Story Summary

Bertha and Seattle’s waterfront tunnel

The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Tunnel is a bored road tunnel that is under construction in Seattle. It is scheduled to open in late 2015. The 2-mile tunnel will carry State Route 99 under downtown from the Sodo neighborhood to South Lake Union in the north.

Since 2001, the proposed replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been the source of much political consternation.  Options for the structure, which carries 110,000 vehicles per day, included either replacing it with a cut-and-cover tunnel, replacing it with another elevated highway, or eliminating it while improving other surface streets and public transportation. The current plan emerged in 2009 when government officials agreed to a deep-bore tunnel.

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Local News

McGinn weighs in on Bertha


Bertha in the launch pit (Courtesy: WSDOT)

SEATTLE – Four years ago Mayor Mike McGinn rode to victory by opposing the $3 billion viaduct tunnel project.  At the time he said it was fraught with risk and any problems could easily balloon the cost.

Today, in an extended interview on Q13 FOX, McGinn reflected on his position.

“I was prepared, you know, to proceed with the tunnel agreements with the state if the state would agree to pay cost overruns,” he said.  “Well here we are, Bertha’s stuck, the state still doesn’t want to pay cost overruns.”  McGinn defended his handling of the tunnel project during his first 18 months in office, leading up to the Tunnel referendum that was approved in 2011.  “I was just trying to ask a question that mattered,” he said.

McGinn resisted any I-told-you-so reaction.  “Nobody likes that from anybody, including me,” he said.  “We have a situation we are facing right now where the public and all the elected officials, Ed Murray’s one of the chief proponents of this, said we’re going to go ahead despite the risks.”  McGinn hopes the problem can be resolved quickly.  “They gotta figure out how to get to the other end of this tunnel without going way over budget.”

Local News

WSDOT says Bertha is safe, despite sinkhole

SEATTLE – Some people are questioning the safety of the Highway 99 tunnel machine, after a large sinkhole opened up in downtown Seattle.

When the world’s largest tunneling machine starts digging beneath a major city, there are bound to be issues.  Early Thursday morning, a seven foot deep sinkhole opened up on King Street.


Photo: Washington State Dept. of Transportation

“This was not out of the realm of expectation,” says Matt Preedy, Deputy Program Administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The sinkhole was immediately filled in, and Bertha kept digging.

Today, WSDOT tried to reassure people working and living downtown that the project is going as planned. They say right now, the soil they’re moving through is loose fill. Until they get down to more compact soil around Jackson Street, sinkholes are a possibility. But they say they’re prepared for that.

“We have a variety of monitoring equipment on all the utilities. We have a variety of monitoring equipment on the surface street itself,” says Preedy.

That doesn’t make downtown resident Matthew Hall feel better.

“I live right there, my office is right there, who knows what else is going to happen?” he says. “If it happened down here, what if it happens under one of the big office buildings or whatever?”

WSDOT says Bertha will be much farther underground by the time it reaches the viaduct early next year.

“What has happened down here is not able to happen there,” says Preedy.

But they’re still planning on closing the viaduct at that point, to be safe.

Shelli Park, who’s getting ready to open a new business downtown, is hoping WSDOT’s safety plan will work.

“I think I trust just enough that there’s been forethought and the buildings aren’t going to be in any danger,” she says.

Bertha started digging on July 30. She’s traveled about 460 feet since then.

SEATTLE — A 7-foot-deep sinkhole was discovered in a restricted area south of Seattle’s King Street Thursday as Bertha, the Alaskan Way tunneling machine, was boring beneath the area, officials said.


Photo: Washington State Dept. of Transportation

“Located in the construction yard just south of King, the sinkhole was about 15 feet long, 20 feet wide and 7 feet deep,” transportation officials said. “The hole was quickly filled in as Bertha continued on her way, but not before it illustrated why our contractor spent $53 million building a protected area at the start of the tunnel drive. If ever there was a good spot for a sinkhole, it’s here, in a restricted area protected by underground walls.”

The Bertha blog said some of the soil near King Street is glacial till, which is good for tunneling, but a layer near the surface is fill material dumped in by Seattle’s early settlers. The fill includes loose soil, sawdust and timber piles that, if disturbed during tunneling, can create voids above the machine, it said.

 SEATTLE — The city is forcing a 103-year-old Spokane woman to sell her parking lot in Seattle to make way for, well, a parking lot.

The Seattle City Council voted Monday to take the lot near the waterfront by eminent domain, using a portion of the $30 million provided by the state to take care of parking issues around the waterfront. Hundreds of public parking spaces will be lost when the state begins dismantling the Alaskan Way Viaduct for the digging of the tunnel. The construction will last until 2020.

The lot is owned by Spokane resident Myrtle Woldson.  She doesn’t want to sell, so the City Council voted unanimously to use it’s power of eminent domain to take it after paying Woldson “fair market value.

parkinglot1None of the City Council members would speak about their vote, but property rights advocates call it ridiculous.

