcrowded, and the 4 is almost as bad. It’s faster to go several miles out of the way on MAX than suffer through the inner eastside on the bus.

      5. @Glen,

        Actually no, I’d say that Porrtland’s experience with the Steel Bridge indicates that even 70′ will be a problem. Portland’s experience with that bridge had been anything but smooth, and not all those problems are because of the freight railroad.

        Putting any kind of draw span in the middle of your high frequency, hi reliability transit system is just asking for trouble, and keep in mind that ST is designing to higher service levels than what MAX is designed for.

        Additionally, there just is a lot more boat traffic that will pass by the ST bridge site as compared to what passes by the Steel Bridge. On the upstream side of the ST bridge you will still have part of Salmon Bay, all of Lake Union and all of Lake Washington. The situations really aren’t comparable.

        Na, ST should tunnel underneath. And I think eventually they will find a way.

        And BTW, Portland really should tunnel underneath too. They should know the error of their ways by now.

      6. The studies done for the Salmon Bay bridge say otherwise.

        The water level in Salmon Bay is carefully regulated, compared to the Willamette. You know what you are getting with 70 feet of clearance there. Here, it is quite variable.

        While there is a lot of traffic in the ship canal, the size of what goes through there is also limited. NOAA’s ships are no longer on Lake Washington. Everything ST has produced so far indicates that a bridge at 70 feet will open on a very occasional basis.

        These days, about the only time the Steel Bridge opens on the top deck (the bottom deck opens separately) is during the Rose Festival Fleet Week. It’s a huge mess because both it and the Broadway Bridge spend about half a day in the open position. The rest of the time, pretty much everything fits under it, except if the river level is extremely high.

        So, the bridge itself is hardly an issue for MAX, except for the two days a year when the entire city gets screwed up anyway.

        By far the biggest issue currently with reliability at the Steel Bridge is the combination massive surface intersection of highway 99W with the surface streets in the middle of one of the city’s busiest transit centers. The whole mess worked far better before the new arena (formerly Rose Garden, currently called Moda Center) was built, as originally there was an overpass for Highway 99W northbound traffic to cross over MAX and surface streets.

        Bringing everything to surface level to try to create some sort of plaza for the new arena doesn’t work on many different levels. Massive pedestrian crowds obstruct the auto traffic on busy streets that the traffic plan assumes moves freely, while auto traffic on Interstate Avenue backs up across the intersection and obstructs the MAX line. Put Mt. Baker station at the surface, intersect East Link with it there, put the Mercer and Fairview intersection at the surface where the two Link lines intersect, and then put a stadium next door that insists that everything stay at the surface so that everything (even through highway traffic that doesn’t want to stop) has easy surface access to it, and then try to run trains through the mess every minute and a half* and you see what happens.

        Tunneling underneath at that point of the river has many issues, including the fact that it is somewhere around 160 feet deep through some of that area. It’s narrow through there but quite deep. We’d wind up with deep level stations like Washington Park. This would be even worse than the UW station in terms of trying to provide quick and easy transfers from MAX to other transit.

        What needs to be buried through that whole mess is all the through running auto traffic. Dig a series of trenches and put the highway 99W and Multnomah Blvd traffic below the pedestrian, bus, MAX and local road traffic and EVERYTHING (not just MAX) would work far better for all involved than the current situation. Burying MAX would not help the pedestrian troubles of trying to get across all the road traffic that gets stopped up through there, nor does it help move the buses through the transit center any better. If road traffic insists on being stuck in that location, it needs to do so in a way that doesn’t obstruct pedestrian and transit traffic.

        Burying MAX in Northeast Portland also doesn’t help provide service to southeast, which is where better transit service is currently lacking and difficult to provide on the surface.

        * Peak period Green line = 4 trains per hour per direction. Blue line = approx 7 to 8 trains per hour per direction. Red line = 4 trains per direction per hour. Yellow Line = approx 5 trains per hour per direction. So, on average, at peak MAX crosses the Steel Bridge and goes into that huge traffic mess every 90 seconds.

      7. @Glen,

        In the vicinity of the Steel Bridge the Willamette is only about 50 ft deep at its deepest spot. That is hardly an insurmountable engineering or operational challenge (at least in Seattle).

        But hey, it’s OK, the decision to run 4 of the 5 max lines over the Steel Bridge was done for cost reasons. That is a design decision and it is OK. Portland basically favored expansion and coverage over speed and reliability.

        There are more than 1 way to skin a cat, and that is the way Portland choose. Seattle is going a different route, and I think in the end Seattle’s way will better serve Seattle.

        But we will see….

      8. All MAX lines essentially go over the Steel Bridge. Orange is an extension of Yellow Line trains plus several green and a couple of blue to add capacity when demand warrants.

