What Could Possibly Go Wrong

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

The Seattle City Council is about to give the state permission to dig the world's largest deep-bore tunnel under downtown Seattle. Here's what the city council doesn't want you to know before they vote.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Greg Stump

  • comments (138)
  • Print
+ Enlarge this Image
WSDOT
SOUTHERN TUNNEL PORTAL: 13 LANES OF CONCRETE Once the tunnel opens in 2015, the number of cars using Highway 99 will drop by more than half because it will have no downtown exits.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

You're about to get fucked, Seattle.

On a Monday between now and the middle of August, the Seattle City Council is likely to approve a contract that gives the State of Washington permission to dig a 54-foot-wide tunnel under downtown Seattle. It will be the widest deep-bore tunnel attempted anywhere, ever.

It will cost an estimated $4.2 billion to replace the dilapidated Alaskan Way Viaduct on Seattle's waterfront, making this underground highway the most expensive megaproject in state history. The state has committed up to $2.8 billion, the city has pledged $937 million, and the Port of Seattle is supposed to pay $300 million. The single most expensive element, the tunnel portion itself, will cost about $1.9 billion.

A state law passed in 2009 says Seattle property owners must bear the expense of any cost overruns on the state's project. This is unprecedented. "The cost overruns on a state highway should not be borne by the citizens of Seattle," says state senator Ed Murray, whose district includes Capitol Hill and parts of downtown. "We have never done that to any other jurisdiction in the state." The law also says, unequivocally, that the state won't pay more than $2.8 billion. We simply have no plan for who will pay cost overruns. Under the current rules, if something goes wrong, Seattle taxpayers are on the hook for cost overruns.

Seattle's budget was fucked this year—facing a midyear shortfall of $12 million, the city cut a plan to hire 20 police officers, slashed millions from parks maintenance, let staff go from libraries—and next year's budget projection is even worse. Seattle is facing an estimated $56 million shortfall in 2011, which will require more painful cuts.

But those deficits are nothing compared to what will happen if the state's end of the tunnel goes over budget and Seattle has to find the money to cover the cost overruns. The city's taxpayers could face a $1 billion bill.

But Governor Chris Gregoire and most members of the city council—under city council president Richard Conlin's leadership—insist that there is nothing to worry about and that any public discussion about potential cost overruns is unnecessary. So the city council is on the verge of committing Seattle to this project despite the fact that there are no complete designs yet, despite the fact that there are no bids in from contractors, despite the fact that we don't really know how much it will cost, and despite the fact that we haven't seen the state's environmental impact study.

The governor and the city council's leadership insist there won't be errors, that there won't be cost overruns, that nothing could possibly go wrong.

They're lying to you, Seattle.

Megaprojects of this scale are historically risky and expensive, prone to massive cost overruns. According to an authoritative analysis of 258 massive transportation projects by one of the world's foremost authorities on the subject, Bent Flyvbjerg, a Danish professor at the University of Oxford, 9 out of 10 transportation megaprojects run over their estimates. For tunnel and bridge projects, Flyvbjerg found, "actual costs are on average 34 percent higher than estimated costs."

When it comes to projects like this, things going wrong—things that lead to massive cost overruns—are the rule, not the exception.

So what could possibly go wrong? Lots.

The tunnel-boring machine gets stuck

A massive cylinder with a rotating face covered in blades that gnash away rock and soil, a tunnel-boring machine (TBM) churns everything in its path to paste, which cargo cars then haul to the surface. Each machine is custom-made just for the width of the tunnel it needs to dig. Our TBM will cost around $80 million to build, and, at 56 feet in diameter, it will be the widest TBM ever constructed.

"I've been talking about a 56-foot-wide machine for a long time," says Council Member Mike O'Brien. "Then I looked at a building about five stories tall and thought, 'Holy shit, that is 56 feet. That is one big-ass fucking machine.'"

Our TBM will confront a mixture of sedimentary elements in soft soil, which are the most difficult conditions to penetrate because the loose material tends to cave in behind the machine. So as the machine grinds forward, it must simultaneously create a concrete tunnel lining behind it to hold up the earth. Those concrete slabs narrow the diameter of the hole, preventing the TBM from backing up. Tunneling machines can't travel in reverse. And if the TBM's blades break, the machine can't move forward. It's stuck.

This is not only the most expensive thing that could go wrong, it's also a fairly common thing that goes wrong.

Two TBMs recently got stuck underground in King County. One was 320 feet below an elementary school in Bothell and another is still stuck at the same depth under Lake Forest Park. Both TBMs—each about 15 feet wide—hit loose, abrasive soil and clay that damaged the cutting blades and clogged the mechanisms inside while they were excavating tunnels designed to carry effluent from the Brightwater sewage-treatment facility to Puget Sound. One was immobilized for nine months, and the other hasn't budged in over a year.

"They had problems with sand and grit getting into the rotating part of the tunnel-boring machine face, and it broke down where it was very deep," says Ron Posthuma, assistant director of the King County Department of Transportation, the agency overseeing the project. The $1.8 billion Brightwater project is currently 24 percent over budget. The tunnels were slated to be complete this year but now have been postponed until 2013.

The soil conditions that the Brightwater TBMs encountered—the soil conditions that disabled two of the TBMs—appear to be the same soil conditions underneath downtown Seattle.

"The soils along the alignment are composed of substantial portions of abrasive minerals including quartz grains and quartz-rich rock," reads the state's geotechnical report released in June by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). "These granular soils are abrasive and are expected to cause heavy wear on equipment during excavation. There is no tunnel-industry standard applicable to quantifying the abrasivity of a soil and its impact on excavation-equipment longevity and replacement. On other tunneling projects of smaller size TBMs in the Seattle area, substantial wear occurred to the TBMs' cutterheads."

The state foresees other troubling conditions for the biggest TBM ever constructed.

Clay: "The clays present... pose a risk of clogging equipment." Boulders: "Cobbles and boulders will be encountered in all [areas] along the alignment. Boulders within the soil deposits will slow TBM progress and contribute to wear and/or damage to TBM components."

Levent Ozdemir is the author of North American Tunneling, a technical book that examines, among other things, TBMs getting stuck underground due to boulders. "The tunnel boring machines were stuck... a total of 12 times in 40 cases (30 percent overall stuck rate)." Ozdemir notes that "the delay and cost consequences of getting stuck are very high" in tunnels deeper than 50 feet and in those that go beneath the water table. Seattle's tunnel will go about 120 feet deep and will go below the water table near Pioneer Square. Ozdemir cites an example of a TBM that got stuck underground near Seattle when the machine digging the Snohomish River undercrossing got stuck.

Tunnel Talk, a website that tracks tunneling projects, cites a case in the Swiss Alps. The TBM digging the Gotthard Base Tunnel got stuck in 2005 when it hit unstable, soft soils—similar to the soils under downtown Seattle—and the tunnel collapsed in front of the cutting blades.

So what happens if a TBM gets stuck under downtown Seattle? A TBM can't be backed up, and it can't be dismantled underground. It can only be dug out.

"I am envisioning this scenario where a 56-foot boring machine gets stuck under the Federal Building and you can't dig it out because it is under the building," says O'Brien.

If the TBM does stall under the Federal Building—or any one of the 390 downtown buildings it will pass under or near—a five-story-wide chasm would have to be opened in a downtown street to the depth of the stalled machine. Then a tunnel would have to be dug sideways to the stalled machine. Then the soil above this second tunnel would have to be shored up, to protect the buildings above, and only then could the broken TBM be lifted out and a new TBM lowered down into the hole—a new machine that could also break down.

Our plan to deal with a broken machine is inadequate

"In this worst-case scenario," state consultants say in a document assessing risk released last October, "the TBM will fail and be rendered useless, resulting in the project contractor abandoning the project and necessitating a new contractor to be found." The state requires all of the bidders to have bonds, essentially insurance, which cover costs if they abandon the job.

But the bonds on this project may not cover those costs. Until a few years ago, the rule was that companies had to be bonded to the full amount of their contract—which makes sense. In addition to the cost of dealing with an abandoned machine and finishing a project, the bond must also pay for a new contractor who will charge more to complete the job (after all, the previous business couldn't make it work for the amount of money the state was paying). However, the state legislature suspended its own bonding rules for five years in 2009—the time frame that our tunnel goes out to bid—and now only requires that a project be bonded up to $500 million. The tunneling portion of the contract examined for bonding purposes is $1.2 billion, more than double the bonding requirement.

This has a major advantage for the state: Bids come in lower because the contractors don't have to include the cost of more expensive bonds.

This has a major disadvantage for the city: If the bonds don't cover the cost of the TBM's failure, there's not enough money to pay for the project.

"It's not the state's risk, because they want the city to take on cost overruns," says Mayor Mike McGinn. "They have been telling us they have been doing everything they can to reduce risk, but they're doing what they can with the bond requirement to put risk of overrun on Seattle taxpayers."

The state claims it has addressed these concerns by requiring two sets of consultants to determine what the worst-case scenario would cost and whether $500 million would cover it. And what do you know? The state says it will work out just fine. Paula Hammond, the state's secretary of transportation, wrote in a letter to the office of financial management last November that "the state's maximum exposure to loss is $467 million, so a performance bond set at $500 million is reasonable."

But not everyone is convinced that $500 million will cover it.

"All of the assumptions we picked are rosy," says O'Brien. For example, the state estimates that retrieving a stuck machine could cost up to 10 percent of the remaining project cost, and inserting a new one could cost another 10 percent (20 percent total). But then—in outlining the "worst-case scenario"—the state only figures in 3 percent cost total for both of them. O'Brien says, "We round in our favor every time."

