Bertha is broken. Seals around the machine’s main bearing are damaged, meaning muck is inside the bearing, causing heat and damage. At minimum, it will take several months to repair the seals, and possibly replace the bearing. Governor Inslee has even been asked whether it’s “time to pull the plug”. I propose a thought experiment – if we were to cut our losses and stop now, carefully avoiding the sunk cost fallacy, what could the money left over do to meet our mobility needs in the corridor?
First, let’s consider the high risk of failure. There’s been no indication so far as to the cause of the seal damage, or whether it might happen again. This matches WSDOT’s unwillingness to discuss risk or plan adequate contingency, as we’ve seen throughout the project.
An anonymous source on the project has told us that despite comments by WSDOT, the repair will not be possible from behind the machine, only from the surface. If true, and without a clear plan for preventing the problem again, this raises a serious question – what happens if this happens again under a building, and at greater depth?
Let’s say that to avoid this eventuality, we stopped now. The state has spent about $2 billion of their $2.8 billion limit, assuming no overruns (cough). The Port of Seattle funding, separately, is intended for viaduct teardown and surface street construction. So what would that $800 million, assuming we could spend it on anything, get us?
- Reconnecting the street grid in South Lake Union. Part of the reason people have to use the viaduct in the first place is that Denny and Mercer are such a mess. Allowing that traffic to load balance across several more streets would make the entire grid more performant, at about 20,000 daily inbound/outbound trips to the 99 corridor. That’s $50 million.
- The Center City Connector. Increasing transit ridership downtown reduces demand on north-south streets, adding 30,000 daily trips. That’s ~$110 million, but is eligible for $30 million in federal funds.
- RapidRide bus priority projects. The Transit Master Plan identifies a lot of small capital improvements to give RapidRide priority, and there’s a good Metro analysis of what could improve RR. Altogether, the C and D lines could pick up 15,000 new riders for only about $10 million, $5 million of which could be federal.