Battery Street Tunnel Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

When the Alaskan Way Viaduct undergoes demolition next year, WSDOT plans to use the Battery Street Tunnel as a disposal site for the Viaduct’s debris, but a group of residents is pushing for a second life for the 65-year old tunnel.

The group Recharge the Battery says anything is better than the current plan to fill and seal the tunnel, however with only a year left before leveling of the viaduct is scheduled to begin the group is racing to rally support from the community.

The group envisions the tunnel becoming a “defining urban icon for the City of Seattle and valuable public asset for the Belltown neighborhood and surrounding communities.”

The cut-and-cover Battery Street Tunnel, which runs under Battery Street from Highway 99 to 1st Avenue, was the first tunnel designed and built by the City of Seattle Engineering Department, according to the final environmental impact statement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project. 

Battery Street Tunnel Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

Earlier this year Recharge the Battery made an open call for proposals reimagining, without limits, a future use for the space. Ideas ranged from building a mushroom farm or a wine cellar to constructing an underground beach or allowing drone racing. One award-winning conceptual design envisioned a publicly accessible forested ravine which could also filter stormwater before returning it to Elliot Bay. Back in April Zach discussed the idea of using the tunnel for transit.

The group says there’s a wide range of possibilities, pointing to projects such as Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon River Restoration which uncovered an ancient river while creating a public recreational space after removing a large highway. Or the city could imitate New York City, using the space for a transit museum.

The group wants the current plans to fill and seal the tunnel suspended to allow for a robust public discussion, which they say never happened as part of the wider waterfront revitalization project happening just steps from Belltown. Some residents concerned about WSDOT’s plan, say filling the tunnel with debris just creates a new garbage dump in the middle of the city.

Part of the waterfront revitalization plan (see 3-13) includes a park near the sound end of the tunnel. According to a spokesperson for SDOT, the agency has reached an agreement with WSDOT on the demolition and decommission process to make it “relatively easy to develop as a park in the future.” And SDOT is starting the conversation with the Parks and Recreation Department about options and strategies for funding design and construction of the future park.  

But any reuse of the tunnel would require a hefty monetary investment to retrofit the tunnel. According to the FEIS, “While other uses of the old tunnel could be possible (such as pedestrian or bicycle use), the tunnel would require costly retrofits to meet current standards, including structural, seismic, and health and safety standards.”

And, using the tunnel for debris disposal “would avoid the need for seismic retrofits and reduce construction-related traffic, noise, and debris disposal costs.”

With downtown real estate at a premium, reusing or converting infrastructure can create valuable new public spaces, but without a clear source of funding the group is facing an uphill fight.

The conversation over the tunnel’s future continues tonight with a free panel discussion to explore alternative solutions for the tunnel co-hosted by Recharge the Battery and Design in Public starting at 6:30 pm at Seattle’s Center for Architecture and Design at 1010 Western Avenue.

58 Replies to “When can Public Infrastructure be Repurposed?”

  1. Bike way with transit exhibits lining the sides. If we can splurge on streets car, we can splurge on this

  2. Well, this being Seattle, good prediction is that whatever we do with this piece of cut and cover, people will bewail the result either way. History’s worst waste of money or its even worse missed opportunity. Or both.

    But look at it this way. Say I’ve got a structure on my property that I can either trash out and bury, or find some paying use for. Financially only prudent to check out possibilities, isn’t it? And some perspective on rebuild of Seattle’s street rail network:

    Its automobile replacement has reached end of its lifespan. So now that we’re looking for a replacement, I think it’s worth one through car-line of what worked before just to check. Don Martin sound effects website is down this morning, so I can’t find the definition of “Splurge”.

    So have to just go with: “First sound heard when the first train crosses first elevated pillar sought of Jackson Street.”


      1. Thanks, Irving. Pretty sure that was how average editor would’ve described public comment on Broadway walking speed that gave rise to the original New York City subway.

        But I think before the ink had dried on Forward Thrust ballots- pretty sure it was Parker fountain pens- contemporary term been “Yowl.”

        However, that was before Global Warming brought swarms of Snarks out of hibernation. Even worse are the little :( ‘s and “Thumbs Down” silhouettes. And little subtraction signs. But all is not lost.

        Soon as I copyright the SHRUGWHATEVER with suitable French accent-symbol.


  3. IF there’s any place that deserves a transit museum, it’s Seattle.


    *Having a Link light rail car with the cab open,
    *Having a Trimet MAX original car,
    *Seeing the progression of bus technology,
    *Having traveling exhibits on fare collection, minorities in transit, transit governance and so on.
    *Having a Hall of Fame for Transit started.

    1. Worth a careful public check, 333, between SDOT and an independent engineer. A few blocks downhill, should be choice of either railroad gondola cars (not the elevated passenger-carrying ones) and barges.