The ground caves in

Because we're dealing with loose soil, there is a chance that the ground could cave in behind the tunneling machine. This isn't as likely as a TBM breaking down, but it can and does happen. In fact, it happened last year north of Seattle on the Brightwater project. A 30-foot-wide, 15-foot-deep sinkhole swallowed up Pauline Chihara's driveway in Kenmore. Tom and Jan Glithero, who live above another one of the Brightwater tunnels in Bothell, found cracks in the brickwork in their home, their patio, and their driveway—all attributed to settling caused by the tunnel's excavation underneath the couple's home.

In 2003, a sinkhole opened up near a tunnel being bored in London, and people had to evacuate their homes. On March 3, 2009, a tunnel collapsed in Cologne, consuming the city's historical archives building and killing two people.

"I've seen overexcavations open up 300-meter tall caverns over the TBM, and all that dirt fell right on the machine," John Turner, chief engineer of TBM builder the Robbins Company, told Machine Design in 2001. "And the cave-in can go all the way to the surface, which is a real disaster." In the same article, Marco Giorelli, a product manager for another TBM builder, said, "Overexcavations can be particularly harmful in cities... They lead to settlement, and it doesn't take much settling to damage buildings."

The loose soil in downtown Seattle doesn't have driveways or single-family homes sitting on top of it. It has the historic buildings in Pioneer Square, new condo towers and hotels, and the tallest buildings in the state.

Not all the money will come through

Of the total project cost of $4.2 billion, about $937 million is Seattle's responsibility (to rebuild the seawall and move utilities) and $3.1 billion is the state's responsibility. Most of the state's money is coming from gas taxes. But the state is relying on two tenuous funding sources to come up with $700 million of its share: the Port of Seattle and bonds for future tolling of the tunnel.

The Port of Seattle is supposed to chip in $300 million toward the project, but the state's agreement with the port is nonbinding. The port passed a resolution in April that says, "To the extent feasible and authorized by the port commission," it will come up with the money, as long as it doesn't interfere with the port's other responsibilities. The port is partly funded by property taxes, which have plummeted as property values have dropped in the recession.

"The commission hasn't specified the source of funds for our contribution," says Port of Seattle spokeswoman Charla Skaggs. "A key component will be the tax levy, but commissioners have directed staff to limit the need for levy resources for the contribution as much as possible."

And if the port doesn't feel like coming through with the money or it's strained to meet its other obligations, it doesn't have to pay anything.

The tolling revenue, which is budgeted to generate up to $400 million, is slightly more secure. The state plans to issue bonds (based on future tolls) that Ron Paananen, who is overseeing the tunnel project, says will likely end up producing $385 million.

Although promising, the toll money raises an obvious question: Who pays the other $15 million? The state? Seattle? Nobody knows.

There isn't enough money set aside for cost overruns

The state and some city council members have repeatedly trumpeted $415 million set aside to cover cost overruns. That figure sounds good. The riskiest part of the viaduct-replacement project is the $1.9 billion for the tunnel. And the actual tunnel excavation itself, the riskiest part of the tunnel, represents just $350 million of the project's total cost. So the amount set aside should protect us, right?

Nope.

It turns out that more than a third of that money is actually set aside to cover the costs of inflation, leaving just $258 million to cover cost overruns. That would leave enough to cover cost overruns of about 13 percent for the price of the tunnel—far below the 34 percent average on this sort of tunneling project. But it gets worse: The state's obligation is for about $3 billion of work. So the money set aside for cost overruns represents less than 10 percent of the state's total project cost.

And it's not just the tunnel that could go over budget.

The downtown bus tunnel, completed in 1990, ran 56 percent over its initial projected budget, according to a report last November from the Sightline Institute. Posthuma, assistant director of King County's transportation department, points out that the tunnel itself—a very different sort of tunnel—came in 25 percent under the final estimates when it went out to bid. So what increased the costs of the project overall?

"It was partly the station finishes," he says, "and also the surface street finishes," among other expenses.

This project is much more than just a tunnel—one that involves a lot of "street finishes." Huge swaths of downtown Seattle and the waterfront are going to be rebuilt—and a lot could go wrong, and a lot of other parts of the project could come in over budget. WSDOT must pay for a 13-lane-wide tunnel portal on the south end, reconnecting the street grid on the north end, rebuilding part of the downtown waterfront where the Alaskan Way Viaduct now stands, as well as some utility repairs and more. Those are essentially road projects that, while less risky than tunnels, frequently come in over budget. Returning to Flyvbjerg's report, the one that examined 258 megaprojects, when it comes to road projects, "actual costs are on average 20 percent higher than estimated costs."

The light-rail tunnel under Beacon Hill also ran over budget by 30 percent (from an estimated to $238.6 million to $309 million). Many of those costs had nothing to do with the tunnel. They were attributed to station construction and elevators.

There simply isn't enough money set aside to cover "average" cost overruns, to say nothing of the catastrophic cost overruns we could face if a TBM gets stuck under downtown Seattle—or if a hole swallows a downtown office building.

Lots of other things go wrong

The ground could settle in unpredictable ways, a sewage line could break, bidders could drop out and the remaining bidders could gouge the state, there could be another earthquake, the bids could come in at a price higher than the amount the state has agreed to pay—and the project could get tied up in court. In fact, Elizabeth Campbell, a Magnolia resident and head of the group Seattle Citizens Against the Tunnel, is determined to file a lawsuit as soon as the council approves the contract.

While construction unions are backing this project, labor disputes could also get in the way. In Vancouver, BC, Bilfinger Berger won a $100 million contract to build tunnels for a water filtration system. Work began in 2004 but stopped in 2008, when falling rock injured several workers. Metro Vancouver terminated the contract in May of 2008, claiming that Bilfinger Berger had refused to resume work on the tunnel even though safety concerns had been addressed; the company claimed the stop-work order was never lifted. The upshot: A new company got the contract, but, once the tunnel opens later this year, it will cost an estimated $400 million. That's four times its bid price.

The people who say, "Nothing will go wrong" are often wrong (or they're lying)

The top reason why transportation projects run over budget is because people who have the most to gain—developers bidding on contracts, labor unions worried about jobs, state agencies with reputations on the line, politicians looking for campaign contributions, construction unions that make campaign contributions—have an incentive to lie about risks. Once the project is under way, it is hard to stop, even if costs skyrocket. The Big Dig in Boston started with an estimate of $2.8 billion, which grew to a final cost of $14.6 billion, and is expected to cost $22 billion with interest when it's finally paid off in 2038.

"The use of deception and lying as tactics in power struggles aimed at getting projects started and at making a profit appear to best explain why costs are highly and systematically underestimated in transportation infrastructure projects," say Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Søren Buhl in a report from 2002. "Legislators, administrators, investors, media representatives, and members of the public who value honest numbers should not trust cost estimates and cost benefit analyses produced by project promoters."

In this case, the "project promoters" trying to muscle through the tunnel contract are Governor Gregoire and certain members of the Seattle City Council. And something else that undermines the credibility of tunnel backers: They are running from this debate. Mayor McGinn offered to debate council president Conlin about the tunnel and cost overruns, Town Hall Seattle offered to host the debate, and KING 5 was anxious to air it. Conlin refused to debate the mayor. After Conlin refused, the offer was extended to Council Member Sally Bagshaw, who made her support for the tunnel a big issue in her campaign for city council, but she also refused. Likewise, Council Member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee, refused to debate the mayor.

For his part, Rasmussen says that the city has consultants who will look at various potential risks—such as those associated with relocating utility lines, soil conditions, and insurance, among other things—and make sure the city isn't exposed to undue liability.

"There will be no sugarcoating, no rose-colored glasses," Rasmussen says. "We have to know all the risks and make sure all of them are honestly portrayed and explained to us... I don't want people to think that we want this so badly that we are ignoring any red flags."

The mayor's office characterizes the work of the council's consultants largely as nipping at the edges of bigger problems while ignoring some of the project's larger inherent risks—like constructing the widest deep-bore tunnel in history. In June, McGinn hired an independent consultant, tunneling risk expert Thom Neff, to look at the risk.

"I think it is important that there is at least one expert who wasn't hired by tunnel cheerleaders," McGinn says.

All of the city's consultants and the state's engineers are—almost certainly—doing their very best. But every megaproject that ever went over budget had plenty of diligent consultants doing their very best. The issue here isn't the number of consultants picking this project apart. It's whether the city council is going to approve a contract that financially shackles Seattle taxpayers to a state project that the city won't have any control over. Right now, the city and state don't have a plan for dealing with cost overruns. And the only thing on paper right now unequivocally states Seattle taxpayers must pay for all cost overruns.

But requiring a change to that state law before approving the contract, as McGinn has suggested, "is a way of definitely killing the project," Rasmussen says.

* * *

Maybe the project deserves to die

"If we were trying to cure cancer, we could say, 'Go ahead, it's worth the money,'" says Cary Moon, director of the People's Waterfront Coalition. "But for a two-mile-long stretch of what will be a not-very-well-used road—is it worth this level of significant risk and money?"

The numbers for the tunnel—once it's completed—don't look very good. The current Alaskan Way Viaduct carries about 110,000 cars a day. Once the tunnel opens in 2015, the number of cars using Highway 99 through downtown Seattle will drop to 46,000 cars a day, according to a tolling study by the state. That means 64,000 additional vehicles a day will be forced onto downtown surface roads, along the waterfront, and onto I-5. Why? Cars that want to go downtown can't use the tunnel because it will have no downtown exits. And people who don't want to pay the toll won't use it. During peak hours, the trip will be $4 one way and $3.50 the other. That's $7.50 to use the tunnel. Many of the cars diverted from Highway 99 will pour into Pioneer Square instead, further clogging that neighborhood's already traffic-clogged streets.

"There is a pretty significant amount of traffic diversion" with the tunnel, admits Ron Paananen, who is overseeing the tunnel project for WSDOT.

Ironically, many tunnel supporters have insisted that the tunnel would benefit blue-collar workers going to their jobs. But blue-collar workers are the least willing and least able to pay $7.50 to use the tunnel. They will join the majority of drivers who pour onto surface streets.