 “In this case, the city of Seattle is using eminent domain to seize a parking lot, so they can use it as a parking lot,” said Glen Morgan of the Freedom Foundation, which is an Olympia-based, conservative, free-market think tank. “There’s no public good in that at all.”

Morgan said there are several bills in the Legislature that would revamp eminent domain and give Washington property owners more rights.

“Eminent domain was originally intended for stuff like roadways, expanding roads, schools,” said Morgan. “Situations that are for the public good.”

Woldson can still challenge the move in court. She can also challenge the eventual selling price that the city decides on.

Local News

Seattle moves on property owned by 103-year-old woman


SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to acquire a waterfront parking lot.

The city has repeatedly tried to purchase the long-term parking lot from Myrtle Woldson, 103, of Spokane, but she has refused to sell. Now, the city will condemn the parking lot and pay her “fair market value” for the property, which can hold about 130 cars.

The city said ongoing construction in the area, including drilling a new tunnel and eventually removing the viaduct, has caused the loss of several parking space around the waterfront. The city said and it needed Woldson’s property to create short-term parking options while that construction continues.

Local News

Bertha, finally, picking up steam

berthabonvoyageSEATTLE — After weeks of delays the deep tunnel boring machine, Bertha, is picking up speed.

The large machine dug 64 feet between Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, averaging about 11 feet of excavation per day of work, the Washington State Department of Transportation said. The tunneling comes after a month-long stoppage following labor disputes and technical problems.

Bertha has dug out 88 feet of tunnel space since it started work. A permanent tunnel ring has also been installed and the tunneling shield is now underground, which allows for faster drilling, WSDOT officials said.

Crews hope to speed production and recover distance lost during the stoppage, officials said.

Bertha will average a rate of about 35 feet a day at high speed, officials said.

SEATTLE — Big Bertha has just gotten started digging the Alaskan Way Tunnel under downtown Seattle, but we are getting a clearer picture of how much it is going to cost drivers to use when it opens in 2016.

The goal is to raise $200 million through tolls to pay for what will be a $3 billion overall project, and that needs to be done without creating a congestion mess in the process.  After all, there will always be people who will avoid a toll at any costs.

Alaskan Way Viaduct2There isn’t yet a final recommendation, but here’s the alternative they are close to endorsing:  $1 each way 24 hours a day, meaning overnights and weekends.  There’s one caveat:  That would bump up to $1.25 during the morning and evening commutes.

“Pretty much when you are in the tunnel, you are going to pay something,” said Maud Daudon, co-chair of the SR 99 Advisory Committee on Tolling.  “It’s something that hopefully people will be willing to do for the convenience of throughput and getting through the city quickly.”

There is an art to setting toll rates … keep them high enough to raise the money needed, but not so high that they create diversion mess and clog other streets.  At a buck each way, with an extra 25 cents during peaks, experts admit some people will still avoid the tunnel.

During the afternoon rush hour, modeling shows that 18,000 cars will use the tunnel and 4,000 will take different routes, many on already congested city streets.

“It may be challenging,” acknowledged Daudon.  “People may have to change some of their habits coming into the city.  We’ve seen that in other major regions around the world where people have had to, more people have had to get on buses.”

Some argue that charging anything will create problems.

“There’s no reason to toll,” said Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association.  “We’re going to pay huge amounts for something we’ve already paid for in our gas tax and we don’t see the point to it.”

Wasserman fears all the people avoiding the toll will create a huge congestion mess and thereby hurt freight mobility.

“It makes it more expensive to do business here,” Wasserman said.  “We’re building a facility that will be underutilized, this tunnel, that people won’t be utilizing because they’re going to try to save money and avoid the toll.”

State Route 99 project leaders say they are looking at ways to mitigate the effect of diversion, including making some improvements to Interstate 5 and some of the downtown street grid.  As of now, though, there’s no money for any of that.

Local News

Bertha is back to boring

berthabonvoyageSEATTLE — A tweet from Bertha Monday morning announced that she was getting back to work. A labor dispute halted Bertha on Aug. 20, but the world’s largest tunnel boring machine is now back to business.

How much the work stoppage will impact the timeline of completion of the tunnel remains to be seen. The $3 billion tunnel project is expected to be completed by late 2015.



OLYMPIA — Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that after weeks of sitting idle, the tunnel boring machine known as Bertha will resume drilling soon.

The Longshore Union has agreed to stop picketing outside the tunneling project so work can continue.

berthabonvoyageThe Longshore Union began picketing the project over a dispute over jobs back in August. According to the governor’s office, no resolution has been made in the dispute. Talks will continue as the drilling work resumes.

Washington State’s Department of Transportation announced Monday that the tunneling project would eventually close the Alaskan Way Viaduct for two weeks. That closure of the viaduct could happen early next year.

This is all part of a $3 billion tunnel project that is expected to be completed by late 2015.