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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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.


Local News

Viaduct will close when Bertha tunnels underneath

SEATTLE — Washington Department of Transportation officials say they will close the Alaskan Way Viaduct when they start tunneling underneath it. The closure could last up to two weeks.

About 110,000 cars and trucks drive the viaduct through downtown Seattle every day. When all these vehicles have to find an alternate route, it could get ugly.

photo“I can foresee a little bit of congestion,” says driver Julian Allen.

“I think it will definitely clog the city up more,” adds driver Ryan Weatherstone.

WSDOT officials say drivers should start getting ready. They made the announcement about the closure to the Seattle City Council Monday afternoon.

“This is no representation of a fear of anything happening to the viaduct,” says project manager Todd Trepanier. “It’s just purely a risk precaution that we can control.”

Labor disputes have kept Bertha from moving these last few weeks, so WSDOT doesn’t know exactly when the closure will take place. Right now, they think it will be after the first of the year.

They say drivers would get plenty of notice, but not everyone thinks that will help.

“I think Seattleites get set in a routine, they know exactly how their commute should be laid out, and as soon as something changes, it’s problems and issues,” says Allen.

But commuters have survived traffic issues like this before. WSDOT closed the viaduct for a week in 2011. They say part of the reason they’re going to do it again is because it worked out then. This time, the closure could last up to two weeks.

“We really want to get Bertha moving and see what her production rate is in this type of soils,” says Trepanier. “Then we’ll be able to more accurately predict how long it will take to go underneath the viaduct.”

Some drivers say the inconvenience will be worth it in the long run.

“It’s a city that’s grown beyond its streets, so I think we’re pretty used to it,” says Sheila Kasprzyk. “I think we’ll be probably fine.”

“It’s really difficult to lay out a city anticipating the kind of traffic in decades to come,” says Allen. “This is going to solve a lot of issues that people don’t realize need to be solved yet.”

Local News

Bertha idled as unions fight over dirt

berthabonvoyageSEATTLE — One cannot dig a tunnel without moving a lot of dirt. And if you can’t move the dirt, you can’t continue to dig and so Bertha sits idle.

“It’s horrible. I hate it,” neighbor Betty Wilson said.

So does everyone else involved, including two unions who are at odds over who will move the dirt and who will load it on to the barges for disposal — longshoremen or the building trades union.

The longshoremen’s union blames the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Port of Seattle.

In one published report the longshoremen union president Cameron Williams was quoted saying: “The Port and WSDOT remain on the sidelines of the dispute, even though it has been brewing for months, and has resulted in a well-publicized picket line and the filing of complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.”

According to the Seattle Times, the problem arose after each of the unions was awarded a contract to move the dirt. The confusion led to a strike that idled Bertha.

Some people living downtown say WSDOT and the Port aren’t doing enough to manage the project.

“I don’t feel like they are. I don’t feel like they are doing enough at all,” Danen Hagglund said.

“The taxpayers, it will cost them more money and I certainly hate inefficiency with dollars, try to keep track of every penny. But the reality is this is also a very wealthy city and where everywhere else is declining in the economy, this one is rising and i think the city can actually overcome this,” Florin Berbeneciuc said.

Only time will tell and in the business of tunnels or any other major infrastructure project time is money.

Mayor Mike McGinn, who led the charge against the tunnel, said he wants to see Bertha moving again and the project on, or ahead, of schedule.

“It’s my objective that we complete this project under budget and on time because over budget, we don’t know what the consequences will be and who is going to pay. So I’m concerned about this work stoppage,” McGinn said.

Bertha has been idle for 32 days and in that time it has moved only 24 feet. By comparison, she’s expected to move that much every day when she is running full steam.