And I know this sounds wonky, but the state hasn't finished something called an environmental impact statement, a document that may reveal that this project—a project that is already under way, if council president Conlin and Governor Gregoire prevail—shouldn't be built at all.

Bear with me: An environmental impact study isn't just about how many birds will die. It is the definitive analysis of the impacts of the project. That study, which will come out in draft form for public comment this fall, will compare the tunnel to rebuilding an elevated highway or a cut-and-cover-tunnel option. State law requires us to complete this study before the state commits to one option. But the state, by putting the project out to bid and entering into an agreement with Seattle, is committing to one of the options without knowing if it has any major ramifications. (Remember that lawsuit? Sounds like they may have a case, huh?)

So even if everything goes right and there aren't any cost overruns, we know the project is hugely expensive, forces more than half of the traffic now on the viaduct onto surface streets, destroys the (already battered) quality of life in Pioneer Square, and directs money that could go toward making downtown streets better for transit into building yet another freeway. And if anything should go wrong, the city could be bankrupted.

The question here shouldn't be whether the mayor has a "secret agenda" to kill the tunnel. The question should be why every elected official at City Hall doesn't also have one.

What happens next

The city council will decide the conditions of our contract with the state within the next six weeks. By approving it, the city gives the state permission to begin construction. Seattle has basically no leverage after construction begins.

Most of the city council is arguing that we don't need to fix the state law, we don't need to see bids, we don't need to see the state's environmental impact statement, we don't need to increase the bonds for the company doing the tunneling, and we don't need any provisions that allow Seattle to back out if, say, bids show the tunnel will cost too much. They also say that the time for debate has passed.

But Seattle has never debated this issue. (When Seattle voted on a slightly different tunnel in 2007, we rejected it.) There was certainly never a public debate about the terms of this contract, and Conlin has done all he can to avoid having that debate now. Conlin has also attempted—with an assist from the Seattle Times—to paint the mayor as an irresponsible obstructionist when, in point of fact, the mayor appears to be the only person at City Hall looking out for Seattle taxpayers.

"The bottom line for the planning process," say Thom Neff (McGinn's outside expert) and Gary Brierly in an article titled "Bullshit as Applied to Tunneling Projects" in the April issue of TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine, "is to let the games begin: debate, argue, make your claims and counterclaims, and do everything possible to come up with the best possible project." The authors, who are both authorities on the runaway costs of tunnels, warn that "errors in the planning effort can lead to... inadequate financing, unreasonable debt for the local citizens and agencies, and, in rare cases, a tunnel that should never have been built."

On June 28, the mayor gave a draft of the contract ordinance to the city council that says the city won't give permission to build a deep-bore tunnel under downtown until the state legislature removes the provision that caps state spending on the project and says Seattle must pay for cost overruns. The city council disregarded the mayor's proposal as a delay tactic. Laura Lockard, spokeswoman for the city council, says the mayor's proposal was "theater."

The council is expected to remove the mayor's provision, the mayor has vowed to veto any tunneling bill that doesn't contain a provision that protects Seattle taxpayers, and the council is expected to attempt an override the mayor's veto.

But if the city council was serious about representing the citizens of Seattle, it wouldn't just leave McGinn's provision in—it would add two more.

Council Member O'Brien is pushing an amendment that would "reserve an option to void the agreement" if the bids come in too high or the environmental impact study shows that the tunnel would have enormous ramifications.

"You want me to sign a contract that is our last leverage point and you won't tell me what it says until later?" O'Brien asks about the current version of the bill. He says committing Seattle to the tunnel before impact studies are complete would be a "mockery" of the process.

Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee, says he would support O'Brien's plan to let the city opt out if bids "come in way over" the state's spending cap. But he dismisses the idea of voiding a contract simply because the impact study shows the tunnel wouldn't solve transportation problems. (Think about that: The chair of city council's transportation committee is willing to spend a billion of your tax dollars—and potentially hundreds of millions more—on a transportation project that doesn't solve transportation problems.)

Meanwhile, Council Member Nick Licata is pushing a provision that would reserve $290 million of the project budget for tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and rebuilding the waterfront—and to complete the project regardless of cost. That sort of provision, Licata says, would give the city "critical assurance that the state won't spend our money on the tunnel when they should spend it on removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and providing the new street on the waterfront."

All three amendments—making the state pay for overruns, letting Seattle opt out if the project will cost too much or if research in the next six months shows the project has major negative ramifications, and setting money aside for the waterfront improvements—should be approved. None of them kill the project, as some members of the city council would have you believe. They simply would protect Seattle's interests—which is the Seattle City Council's job.

Would the state remove the spending cap and accept responsibility for cost overruns?

"I think there is support in the senate to reform that provision," says state senator Ed Murray. "I think the mayor has a valid point. The legislature needs to get that fixed. Seattle should be treated like any other jurisdiction, it should not be required to pay cost overruns on the state highway."

Murray says he would sponsor legislation to make the city and state share the burden of cost overruns equitably. The question is whether the state house would pass it. Speaker Frank Chopp says he can't speculate. The most powerful person in the house, Chopp represents the 43rd District—comprising the central city, the same district that Murray represents—and his Seattle constituents should press him for a deal that is fair to Seattle.

While there may be support in the legislature next year to remove the language that makes Seattle pay hypothetical cost overruns, that support could disappear if we wait until cost overruns do actually occur.

That last scenario is exactly what Council Member O'Brien—a former chief financial officer at a law firm—fears most. "I think Seattle will make a legal argument that the city is not liable. But that's not to say that there aren't ways the legislature can make Seattle pay. It is easy to imagine a scenario in which cost overruns occur and the legislature wants to put it on Seattle. The legislature says, 'We passed a law that says Seattle has to pay, so now you have to pay.'"

State law specifically states that any costs beyond $2.8 billion on "shall be borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit from replacement of the existing viaduct with the deep bore tunnel." Council president Conlin wrote on his blog in May that state law "says nothing about the City [of Seattle], but instead makes a legally meaningless reference to property owners."

Attorney General Rob McKenna disagrees.

"Once [a law] is adopted," McKenna said on KUOW last fall, "it's our job to defend it. A law which is adopted by the legislature is presumptively constitutional."

There is a case to be made that Seattle isn't "on the hook" for cost overruns. "The legislature can't just tax a group of people in a geographic area," says City Attorney Pete Holmes. "This is a state highway, and the state is responsible for all the costs." If the state exceeds costs in any contracts, he says, "they could send us a bill. They can't make us pay it."

The legislature would have to take further action—but that's something some lawmakers say they may do—to force Seattle to pay.

"I will try my best, as will a number of other legislators, to live up to the law that we passed that held Seattle to these cost overruns—that is all I can say," says state senator Jim Kastama of the legislative district that encompasses Puyallup. "There is a track record of tunnels not coming in on budget, and it is not just me saying that [we're going to make Seattle pay], it is the general consensus of the legislature.

"That amendment is real," Kastama continues. "People who think it is window dressing, they don't understand the level of support for that amendment in the legislature."

As for city council members and state elected officials—including the governor—who insist that Seattle won't have to pay, regardless of the law as currently written, Kastama urges Seattle taxpayers not to believe them.

"The people who are giving you these promises aren't going to be here in a few years," Kastama says. "The people who are saying there will be no cost overruns won't be in office when it's time to be held accountable."

Conlin, who was just elected to his fourth term on the city council, will probably be long retired—along with Rasmussen, Bagshaw, and Gregoire—when the whole project is complete in 2018 and Seattle may have to grapple with a bill for a tunnel it didn't need.

"We have a $56 million budget shortfall right now," says O'Brien. "If we have to come up with another $50 million, $100 million, or a half billion dollars, it would be devastating to our city. I know fellow city council members don't want that outcome, but I have been frustrated that they have not been willing to engage in a more robust dialogue to prevent that outcome." recommended

This story has been updated since its original publication.

 

Comments (138) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
I'm glad you've finally made up your mind on this, dear.
Posted by gloomy gus on July 7, 2010 at 11:24 AM · Report this
2
Thank you for this wonderful opus.
Posted by CMB on July 7, 2010 at 11:29 AM · Report this
3
Truly and verily, Dominic Holden has written a world-class article.

Aside from the financial aspect, which has the potential for untold future devastation (see link at end of this comment, please), the feasibility of this particular megaproject is incredibly suspect!

The soil composition underneath downtown Seattle by itself should bar such a tunneling project, but when consideration is extended to the stability of Elliot Bay's sea bottom, the inaneness of this fix becomes obvious.

All variables haven't been examined and examined in a most thorough manner -- this way lies disaster.

When the bombers made their first botched attempt at destroying the World Trade Center in 1993 by planting explosives on one side of a WTC tower's base foundation, in order to topple the tower sideways, they thankfully demonstrated a complete lack of architectural knowledge of the towers design, only exceeded by their lacking in incendaries knowledge.

But such an event could occur in downtown Seattle with this deep-bore tunnel, should a sinkhole occur in the vicinity of one of the skyscrapers, toppling such a structure sideways and causing untold death and destruction.

Such an event is conceivable given the geotechnical nonfeasibility of this project.

And I am the most pro-union (former labor organizer), pro-tech, and lover of feasible megaprojects around, but this ways lies insanity.