        The first MAX line did what it does there due to it being cheap.

        Everything else that happened around the Steel Bridge, including the considerable worsening of surface traffic with the rebuilding of a major highway intersection essentially inside a transit center, can only be described using words that usually get people banned from the blog.

      9. Adding to my above comment which ended “a 2nd Ave Seattle subway is stupid” I should’ve replaced that word. Sorry. For the 20-some years I’ve advocated for Portland’s MAX and light rail nationally, the subject has been a political brawl between and within the anti-transit rightwing and pro-transit factions. It’s irritating to watch seemingly sincere advocates support plans that don’t make sense. For example, the 1993-98 South/North MAX proposal, once rejected, was replaced with a much improved Interstate MAX; the transit mall alignment and route through Milwaukie were likewise much improved. Portland is now planning MAX on Barbur Blvd in the SW corridor to Tigard, a route that makes more sense for Bus Rapid Transit, a fact which doesn’t stop agency directors from following the money.

        The simplest subway proposal described above has a similarly simple extension south on Naito Pkwy to a junction with the Orange Line and from Milwaukie an extension east to the Green Line, a remnant of the South/North MAX proposal.

        Our transit systems must improve cross-county routes unavoidably using BRT where LRT is unsuitably high-impact and prohibitively high-cost. This then is were I conclude Seattle’s 2nd Ave Subway is stupid, though a more descriptive explanation is better. Portland builds more MAX stations with development potential than Seattle which in the end creates a demand for travel than Link cannot handle even with a 2nd Subway. Yadda yadda.

        The Portland steel bridge is a low speed 2mph chokepoint also hampered by the ‘crossover switching’ between north-south yellow/orange lines and east-west blue/red/green lines.

      10. edit) The Portland steel bridge is a low-speed 2mph chokepoint also hampered by ‘crossover switching’ between north-south yellow/orange lines and east-west blue/red/green lines. The proposal would speed east/west travel overall but especially within city center. The number of station stops between the Rose Quarter and Goose Hollow is reduced from 10 to 6 and also avoids the Steel Bridge chokepoint. A relatively low-cost tunnel proposal that directs extensions apart from city center.

    3. That would be a pretty long tunnel in Ballard due to the grade and need to get under the Ship Canal. I am neutral, but I am not sure it is needed just to avoid very few bridge crossings. I do agree that a bike pathway should be built on the new rail bridge. And I would actually look at putting the station in the huge median at 14th and Market and building bus layover under it.

      1. The wide ROW of 14th is tempting, but that pulls the station away from the center of Ballard and hurts the walkshed. A tunnel could allow a station closer the 20th and Market, which has a much better walkshed. If Roosevelt merits a tunnel, Ballard certainly does.

        I don’t like the bike lane on the bridge if it causes the bridge to be designed differently, especially if it impacts height – I don’t want my transit agency in the business of building bike lanes. That’s a job for SDOT, and should go into the new Ballard bridge. But if it’s just attaching a bike lane to the side of the bridge, then sure add it.

      2. I’d support a 14th & Market station only if associated with a major upzone – say the box enclosed by 15th, 11th, Market, and Leary.

      3. I don’t spend a lot of time in Ballard, but even if a station on 14th NW pulls it away from the so-called center of Ballard, isn’t there a lot of other stuff to the east? Or is that getting too close to the ridge?

      4. What about something along the lines of putting the bridge on the west side of Fisherman’s Terminal, above the net storage area that’s east of 21st, cross above the docks, and on the north side run on elevated above 20th for a few blocks?

        Or, above 22nd? Then, you’ve got enough space to swing the line over 56th, and 56th and 15th has a parking lot you could put another curve above?

        Or, diagonally above Dock Place, loop a curve above the parking lots at 17th, then do a curve above the parking lots at 15th & 51st to get it going back north on 15th?

    4. We voted to spend a certain amount in Niorth King. So the question is whether a tunnel would fit into that amount.

      1. I thought we voted for projects, not a specific budget. Especially if North King taxes come in higher than projected relative to other subareas, I see no reason the Board wouldn’t approve additional spend as long as it’s still within the ST3 mandate. Bridge vs Tunnel is definitely the type of decision that the Board can make without needed to go back to the voters.

        I’m OK with spending more money than projected if it creates high quality transit.

      2. The budget was supposed to include the most expensive option ST might consider. Adding to would be for cost overruns, not option decisions.Otherwise there was no point in specifying an amount or duration at all.

  3. I wonder how far into cross-cutting they are…that’s the real key to speeding up Northgate. If they get done with that ahead of schedule then the ball gets rolling on installation in the tunnels sooner. Would be nice to get an update on that at some point.

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