    2. We’re SAVED!

      And it was right in front of us, giant ad before our Banner Headline! Thanks for putting it in, Lizz! But dirty trick hiding it in the attic over the topic headline.

      I’ve been too depressed to look there for a couple of years after they took away the model I wanted for Miss Proof of Payment, since we don’t have any turnstiles.

      Reviving a famous transit-related WWII era tradition that would definitely encourage a lot of our Navy servicemen to ride transit. And granted with some reinforcement, absolute best use for the Battery Tunnel.

      Because this really could set overdue precedent for getting transit in the Defense budget, where it belongs. And also get some respect from the socialist neutral Swedes, who’ve slavishly had single payer health care forever, and a military draft much longer.

      Though really, draftees have to compete for the Armed Forces. Most go to the civil service- definitely unBinding its Hide. Probably reason they’ve got streetcar systems that work.


    3. The dirt mined by Bertha has already been transported by barge to fill an old gravel mine near Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula. I believe that the Battery Street Tunnel would be filled with dirt from nearby high-rise projects or rubble from the viaduct demolition.

  4. Ah, no. Seattle already has a lot of infrastructure not properly or promptly maintained. Fill it up and close it.

    1. I agree also. Fill it in just like a decommissioned septic tank. Crush the concrete down and use it for fill.

      The city is already sitting on undeveloped properties that were once earmarked for green space under prior comp land use plans and intentions that have changed drastically with Seattle’s enormous growth (and the related conflicting demands for its limited resources) since the economic recovery.

      1. This is not vacant parcels, it’s a street. The issue is how important is Battery Street for circulation. I’ve never seen more than a few cars on it so I’d guess not much. If you’re saying Seattle’s space shortage is too great to allow a ravine here, that’s tantamount to saying we should build housing on the street. The best thing about this open space proposal as i said below is that it doesn’t displace any buildable land: the cross streets would just go over the ravine the way they go over the tunnel now. No longer walks for people, no wasted space around buildings.

      2. Mike Orr. You’ve totally misconstrued my point.

        “If you’re saying Seattle’s space shortage is too great to allow a ravine here, …”

        Nope, that’s not what I was saying at all. I was referring to the city’s limited financial resources and the number of significant problems/issues it has to contend with at present. The city already has a large number of green spaces it cannot afford to maintain adequately.

        (Also, the tunnel would never be a “ravine”. It would only be a channel technically speaking.)

        I agree with the sentiment expressed in Bruce N’s comment below about an unlimited pot of money.

    1. Will some of those developments want to dig through the concrete rubble to build basement floors or anchoring?

      1. YES. Currently digging 3-6 stories down would have made the tunnel unstable. More option become available when all you have to support is the surface street. I believe the old tunnel is supported on wood pilings also would need to be replaced if you want to keep it open to the public.

  5. Can’t concrete and cement be ground up and recycled to fill several years of the region’s demand for concrete and cement?

    As always, my vote is that the Battery Street Tunnel eventually become the Battery Street Veloway.

  6. This is another example of trying to turn lemons into lemonade rather than stepping back and saying, “What are the primary circulation needs in the area?” The tunnel goes from the north end of the waterfront to Aurora & Denny. That’s not a major pedestrian corridor, nearby Broad Street goes almost the same way, and the waterfront commission has recommended extending the Alaskan Way bus to Seattle Center, and it could theoretically extend it further to SLU. I’ve heard talk that we could put buses in the tunnel. When would we ever want a frequent route from the north part of the waterfront to Aurora & Denny? Mushroom farms and underground forests are interesting, but I don’t see them as priority. Nor worth spending millions to seismically retrofit the tunnel. And if we don’t put the viaduct debris in it, where will we put it? Somewhere that involves trucking longer distances, since there’s no other landfill right downtown.

    1. Plus wouldn’t opening up the top eliminate or reduce the seismic retrofit concerns?

      I say linear park with a bike/walk/run trail. Based on Google Maps, there are no good SW-NE bike routes or paths in the area, and it might serve as a useful, safe connection between LQA/SLU and the waterfront area paths.

      Of course, the thorn in our side is what to do with the viaduct debris, probably $$$ and adds significant time to the project.

    2. That makes the most sense of the proposals I’ve seen. I thought they were all about keeping the tunnel with the street over it, not eliminating the street and daylighting the space. This would be a good downtown amenity and and reinvite the biosystem back as the seawall/waterfront projects are doing. I assume the seismic problem would go away because the only thing left is the floor, and if the floor is the ground then it doesn’t need to be reinforced?