The link below leads to a recent article detailing the sad financial details surrounding Boston's Big Dig. Food for thought on the financial side:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-06-30…

Major thanks again to Dominic for a most intelligent and exhaustively insightful article.
More...
Posted by sgt_doom on July 7, 2010 at 11:32 AM · Report this
4
Wow- fearmongers unite! Nice way to bring back the terrorism angle. Poor losers, I say, the whole lot of ya.
Posted by jenc01 on July 7, 2010 at 11:37 AM · Report this
5
No downtown exits.... no tunnel!
Posted by scotty206 on July 7, 2010 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Toasterhedgehog 6
How much of our State Budget goes to contractors? How much of that money is pure profit?
The tunnel is a payout to well connected contractors.
Posted by Toasterhedgehog on July 7, 2010 at 11:53 AM · Report this
7
Seattle never ceases to amaze me. A crumbling sea wall and major North-South traffic route have been discussed since I moved here 8 years ago, with exactly zero work completed. I think what we are failing to realize is that there are no perfect options. Each proposal has major drawbacks, limitations and advantages. That is what happens when you build a city in a geographically confined space and fail to elect forward-looking governments for the last 40 years. Does a short-term squabble over cost overages put us into a position where we have to make much more expensive choices in 10-15 years when we still have no replacement for the AWV?
Posted by Chris Jury http://www.thebismarck.net on July 7, 2010 at 12:15 PM · Report this
8
#7, while I agree with your comment "..fail to elect forward-looking governments for the last 40 years..",

the corruption factor reigns supreme as well.

With the obsession with the most expensive transportation option, tunneling, being about the only option allowed on the table, troubles can be expected to ensue.

No kickbacks to the pols were instituted in the Seattle Monorail Project, hence its demise. (The same, of course, can't be said for this poorly designed light rail debacle.)

And, @ #4, there was no "terrorism angle" -- simply stating that their original plan could be fully, and inadvertently, realized in Seattle if enough concerned citizens refuse to pay attention!
Posted by sgt_doom on July 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM · Report this
9
Seems like a losing proposition for Seattle. Who to contact to make residents' voices heard?
Posted by gavastik http://pnwscience.wordpress.com on July 7, 2010 at 1:02 PM · Report this
10
This was incredible, Dominic.

I like to think of myself as fairly well-informed, but I didn't know even a fraction of this. Holy crap, I am gobsmacked.
Posted by karion on July 7, 2010 at 1:11 PM · Report this
11
As I understand it, we are taking the word and promises of Politicians (not engineers) that a public works project will not incur delays, accidents or cost over-runs. During this phase, the construction experts the Politicians hired agree with them on these 'facts'.

Does anyone else here have a bullshit meter they can use?

Can someone get a voters inititive going to allow the electorate a 'vote' in this shit storm of 'fiscal management'?
It may have been a mistake for us to eviscerating our own tax base.
It IS a mistake to allow ourselved to be mortgaged to bad planning from Olympia (or any one else for that matter) IF we can reasonably prevent it.

Posted by Nuclear Marc on July 7, 2010 at 1:58 PM · Report this
12
thank you for outstanding research. What will the depth be between the top of the tunnel and the bottom of various buildings along the route, including the federal building? It seems very improbable there would not be some sort of settling. What are the cost estimates to fix any settling? And would new buildings be more expensive to build because they would require stronger structure?

I also really wonder how the buses are supposed to help mitigate traffic.

It is reasonable to expect traffic levels to drop though. People will go to Southcenter or Bellevue or Northgate to shop instead of downtown. Businesses will locate elsewhere because of the hassle factor of getting into the city, and also of getting around it once there.
Posted by commentator on July 7, 2010 at 2:48 PM · Report this
13
This was a fantastic article. A lot of great points. The tunnel, to me, has always seemed a very unreasonable and hostile project. I know there's been a lot of money already put into this option, but it does little to solve actual problems we're already facing. Hell, this thing is 5 fucking stories tall and only accomodates 2 lanes each way!

/DEALBREAKER!
Posted by jns on July 7, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
14
I am pro-tunnel, but there is no f-ing way city residents should bear the entire cost-overrun load. Overruns should be the proportional responsibility of all three parties involved.
Posted by Get Real on July 7, 2010 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 15
While I've always like the *idea* of a tunnel to replace the Viaduct, I have long suspected that the geological conditions wouldn't support it. Hell, Seattle is on a goddam fault line!

Dom, you've convinced me that a deep bore tunnel is a horrible plan. A more limited "cut & cover" tunnel might be more feasible, but any plan should involve removing the Viaduct and re-opening the Waterfront to Downtown. A well designed, surface version of Alaskan Way could possibly improve traffic flow through & into the city.
Posted by Sir Vic on July 7, 2010 at 3:04 PM · Report this
south downtown 16
"shall be borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit from replacement of the existing viaduct with the deep bore tunnel."

wouldn't this mean the downtown waterfront property owners that no longer have the viaduct in their neighborhood and instead a new waterfront park?

it seems that the real reason for all this protest has always been to protect these downtown property owners, not the general populace.
Posted by south downtown on July 7, 2010 at 3:33 PM · Report this
17
Removing the language that sticks Seattle with the overruns won't happen. It might get struck down in court, but I doubt there's the votes to simply take it out. The state hates Seattle.

The only change Olympia might make is to scrap the tunnel and do a new elevated freeway, and we lose our waterfront for another 50 years.
Posted by Lack Thereof on July 7, 2010 at 3:37 PM · Report this
18
Mr. Holden is to be congratulated for a fine piece of journalism. He puts the construction cost and risk issue in clear perspective. And, these are only a part of the problem.

As he notes, to date there is no EIS and, with that, obviously no 20-year traffic forecast that is mandatory, according the the State's own design manual. Absent the traffic forecast, insofar as the design hour volume (DHV)is concerned, there is likewise no capacity analysis. And, absent a capacity analysis it is impossible to see how this thing will function. Remember, too, that absent a capacity analysis we have no real handle on potential traffic diversion. So, how good is the design?

Next, there is a lot or research on tunnel traffic accidents and the impact of narrow shoulders on traffic operations. Why has WSDOT failed to review that research?

Finally, it is important to note that there are no less than five (5) highway safety design standards that came out of the Highway Safety Act of 1966. Three have been abandoned with the permission of FHWA. Two others have been ignored. Then, to ice the cake, the ADA standards have been decimated for the escape route for NB tunnel users.

I hope your readers will ask a few very simple questions and, after that, follow the obvious trail.

Why are they installing 4-hour fire doors in the tunnel?

Why does the Seattle Fire Department want higher air pressures in the escape corridors?

Why is the SFD asking for 10 foot shoulders when the tunnel design has only 6-foot shoulders on one side and only 2-foot shoulders on the other?

Why are they openly worried about getting first responders to the scene?

While the power costs to the tunnel will likely top $2 million per year, it is a drop in the bucket to the tort liability coming down the track.

In summary, the deep bore tunnel is a trial attorneys dream. With WSDOT, the city, the port and the county already put on notice they have no affirmative defenses.

Fortunately, among others, the Seattle City Council can be sued along with their "marital community".

Sleep well.

Chris
More...
Posted by C. V. Brown, P.E. on July 7, 2010 at 4:30 PM · Report this
19
That's outstanding, admirably cogent piece of journalism. The Stranger proves itself to be a world-class newspaper more and more each week.
Posted by Redjellydonut on July 7, 2010 at 4:49 PM · Report this
20
There is a certain element of Seattle Political Fantasyland going on with The Stranger's torch carrying campaign for the recently elected Seattle Mayor, Mike McGinn;AKA anything but the tunnel McGinn. When I read about his interest in finding a surface street solution to any viaduct replacement I wonder how all those additional buses are going to eliminate many of the private passenger vehicles that use Highway 99 or clog I-5? What happens to all those people who require a car to transport themselves or goods from one end of Seattle to the other? Are they suddenly going to look for ways to avoid downtown Seattle or the neighborhoods around downtown? Only the Mayor seems to think that everyone is physically able and willing to blaze new bikeways for a greener, less car friendly Seattle.
With the city facing a 54 million dollar shortfall next year and the legislature meeting in January of 2011 to find a solution for that 3 billion dollar budget shortfall in the state budget, who in Seattle thinks the Governor, the state department of transportation and the legislature is willing to return to the drawing board based upon the whims of a Mayor who seems increasingly eccentric and acting like an official who was just elected to chair a Sierra Club Conference in Boulder, Colorado.
Lots of luck Seattle for finding a lot of sympathy in the metro area or more importantly that fiscally nervous state legislature.
Posted by friedclam on July 7, 2010 at 5:09 PM · Report this
21
Regardless of whether or not the overuns are paid for by the city or state shouldn't be the biggest argument. Either way we will br paying for it, we pay state taxes here too. The difference is spokane, tri~cities, etc. will be getting fucked even harder and deeper, paying for a horrible project they won't even see the benefits of. The big point here is that this project is horribly conceived and reeks of corruption from top to bottom, and will hurt the city and state regardless of who foots the bill.
Posted by midlander on July 7, 2010 at 5:27 PM · Report this
22
16 your point is right on the nail. Our wonderful bike riding, faux-eco warrior, corporate lawyer, mayor. Has got all the wanna-be minds in Seattle brewing,I applaud the research and the article. However its all in The Mayor's little scheme to protect the top 1% populist. (I hate to remind everyone but that is exactly what G.W. Bush did with this country not too long ago.) The real people who will be put out are the developers who have their greedy little hands on the billions of revenue from developing "Our"
waterfront. If you don't believe me then, why did Frank Chopps plan never gain any steam? because the land would still be owned by the state. Not rich developers, like Titan, selig, etc. companies, our Mayor is great at representing by lining his pocket books and by falsely making you believe he is working for you.Just switch those names with Brown and root, or Halliburton, NOT much difference. I guess all you have to do in this town is ride a bike, grow a beard and throw a party at a little thug gangster bar. And everyone in Seattle thinks your on the level. When is this town going to grow up and quit being smart and petty. And start being intelligent and forward thinking?
Posted by Rainer_the_Clown on July 7, 2010 at 5:30 PM · Report this
freesandbags 23
A tunnel, a rotten viaduct, no South Park bridge, blah, blah blah. You're choking on your own belly-button lint Seattle. Effing Tinytown B.S.
Posted by freesandbags on July 7, 2010 at 6:29 PM · Report this
24
Regardless of whether or not the overuns are paid for by the city or state shouldn't be the biggest argument. Either way we will br paying for it, we pay state taxes here too. The difference is spokane, tri~cities, etc. will be getting fucked even harder and deeper, paying for a horrible project they won't even see the benefits of. The big point here is that this project is horribly conceived and reeks of corruption from top to bottom, and will hurt the city and state regardless of who foots the bill.
Posted by midlander on July 7, 2010 at 6:39 PM · Report this
Spicy McHaggis 25
Didn't even have to read your article to smell the bullshit.

The deep bore tunnel does not go adjacent to the waterfront as your illustration shows. The old cut-and cover design did perhaps that's what you had in mind.

On the other hand the University Link Tunnel does go underwater at the Montlake cut. Do you intend to sound alarmist on that project as well?
Posted by Spicy McHaggis on July 7, 2010 at 6:56 PM · Report this
26
Holden's most convincing argument against the bored tunnel for me is found in the section titled "Maybe the project deserves to die."

In that section, Ron Panannen admits diverting 64,000 cars daily is significant. Well duh. A conservative estimate of 40,000 vehicles displaced from the Belltown access to SR99 will incur 'significant' environmental impact upon South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne and the Denny Way corridor.

It was heartening to read, "That environmental impact study will compare the bored tunnel to an elevated replacement and a cut/cover tunnel option." All previous studies have shown the Cut/cover Tunnelite has the "least" environmental impact. It's obvious.

Not so obvious is how the Surface/Transit option has less (though not least) environmental impact because it contains the displaced traffic mostly to Alaskan Way, an improved I-5 and transit upgrades.

Further complicating the bored tunnel, the inextricably-integrated Mercer West and Alaskan Way projects are likewise atrocious engineering designs incapable of managing the least displaced traffic.

All this talk about cost-overruns is a ruse. More important is the engineering, the environmental impact, and the very real threat of something catastrophic going wrong with the bored tunnel, a risk too terrible to gamble on.

Tunnelite would not impose any risk to downtown Seattle buildings, ever. It makes the strongest seawall and most stable Alaskan Way surface. It's the only option that creates a car-free gardened walkway between Steinbrueck Park and the Waterfron. WSDOT misleads the public about its construction disruption because the only replacement they seriously considered before the March 2007 vote was an elevated replacement, engineering almost as bad as the deep bored tunnel.
More...
Posted by Wells on July 7, 2010 at 9:14 PM · Report this
27
holy christ, at this point let's just rebuild the viaduct and be done with it.
Posted by cb on July 7, 2010 at 9:29 PM · Report this
28
For cryin out loud, the viaduct has always been an engineering monstrosity.

Consider the Belltown access to SR99:

The southbound entrance from Elliott is an uphill blind-merge. The northbound exit onto Western is a downhill speed-increasing 1-lane ramp that accellerates traffic onto surface streets or backs it up for blocks onto the AWV.

Tunnelite rebuilds SR99 beneath Elliott and Western. It makes the southbound entrance a simpler downhill clear-merge, and the exit north onto western becomes an uphill speed-decreasing 2-lane ramp that reduces backups.

The Columbia and Seneca ramps onto 1st Ave should go because traffic should not be directed on steep downtown sidestreets to 1st Ave, a major transit and pedestrian corridor where there's too much traffic. The entrance and exit to the Battery Street Tunnel also should go for much the same reason.

How could the DOTs even consider an elevated replacement? Being WSDOT means you never have to admit making gigantic mistakes. What could go wrong with the deep bore is a question its directors never ask, let alone answer.
Posted by Wells on July 7, 2010 at 10:37 PM · Report this
29
i think someone should just sit down in front of the dig site and not move. what are they gonna do, run you over with a drill 5 storys high? that would look pretty bad on the news. just thinkin out loud here
Posted by manywhelps on July 7, 2010 at 11:48 PM · Report this
30
All one has to do is raed what happened in Boston. The cost overuns were HUGE! The same thing will happen here with the exception that the fine citezens of Seattle will foot the bill.
Posted by kevin1970 on July 8, 2010 at 12:16 AM · Report this
31
56 foot diameter tunnel borer. WHAT?!
If the blades wear out or are broken, the tunnel borer is stuck in place and cannot be removed by backing it out. WHAT?!
If the soil caves in behind the tunnel borer, the resulting sinkhole can take the Federal Building with it, including the people inside the Federal Building. WHAT?!
The proposed tunnel turnpike has no off ramps into downtown Seattle. WHAT?!
Is there a MAP showing the ROUTE of this proposed tunnel? I thought it was over where the Alaskan Way is. Not UNDERNEATH DOWNTOWN SEATTLE!!!!!
The cheapest option might be replacing the viaduct with a viaduct. Or Stan Lippman's bridge over troubled waters.
But THIS proposal, would do more damage than loading the B-17 we see flying around with bombs and having it drop those bombs on Downtown during lunch hour.
Posted by Roger Knight on July 8, 2010 at 5:00 AM · Report this
32
I wish we had a corrupt mafia mayor so we could get stuff built.
Posted by bzb on July 8, 2010 at 5:59 AM · Report this
33
As a property owner in Seattle, the funding of the tunnel scares me a lot. Between the Port and the City we could get double-soaked. That means your rents go up too kiddies.

Chosing between our out of touch governor and our hippie mayor, not to mention the idiots on the council is just not an awesome choice in any regard.

No I do not mean I want Republicans. I want responsible leadership that actually has this project funded properly before it is launched. Is that too much to ask?
Posted by c-doom on July 8, 2010 at 7:20 AM · Report this
34
look seattle, just don't do it. brisbane, australia just got it's own tunnel. it was supposed to be financed with a combination of public and private funds, with the private company making back its money over a 30-year period through tolls.

no-one uses the tunnel, no-one pays the tolls. all the other roads are still congested because the tunnel has failed to attract travellers, due to the tolls. for the same amount of money, 2 bridges with four lanes each could have been built. as it is, only one tunnel, one unprofitable tunnel with four lanes total got built. once again, this did nothing to alleviate our traffic issues.

you are getting sold a massive group-wank vanity project that you will be paying for FOREVER. and it will not make anyone's life better, and it is a waste of valuable resources that could be spent on better things.

good luck seattle.

adieu,

brisbane, australia.
Posted by larks on July 8, 2010 at 7:24 AM · Report this
35
I dig the tunnel option.

It will help funnel tourists into the new Chihuly exhibit at Seattle Center.
Posted by Jeff on July 8, 2010 at 8:31 AM · Report this
36
They built a tunnel along the riverfront in Trenton, NJ. The vibrations from it have structurally damaged the nearby houses. It's not even UNDER anything - just a tunnel that runs a short distance along the river for a short distance, with a park over it. I'm not sure what a deep-bore tunnel would mean for structures near it... But something to consider.
Posted by JrzWrld on July 8, 2010 at 10:02 AM · Report this
37
What a load of fear mongering tripe. You put alot of "facts and figures" while bending numbers like you're doing a limbo and even throwing in the "big dig" comparison (viaduct tunnel 8 lane miles and one tunnel----big dig 160 lane miles and surface disruption).

Northbound traffic gets a downtown exit at Atlantic instead of dumping into the gridlock at 1st and Seneca. Southbound traffic gets a massive improvement in flow at Denny. The distribution from both those areas will be better than the downtown dumps today.

Misleading hyperbole. How about comparing how a 13 mile tunnel is different from a 1.8 mile tunnel and that it's less likely to encounter the same wearing problems. How about mentioning the success of two 50ft. 4 mile long tunnels under the Yangtze river that were completed in 20 months through highly water-bearing gravel and silt.

Your agenda is clear but your reasoning is not.

Posted by runnybunny on July 8, 2010 at 10:16 AM · Report this
38
What a load of fear mongering tripe. You put alot of "facts and figures" while bending numbers like you're doing a limbo and even throwing in the "big dig" comparison (viaduct tunnel 8 lane miles and one tunnel----big dig 160 lane miles and surface disruption).

Northbound traffic gets a downtown exit at Atlantic instead of dumping into the gridlock at 1st and Seneca. Southbound traffic gets a massive improvement in flow at Denny. The distribution from both those areas will be better than the downtown dumps today.

Misleading hyperbole. How about comparing how a 13 mile tunnel is different from a 1.8 mile tunnel and that it's less likely to encounter the same wearing problems. How about mentioning the success of two 50ft. 4 mile long tunnels under the Yangtze river that were completed in 20 months through highly water-bearing gravel and silt.

Your agenda is clear but your reasoning is not.

Posted by runnybunny on July 8, 2010 at 10:20 AM · Report this
I'm 85 Years Old 39
Thanks for writing this article.

If this tunnel happens and fails, and the people of Seattle are on the hook for the cost, it will be the legacy of all those attempting to cram this down our throats and their careers will suffer. Why can we not have a public discussion of the biggest transportation project in Seattle history? Why can Conlin, other members of the council and the Governor not adequately address these concerns? Why is that not reasonable? If there is nothing to hide let's get it on the table and talk it out. The actions and method of those pushing this is entirely irresponsible and not in the best interest of the Seattle taxpayers that will be hung out to try by it's potential cost overruns. At minimum, a public discussion of these issues and the pro counterpoints, please. If this is the best thing for Seattle then do the public a service and address these concerns Conlin.
Posted by I'm 85 Years Old on July 8, 2010 at 10:24 AM · Report this
40
What a load of fear mongering tripe. You put alot of "facts and figures" while bending numbers like you're doing a limbo and even throwing in the "big dig" comparison (viaduct tunnel 8 lane miles and one tunnel----big dig 160 lane miles with multiple tunnels a massive bridge and surface disruption).