      The office-tower pictures are fanciful. We’ve already been through raising the streets in Pioneer Square, turning second floors into ground floors. It requires rebuilding the building to put a proper entrance rather than a slapdash retrofit into the new ground floor and adjust the interior to match the floor’s new use. And this would be the opposite, turning basements into ground floors. I don’t see people tearing down existing towers to build new ones.

      1. You aren’t concerned about the seismic issues with multi-story retaining walls after you’ve removed the top? If you remove the top, you are left with more than just the floor! There are still walls on each side! And, who is to say that the top wasn’t used as a form of structural support for those walls when it was designed 60 years ago?

        Where do you intend to truck off the viaduct debris to? How many vehicle miles will that take? How much extra money (taxpayer money) will it cost to truck it off, in both trucking hours and dumping fees somewhere?

        Filling the tunnel with unusable/unsuitable debris from the viaduct is the most common sense solution I’ve heard to an engineering problem all day.

      2. Engineer: good point about the retaining walls possibly being structurally supported by the cap. Definitely requires some rigorous “engineering” input, not just speculation in transit blog comments!

        And at this point, absolutely no idea where to take the viaduct debris or how much it would cost and delay the project.

      3. B, you are absolutely right. It would take a lot of analysis. Mike Orr is assuming that “the seismic problem would go away because the only thing left is the floor.” I wanted to put that “assumption” to bed. The seismic problem is still very much there until it has been ruled out by an extensive geotechnical study and a lot of structural calculations.

      4. I assumed the wall was only to hold up the roof. That may be wrong but that’s why I said assume because I don’t know so I had to make a preliminary estimate. Still we should get a definite “it is” or “it isn’t” rather than dismissing the project based on an assumption the other way.

  7. Most of the Recharge the Battery proposals seem silly. But the first one, the Battery Street Ravine, is really appealing to me.

  8. To me, this mostly falls under the heading of “things that would be really neat if money was falling out of the sky.”

    The bikeway would be useful, but then it would be even more useful to take away parking or GP lanes and have a coherent and comprehensive bike network on the surface, plus the latter would be tens of millions of dollars cheaper. Wittingly or not, many arguments for grade-separated bike infrastructure in urban areas boil down to the idea that it’s better to spend giant sums of money than to inconvenience drivers.

    1. I agree that whatever we do with the tunnel, it needs to pay for itself because we have other pressing needs. Filling the tunnel with the viaduct debris is a great solution.

      However it’s also worth investigating if there’s a way to finance the Battery Street Ravine and the viaduct debris dump with the land value increase that would result. We’d be going for a northwest twist on the High Line, and that’s a public asset worth looking into.

    2. Can we tax increasing land value? There’s been a debate over whether the state constitution or law allows taxing future anticipated value rather than present value.

      1. Under our current statutes and state constitutution, the simple answer is no.

        RCW 84.40.030

        3.(c) In valuing any tract or parcel of real property, the true and fair value of the land, exclusive of structures thereon must be determined; also the true and fair value of structures thereon, but the valuation may not exceed the true and fair value of the total property as it exists.

        This translates to WAC 458-07-030, specifically section 4:

        (4) Valuation of land and improvements. In valuing any lot, tract, or parcel of real property, the assessor must determine the true and fair value of the land, excluding the value of any structures on the land and excluding the value of any growing crops. The assessor must also determine the true and fair value of any structure on the land. The total value of the land and the structures must not exceed one hundred percent of the true and fair value of the total property as it exists at the time of appraisal.

        The “debate” comes about because this section can seem to conflict with section 3’s intent with regard to highest and best use considerations.

    3. I agree, the effort and expense doesn’t really get us much in the grand scheme of needing to complete a basic bike-safe network. Most “cycling cities” like Amsterdam and Copenhagen actually do have lots of grade separated bike infrastructure, but presumably this was built *on top of* a city-wide basic network. It really shouldn’t be a one-or-the-other proposition. But like you said, in the end the reality is there’s limited money in the pot.

  9. This would make a great place to put a world-class mausoleum with a water-featured linear walkway in the middle! Then, the acres of land elsewheere in the region that is put into cemeteries can be put into housing instead. As famous people get added into the mausoleum in decades to come, it will grow as a tourist attraction.

    1. By “mausoleum” I assume you don’t mean a place to bury dead people, so do you mean that people will avoid going there? Even if they do, this is the most unobjectionable open space I can think of, because people only have to walk across a former existing grid street rather than gratuitous empty space. If that’s all it takes to give plants and animals their habitat back, that sounds like a pretty good tradeoff.

      1. It would of course introduce an opportunity to introduce passive open space to probably 50-70 percent of the land, with the remaining land for mausoleum vaults along the sides. Selling vault spaces would pay for the development and design — hopefully attracting some world-class landscape architects chosen through a competition. Then, the land that would ordinarily go into other cemeteries can go instead to housing.