The tunneling work is estimated at 350 million with 98 million (28% of 350) of the contingency of 415 million for all overruns. If tunneling is your primary cost overrun concern as you claim it is then then why are you whining about all kinds of other phantom overruns. The big concern of a tunnel overrun is covered by 140% with a 500 million bond. WSDOT is running within 1% of their project estimates for the last decade and their last big project (the Narrow Bridge) was 15% under budget.

Northbound traffic gets a downtown exit at Atlantic instead of dumping into the gridlock at 1st and Seneca. Southbound traffic gets a massive improvement in flow at Denny. Dumping traffic into a downtown grid that cannot handle it is and was a stupid idea. Distributing at the perimeter has many advatages.

More misleading hyperbole. How about comparing how a 13 mile tunnel is different from a 1.8 mile tunnel and that the TBMs are less likely to encounter the same wearing problems. How about the fact that the soil under the city is better understood and can be more thoroughly analyzed? How about mentioning the success of two 50ft. 4 mile long tunnels under the Yangtze river that were completed in 20 months through highly water-bearing gravel and silt? How about considering the incredible advantages we gain by having roadways and transit underground so that our surface streets are quieter, cleaner and more pedestrian and bike friendly?

Your agenda is clear but your reasoning is not.
More...
Posted by runnybunny on July 8, 2010 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Original-er Andy 41
Didn't know you were a geologist Dominic.
Posted by Original-er Andy on July 8, 2010 at 11:12 AM · Report this
42
Last week: Complain about the existing Viaduct

Today: Complain about the tunnel

Next week: Complain about the existing Viaduct and the tunnel

Did you ever think about how there is no perfect solution? Seattle has a great way of talking about ideas & never following through with them (remember the train system?). Something has to be done, and this may be it.

Posted by Tomorrows_Man on July 8, 2010 at 11:37 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 43
I love the Seattle P-I editorial on this as well.

As I said last night, Seattle is in a war between Billionaires and Millionaires for the soul of our city, yet nobody is paying attention to the needs, wants, and desires of the Citizens of our City.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 8, 2010 at 11:42 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 44
oh, and a belated @35 for the irony-oh-irony win.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 8, 2010 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 45
@42 - we killed the Thompson Expressway. Never forget that.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 8, 2010 at 11:48 AM · Report this
46
Oh seattle thank you for this upcoming failed dig that will fail in one way or another. The article fails to mention the business cost this is already having...Just look at the businesses along 1st avenue and everywhere along the West Seattle Bridge. They're not doing all that construction to help ease the massive traffice flow those of us in West Seattle are already dealing with, they're trying to figure out what the hell to do with all of us once they cut us off from downtown. Why do I want to pay for a tunnel that I won't even be able to use to get to work? Oh and when I do want to bike to work, thank you for putting that much more dangerous and irritated drivers on the surface streets for me to dodge
Posted by Bitter on July 8, 2010 at 11:57 AM · Report this
47
Great article, well written, Dominic.
It's apparent all the tunnel supporters here did not or can not read.
Posted by Xavier on July 8, 2010 at 12:06 PM · Report this
48
If Colin, Bagshaw and the other Seattle City Council and state government supporters of the tunnel do not want to meet and discuss or debate the growing cost and build issues of the tunnel, perhaps it would be best to just ignore them and have public discussion without them. Would Town Hall Seattle? the Stranger? King 5 or other news outlets consider creating a venue?
Posted by Fairhaven on July 8, 2010 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 49
Good idea, Fairhaven.

I just twittered this article to half the White House cabinet, by the way.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 8, 2010 at 1:22 PM · Report this
50
What are you so worried about? Richard Conlin says not to worry. Smile. Be happy. Get fucked.
Posted by Truly and genuinely pissed on July 8, 2010 at 2:42 PM · Report this
w7ngman 51
This is a biased load of crap.
Posted by w7ngman http://userscripts.org/users/89370 on July 8, 2010 at 2:42 PM · Report this
NaFun 52
@48 Oh, glad you woke me up. You make great points! I love how you showed your erudition by countering each point line-by-line. Well done!
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on July 8, 2010 at 3:06 PM · Report this
NaFun 53
dammit, that should be @51.
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on July 8, 2010 at 3:08 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 54
If a single life is lost to this process, can we have Richard Conlin arrested for involuntary manslaughter?
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 8, 2010 at 3:32 PM · Report this
jcmejia 55
Thanks for this excellent example of investigative journalism on the proposed tunnel. While you may be assailed by some as a Cassandra for daring to bring up pesky and inconvenient facts, I would be surprised if Murphy's Law doesn't prove you prescient in this matter.

After all, if a shmucky little event like the 2006 Pride Festival could rack-up a $150,000 cost over-run, how much more is a project with the complexity of the tunnel likely to do so?
Posted by jcmejia on July 8, 2010 at 4:01 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 56
@54 unlikely. Most boards buy L&I insurance to limit liability and shield people from consequences, as I recall city councils are usually the same.

You have to prove active attempts to kill people by decision. Any construction project of this size will result in a few deaths, or severe injuries, and unless the legislator making the decision is a practicing engineer with experience at both tunneling in soils/vacuoles below sea level and in building viaducts in similar soils/vacuoles or surface projects, they can't be presumed to have the technical knowledge to fully understand that their decisions are killing people.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 8, 2010 at 4:11 PM · Report this
57
Hoooooooo boy.

Seattle is NOT the city I knew and loved growing up here.

@39: I am 85 years old: I agree with you. It's shameful. You know we're screwed when the city's elected officials refuse to listen to and properly address the needs of the taxpaying people over filthy-rich, corrupt special interest groups.

I, too, am at a loss for words.
Posted by auntie grizelda on July 8, 2010 at 4:43 PM · Report this
NaFun 58
@25 - what the fuck are you talking about? Go see the video posted at Seattle Transit Blog:
http://seattletransitblog.com/2010/07/07…

It starts at the waterfront in Sodo, then goes under downtown to meet up w/ 99 again at Denny-ish.
Posted by NaFun http://www.dancesafe.org on July 8, 2010 at 5:54 PM · Report this
59
One of the dumber articles I've ever read, Dominic. You've swallowed McGinn's line on this and are ignoring the legal evidence that the State's cost overrun provision is unenforceable. Unfortunately, your argument is pointless once that's taken into account, and your evidence that McKenna is obligated to defend state law is not the same as saying this one is constitutional. If you'd taken the time to research the legal angles, covered in a few sentences at the end of your article, you'd have seen that your article is pointless and inane.
Posted by Sandman on July 8, 2010 at 6:03 PM · Report this
Clarence42 60
Whoa! There's alot of stuff here!That article was huge. It even had "reporting" and stuff. It is agreed something needs to be done. The scope of reality and political discourse is wide. Politicians should protect the people and peolple should be realistic. The entire state would REALLY hate Kingco. if they pay a dime.Tragic
Posted by Clarence42 on July 8, 2010 at 8:18 PM · Report this
61
"But Governor Chris Gregoire and most members of the city council—under city council president Richard Conlin's leadership—insist that there is nothing to worry about and that any public discussion about potential cost overruns is unnecessary."

But wasn't it "The Stranger" that told us that we should vote for "goat loving" Richard Conlin? Now, "The Stranger" is saying that he is evil? BTW, I didn't vote for him. Loving goats makes me a little uncomfortable.

This article, while well written, states the same thing the voters did about the tunnel. No Frelling Tunnel! Unfortunately, our State Legislature and Governor have decided that we, in Seattle, will suck it up. Now this same State Legislature and Governor want Seattle to come up with paying cost overruns, Frell them!

Y'all listened to "The Stranger" and voted Conlin back into office, guess y'all will have to deal with the consequences.
Posted by Darth Tagnan on July 8, 2010 at 8:46 PM · Report this
62
I've always considered McGinn the Accidental Mayor, perhaps he is the perfect fall guy for the overreaching tunnel.

His Inspector Clouseau moves have seemed to accelerate the tunnel process and unite a bunch of foes into a unified force.
Posted by 2cents on July 8, 2010 at 10:18 PM · Report this
63
This article nailed it correctly. I have actively followed this conversation for years. In addition to what was said,I would add - follow the MONEY to know why things are the way they are. For years land developers have been licking their chops anxious to get their hands on this premier downtown property for high profit housing development. Right now they claim the viaduct will be torn down and a park built over the tunnel. But watch how this will change when the citizens of Seattle get stuck with the inevitable cost overruns. The so called park will be given away to developers. I hope everyone takes the time to read the entire article all the way to end. The City Council lack of leadership on this is pathetic.
Posted by leadershiptomorrow on July 8, 2010 at 11:11 PM · Report this
64
Why are you people at The Stranger sucking the mayor's cock every fucking day? All of your arguments listed above should have been made more forcefully YEARS AGO when we voted on this issue in the city's very first mail-in ballot election.

Of course better surface streets, wiser direction of traffic, and efficient direction of public transportation is the BEST solution to eliminating an ugly viaduct or a wide surface highway or an iffy tunnel option. HOWEVER, that choice was added to the ballot TOO LATE causing a split election.

Seattle must pay for the cost over-runs if we want a livable downtown/waterfront.
Posted by Pat on July 8, 2010 at 11:17 PM · Report this
65
Darth #61: I'm with you. Unfortunately, Richard's opponent in the 2009 election (David Ginsburg) was very weak and inexperienced. He wasn't able to capitalize on the knowledgeable progressive disdain for Conlin's politics. The tunnel issue has less to do with McGinn than with Conlin.

#63 has it right: follow $. E.g., why did Conlin vote against Peter Steinbrueck's down zoning of retail use of industrial zoned land to discourage conversions? His surface reason: we need more "process." huh
Posted by TobyinFremont on July 8, 2010 at 11:29 PM · Report this
66
This article is undoubtedly the biggest piece of shite I have ever had the misfortune to read in my entire career as a civil engineering journalist. Mr Holden has managed to demonstrate with one article (I've never read any of his others) that he is capable of spending a large amount of time (or not, which is far more likely considering the result) producing a misinformed, biased and truly sloppy, sensationalist fantasy - that manages to misunderstand, misrepresent and misquote almost every single source printed in this sorry excuse for an article.

I am not merely shocked this drivel was published - I am, frankly, appalled. I just wish The Stranger had published its ‘Public Editor’ comment in as prominent a position (and type font) as it’s lead article, as that (at least) gives voice to a satisfying element of educated reason on the article.

I would be delighted to write an informed response to this piece and would like to know if The Stranger will take me up on the offer – I personally know many of the people that were quoted both without their knowledge and completely out of context in this article (including Mr Flyvberg) and I’m pretty sure they’d be quite willing to provide a response too!

To use Mr Holden’s vernacular, no-one is trying to f*** you over Seattle, you just happen to have some really f***ing stupid journalists who seem to be quite happy spending their week sensationalizing the mayor’s press releases, rather than actually doing their job – i.e. writing something that’s not a total load of utter bollocks.

Amanda Foley
Editor
North American Tunneling Journal
Posted by moley on July 8, 2010 at 11:41 PM · Report this
67
Citizens of Seattle, this is the most miss-informed piece of junk I have ever read. A written response to this drivel is on its way...watch this space. The only thing that is fuc#ed is Mr. Holdens bullshit!
Posted by SW6 on July 9, 2010 at 2:35 AM · Report this
Texas10R 68
@ 66 [Amanda Foley]

"This article is undoubtedly the biggest piece of shite I have ever had..."

Please clarify; are you referring to shit, or are you referring to Shiite?

Either way, I hope your esteemed publication North American Tunneling Journal can spring to install spellcheck on your Mac IIe before you fire another ill-advised bitch-rant toward the citizens of Seattle.
Posted by Texas10R on July 9, 2010 at 5:23 AM · Report this
69
Way to drop right to the misogyny, Texas10R.
Posted by Who's the bitch? on July 9, 2010 at 7:58 AM · Report this
70
I go back and forth about how I feel about the tunnel project as a whole, but I unequivocally support McGinn in making sure that Seattle isn't stuck with the cost overruns. That's just the mayor doing due diligence. There should be direct and black and white language that dictates that cost overruns be shared by the city, the state and the Port.
Posted by Hutch on July 9, 2010 at 8:48 AM · Report this
71
@70 (and elsewhere)

The reason Seattle is being stuck with tunnel cost overruns is that it insisted on a tunnel replacement for the AWV rather than a new elevated structure - which the state (SR99 being a state route and all) had allocated the funding for. Why is that so hard to understand?

Posted by Mr. X on July 9, 2010 at 8:53 AM · Report this
72
@66 So it looks like you're in town, Amanda Foley, according to the Tunneling Journal facebook page http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34….

Instead of writing "an informed piece" how about an interview with Dom?
Posted by elaineinballard on July 9, 2010 at 9:19 AM · Report this
73
@71 holy shit, people have short memories and are willing to swallow a lot of bullshit. The city never insisted on a tunnel. After the advisory ballot vote (where the initial tunnel plan failed) the stakeholders committee recommended I-5/Transit as the preferred option (one that was agreed to by the business community, city, and state). Then the governor ignored the recommendation, and convinced Nickels and Sims to go along with it (in exchange for concessions about transit that have since evaporated). "The City" most certainly never insisted on a tunnel.
Posted by fucknuts on July 9, 2010 at 9:56 AM · Report this
74
Wait. There is no environmental impact statement yet?

Posters who use your "common sense" arguments to how traffic patterns will be improved/affected by this project/not this project: are you insane? You think your gut intuition is a reason to plunk down 4 billion of public money? There are entire disciplines of highly educated people that are devoted to studying these problems in QUANTITATIVE ways. Can we please hear what they have to say before we spend the money?

This article is supposed to monger fear: it apparently has to because the downsides of the tunneling option are not being adequately discussed ($4 billion price tag warrants some public discussion).

To the editor of the tunnel boring magazine: oh, you don't like an article discussing how tunneling is often a dumbass idea (in the conditions particular to Seattle)? Big surprise. Your advertisers would probably love a ringing endorsement of not tunneling, right?

As far as I can tell, the pro-tunnel argument (in the shiny case where everything goes perfectly) is that we get to see more waterfront from downtown. It better be absolutely iron-clad that if we spend public money to free the area from the viaduct that it doesn't end up housing more empty $1-3 million dollar condos. For that matter, which Seattle-ites have easy access to that theoretical park? The owners of the few occupied new condos downtown...great.
Posted by voiceofreason on July 9, 2010 at 10:04 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 75
Bringing up the advisory ballot is like punching below the waist and getting away with it. All of the options on the advisory ballot failed equally. This town can't ever be for something, it's against everything.

It's also disingenuous to say there are no downtown exits. As if the south and north exits aren't part of downtown. As if the existing exits in the middle of downtown are useful now.

There is some kind of fantasy land where neither a tunnel nor an elevated freeway get built. The Stranger is living in it. Those really are the two choices. Left with those two, there is only one choice that gives Seattle a functional waterfront versus another loud ugly eyesore.

Yeah, there are details to work out but none of them are deal breakers. Let go of the negativity as if the project won't happen. Focus the effort on the details that matter (yeah, cost overruns is one) because that's where there can be something effective done instead of whining.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on July 9, 2010 at 10:29 AM · Report this
76
Holden's most convincing argument against the bored tunnel for me is found in the section titled "Maybe the project deserves to die."

In that section, Ron Panannen admits diverting 64,000 cars daily is significant. Well duh. A conservative estimate of 40,000 vehicles displaced from the Belltown access to SR99 will incur 'significant' environmental impact upon South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne and the Denny Way corridor.

It was heartening to read, "That environmental impact study will compare the bored tunnel to an elevated replacement and a cut/cover tunnel option." All previous studies have shown the Cut/cover Tunnelite has the "least" environmental impact. It's obvious.

Not so obvious is how the Surface/Transit option has less (though not least) environmental impact because it contains the displaced traffic mostly to Alaskan Way, an improved I-5 and transit upgrades.

Further complicating the bored tunnel, the inextricably-integrated Mercer West and Alaskan Way projects are likewise atrocious engineering designs incapable of managing the least displaced traffic.

All this talk about cost-overruns is a ruse. More important is the engineering, the environmental impact, and the very real threat of something catastrophic going wrong with the bored tunnel, a risk too terrible to gamble on.

Tunnelite would not impose any risk to downtown Seattle buildings, ever. It makes the strongest seawall and most stable Alaskan Way surface. It's the only option that creates a car-free gardened walkway between Steinbrueck Park and the Waterfron. WSDOT misleads the public about its construction disruption because the only replacement they seriously considered before the March 2007 vote was an elevated replacement, engineering almost as bad as the deep bored tunnel.

The viaduct has always been an engineering monstrosity.

Consider the Belltown access to SR99:

The southbound entrance from Elliott is an uphill blind-merge. The northbound exit onto Western is a downhill speed-increasing 1-lane ramp that accellerates traffic onto surface streets or backs it up for blocks onto the AWV.

Tunnelite rebuilds SR99 beneath Elliott and Western. It makes the southbound entrance a simpler downhill clear-merge, and the exit north onto western becomes an uphill speed-decreasing 2-lane ramp that reduces backups.

The Columbia and Seneca ramps onto 1st Ave should go because traffic should not be directed on steep downtown sidestreets to 1st Ave, a major transit and pedestrian corridor where there's too much traffic. The entrance and exit to the Battery Street Tunnel also should go for much the same reason.

How could the DOTs even consider an elevated replacement? Being WSDOT means you never have to admit making gigantic mistakes. What could go wrong with the deep bore is a question its directors never ask, let alone answer.
More...
Posted by Wells on July 9, 2010 at 10:29 AM · Report this
77
@73,

You are just plain wrong. Nickels had been pushing for a tunnel for years, a solid majority of the City Council supported a tunnel for years, and the current backroom tunnel deal/proposal was the result of the aforementioned actors and the downtown business community's collective horror at the Stakeholder Group's apparent readiness to recommend the so-called "Surface/Transit" option (which, by the way, polls indicated would have been crushed by Seattle voters by a wider margin than either a tunnel or elevated replacement for the AWV).

Gregoire was ready to move forward with an elevated replacement but then got massive pushback from Nickels, the Council, and the downtown business community. You have that history exactly backwards.

http://slog.thestranger.com/2007/02/greg…
Posted by Mr. X on July 9, 2010 at 11:31 AM · Report this
78
NorthWesterners are chumps. Who cares about any of this. It may happen, it may not happen... at the end of the day it will always be slow-paced in Seattle, always boring, always filled with socially timid xenophobic passive-aggressive smug pretentious douche bags. Tunnel or other option in or out, what ever passes will not take decades to complete in sleepy slow-ass Seattle.
Posted by GetMeOutOfTheNW on July 9, 2010 at 11:53 AM · Report this
79
God. This town sucks. If anyone is new to Seattle, please note: Get the FUCK OUT. These people are all about government beaurocracy, bickering, ...anything that would provide an assertive direct decision, becuase that would not be passive aggressive. Tunnel or not, it will take DECADES until a 'solution' is provided here. In the mean time you could be in another city that acutally can offer people who respond socially let alone provide eye contact on a general basis. If the Stranger was not pretentious and smug, it would be the Seattle Weekly. But hey, you could stick around and see if will work with this tunnel thing, because maybe it wont be soo dismal next winter... yeeeah, riiight
Posted by GetMeOutOfTheNW on July 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM · Report this
80
Please just remember the experience that the fine citizens of Boston went through with the construction of the "Big Dig" and remember that along with the inevitable cost overuns YOU will be responsible for the costs this time around. Don't be fooled by the politico's current cost estimations. Those are only the beginning of the true FINAL costs.
Posted by kevin1970 on July 9, 2010 at 12:47 PM · Report this
81
Honestly, given how grotesquely over capacity Seattle's transportation system is, I don't know how any responsible adult can propose a solution that would reduce capacity so dramatically, let alone one that's so begging to fail, that gambles so much on everything going to plan.