        So many people have moved to Seattle that have lived much of their lives here, but don’t have families here. To buy vault spaces to create an urban linear park while also reserving one’s vault space would be an attractive thing for many to do.

        Admittedly, it’s way out-of-the-box. Still, it seems to me to be a more reasonable and more strategic approach to using the already-dug cavern than merely filling it up at taxpayer expense.

      2. Mike, you might want to check what kinds of plants and animals were there before original tunnel was built. Does poison ivy grow in Seattle? In California poison oak wasn’t pretty in the fall.

        About 20 years ago, a coyote found its way down the BN tracks from Ballard, only to be chased into the Federal Building by a crow. Personally don’t mind them, because they feature in just about every North American folk mythology, same as crows. But maybe that’s also because I don’t have a cat.

        Raccoons are a given as well as cute. So long as people realize that if you feed them they grow into fat bullying compact bears who’ll tear you to pieces if you don’t, and also distribute contents of your trash can to the needy.

        Then there’s…reason I don’t want a coyote to eat all the cats. Weasels are really intelligent, but
        you want to be careful of the ferrets who escaped while their owners were disputing with the driver about how to put one on his ORCA card.

        Seward Park has a pack of escaped parrots- in our climate, many of them adjust better to a high density hole in a tree than to their former human owner calling them Pretty Birds to avoid getting their finger bitten off.

        Given sudden changes in human company lately, they’ll all start tearing off their own feathers take care of the “Pretty…” from their former owners trying to rent next hole in their tree. Whose acquired vocabulary will need little collars with Trigger Warnings. And they’ll steal your knit hat. Parrots do that too.

        Also while it would always be three seconds before somebody saw a Sasquatch, add Twitter and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be getting a lot of raccoon lacerations and parrot bites. So do your habitat research carefully.


      3. Mike, judging from what they sell in gift shops, isn’t “squaching” an essential part of the PacNW tourist experience?

  10. Could we see some renderings as to how the Deep Bore Tunnel will feed into SR 99?

    Because I think that if we miss out on the only possible corridor of any kind between the new Waterfront and South Lake Union, we’ll be crying with regret worse than Forward Thrust.

    Rubble- like I said, gravity and proximity should give us choice between hauling it away on trains or barges.


    1. Right, Mark. Trains or barges are both at hand for moving the rubble. There’s already a barge transfer just south of Coleman Dock for the spoils from tunnel digging.

  11. Fill the hole, walk away – Lid I5 before this. Let Elon Musk’s Boring Company criss-cross Seattle before this. Knock down the sidewalk backlog before this.

  12. The technology doesn’t matter: full-size LRT, streetcars, electric buses, or even PRT pods. Keep this transportation asset a transitway!

    It ends two blocks from a major new Link station at one end and two blocks south of the current edge of the densest collection of residences in the State at the other!!!!! Extend it east to Denny Way and Belltown is seamlessly integrated into the regional system for a couple of hundred million dollsrs.

    1. Yes, It’s easy to forget how dense and yet underserved Belltown is, and will be even when ST3 is built out. It really is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities. Wouldn’t be cheap or easy, but considering how much Link expansion goes for and what it will be going for in 10-20 years….

    2. Are you proposing a stop in the middle? Otherwise it’s skirting the ends of Belltown the way the DBT skirts downtown, and the stops would be up or down a steep hill from parts of Belltown. And we still haven’t established where these buses would go besides Alaskan Way and SLU. Is a tunnel route necessary just for these destinations? Or are you anticipating longer-distance buses, and if so to where? It’s highly unlikely that Metro would move any 2nd to 4th Avenue route to Alaskan Way because it’s out of the way for most of its ridership. Also, the waterfront plan specifies a circulator bus on Alaskan Way, and suggests extending it to Seattle Center. It would be a simple task to extend it further to SLU if warranted. Is Broad Street close enough to Battery Street that they could use that instead of a tunnel bus?

      1. The only larger route for the tunnel that makes sense is a Metro 8 spur, and who knows how long it’ll be before we really need that. Belltown would be better served by a Magenta Line on 5th, a transit mall on 3rd, and a streetcar extension up 1st.

  13. Filling the tunnel with debris is a nice cost cutting move, but if the area is redeveloped in the future, the debris may need to be moved again, possibly at greater cost. To me, the best and obvious way to repurpose the tunnel is for transit infrastructure – run a light rail/metro through it, or an express bus line. Tunnels are expensive and tough to get political traction to start; this one is already cut.

  14. Good grief. Filling this in is idiotic.

    Run the revived Waterfront Streetcar through it to SLU for now. It can be upgraded to Link later,

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