I've been a software engineer for twenty-six years, so I know what I'm talking about when I say Murphy's Law is only funny to engineers in a bitter, ironic way. Things always go wrong - ALWAYS - and the bigger the project the more things go wrong. This one's going to explode in all kinds of ways - any experienced engineer can see it coming - yet its backers are trying to suppress candid discussion of these risks with name-calling and peer pressure.

For those who back the tunnel no matter what could go wrong, no matter how bleeding edge the proposed project is, no matter how many other Seattlite oppose it, no matter how financially vulnerable to cost overruns it makes Seattle, no matter if it financially paralyzes Seattle for the entire duration because this project consumes so much of the budget, no matter if it reduces 99's carrying capacity and spills over tens of thousands of cars onto I-5 and surface streets to clog our over-capacity transportation system, no matter if we must commit even before finishing the environmental-impact statement that might end up revealing something catastrophically disastrous lies in wait for us - for all of you who demand Seattle rush to incur this mountain of risk, I ask this simple question:

Are the problems you're trying to solve as big as the problems you will definitely create, let alone the many other potential problems that may or may not come to pass?

Removing an eyesore? Really? That's your justification for wrecking our budget, reducing our transportation capacity, and gambling with Seattle's health over the next decade?

Good God, there are Seattle neighborhoods that can't even afford sidewalks, the number of people losing their homes and living on the streets is growing faster than we can keep up with the problem, we're reducing library hours and park service, closing schools and fire stations and discussing reducing police coverage because we're so broke, but we're going to piss away all this money and maybe a lot more and we're going to take all these technical risks because it's desperately desperately important for downtown to be prettier? On what planet does that even remotely make sense?

The bored tunnel plan unbalances the entire city budget to solve a single problem, when there are other solutions that could solve the same problem more completely and with less risk while still leaving us with some money to solve our other pressing problems.

With these kinds of pressures on our city budget and with our transportation network so stressed, the only responsible way to deal with the viaduct is to pick the cheapest, surest solution that at least preserves existing capacity.

So what if a cheaper, safer, higher-capacity solution is ugly? Seattle has a lot of important problems it needs to solve, not just this one, so we have to be adult about this and sacrifice less important considerations to make sure we meet our more serious responsibilities.
More...
Posted by Frederick D. S. Marshall on July 9, 2010 at 1:19 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 82
Got cash?

...

Good.

Cause you're going to have to pay an ADDITIONAL $10,000 per household - renting or owning - in taxes for the cost overruns for the Billionaires Tunnel that we Seattle Citizens don't WANT and never VOTED for.

Enjoy going broke.

...

That's about what it costs for that cool hip car the guinea pigs ride in in that cool car commercial.

That's a lot of dough.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 9, 2010 at 1:39 PM · Report this
83
All that matters here is that @66 Amanda Foley is dead sexy. Did you see those Facebook pictures?

I could insert some crude joke about deep boring and tunneling, but I bet she has heard them all before.

I'd go all Benny-from-Total-Recall on that ass.
Posted by Ack_Ack on July 9, 2010 at 2:21 PM · Report this
84
The City of Seattle is like a drunk insisting they are going to get sober and then constantly hitting you up for more monney so they can get wasted.

The State and the Port need the viaduct capacity. The road merely goes through Seattle. The State never needed the gold plated tunnel that Seattle demanded.

The City has been all over the place. First demanding a tunnel option. Then proposing their own useless tunnel option. Then having a meaningless vote without two of the three current replacement options. Finally the Mayor coaleased on the current bored tunnel option. Then the city nominated two candidates for Mayor by a lower percentage then any of the options on the advisory vote. Then they elected a man who dropped his opposition of the tunnel because his polls told him to.

It's hard for the rest of the State to feel sorry for Seattle when we're giving them bilions for their Waterfront park.
Posted by 2cents on July 9, 2010 at 2:25 PM · Report this
85
Why don't we build a the tunnel through Elliot Bay instead? That has to be cheaper and could be expanded to have off-shoots that run to West Seattle, Bainbridge or Vashon even. The technology for big round interlocking cement pieces already exists, so why not use the bay for this? Then turn the waterfront into a mixed use area of shops and open public spaces, install the Chihuly Museum there (right next to Holland America for instance), and leave the driving under water? Could work, right?
Posted by Squidia on July 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM · Report this
86
I was just going to make a suggestion similar to what the immediately previous commenter (Squidia) said, though I would add that for most of this, we don't need to tunnel through anything -- just put down a tube on the floor of Elliott Bay, like the BART tube under SF Bay.
Posted by skaphan on July 9, 2010 at 3:54 PM · Report this
87
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...
Posted by Starliscious on July 9, 2010 at 4:25 PM · Report this
88
@85 Elliott bay/puget sound is somewhere between 500 and 1000 ft deep in some spots. Depth drops considerably right off of the waterfront. Couldn't work.
Posted by midlander on July 9, 2010 at 4:32 PM · Report this
89
@54- Manslaughter is when you pin someone down and shoot them in the back. So no.
Posted by dwight moody on July 9, 2010 at 4:35 PM · Report this
90
@75- What the ballot proved was that people wanted the surface option.
Posted by dwight moody on July 9, 2010 at 4:37 PM · Report this
91
@88 The NOAA chart at http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/… shows reasonable depths, with the deepest shown sounding anywhere east of Duwamish Head at 66 fathoms (~400ft) a little east of the line between Pier 90/91 and Duwamish Head. This tube could be built well inland of that and in shallower water. For comparison's sake, the BART trans-bay tube is in 135 ft of water, and they were able to do that almost 50 years ago.
Posted by skaphan on July 9, 2010 at 4:49 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 92
@88 the DEIS for that wouldn't even pass the sniff test - and by building in a federal waterway, you automatically involve certain oversight by other agencies that aren't directly involved in the current project scope.

But hey, live in a dream world if you want.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 9, 2010 at 5:01 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 93
on the other hand, I sure we'd enjoy watching the billboards if they did that, right? I'm hungering for some Ivar's ...
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 9, 2010 at 5:02 PM · Report this
94
@90,

On what planet? It wasn't on the ballot. All of the polling done at the time showed that it was less popular than the two options which were the subject of advisory votes, which is PRECISELY why Jan Drago et al made sure voters didn't get to weigh in on it.

There isn't majority support for any option (though I strongly suspect that retrofit would come closer than any of the others if people were actually allowed to choose it).
Posted by Mr. X on July 9, 2010 at 6:32 PM · Report this
95
The surface/transit option has less environmental impact than the Deep Bore Tunnel (DBT) because it contains the 110,000 displaced vehicles to Alaskan Way and I-5, and includes transit upgrades to provide alternatives to driving.

The DBT disperses 64,000 vehicles daily onto many additional surface streets through Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union and the Denny Way corridor as well as Alaskan Way and I-5. In other words, the DBT will make traffic worse in all these main districts.

The option which manages traffic best with the least environmental impact is some version of the cut/cover Tunnelite. WSDOT directors have always lied to the public about its construction disruption because up until the March 2007 vote they had only intended to build an elevated replacement which they gambled voters would approve. Then they found the worst option of all in the deep bore tunnel and decided the peons deserve punishment.
Posted by Wells on July 9, 2010 at 8:05 PM · Report this
slade 96
More of that Obama type magic as Mcginn was voted in to end the crap he turned around and supported after he was elected?

Well the votes of the elctions dont match the votes of projects and even if it did the crap would not end and this hole in the ground would continue as the governor would sit her nasty ass on it as would the entire circle of jerks for a few more years and in the end it would be substandared crap that would last ten years and need to be fixed or replaced with a "new Idea"

yep the south park bridge has so many angles on this story?

your vote dont mean jack shit and that mayor possition is as powerful as a pair of hobos underware? you may scare some kids with it but that about it!

no they cant replace an old bridge to south park but they can start some giant hole in the ground? that says it all?
Posted by slade http://www.youtube.com/user/guppygator on July 9, 2010 at 8:46 PM · Report this
97
Great article Dominic. In light of all of our financial problems its incredible they want to move forward with this project.

What about the suggestion above about running a Seattle inititiave to block the project?
Posted by Merkle on July 9, 2010 at 9:30 PM · Report this
98
Wow I've been away for the last 3 years and I plan on moving back in 2012. This crap is what waits for me when I get back? Those politicians in Olympia really know how to screw people over. I would love to organize a mass rally if I was back and hopefully this project doesn't see the light of day, When I get back I don't want to foot the bill for some sleazy back room sweetheart deal.
Posted by Rolex on July 10, 2010 at 5:56 AM · Report this
generp 99
THANK YOU THANK YOU for this article. Our city is seriously short sighted if it agrees to go ahead with the tunnel. What will happen when in 4-6 years of rerouting PLUS gas price hikes? People realize this was an unnecessary project and that we've been duped by those in Olympia who do not have our best interests in mind. I have a hunch that some contractors payed a special favor to someone in government and now we are getting a stupid project that will affect business downtown for 4- 6 years!!! Why ask for our opinion and then go ahead with something we've voted against.?
Posted by generp on July 10, 2010 at 11:21 AM · Report this
100
i'm shocked at the number of comments praising this article for being well written. more than half of the complaints lodged against the tunnel are the same complaints ALL constructions projects have. no matter what is done there is chance of cost overrun, it could take longer than expected and unexepected problems could occur. he should have stuck to problems with the tunnel project itself, not construction in general.
Posted by ;lkajsdf on July 10, 2010 at 9:06 PM · Report this
101
Tell all that to the state and federal judges. They wouldn't listen to our arguments and simply (and conveniently) dismissed us on technicalities. BRAVO, courts.
Posted by jjsattorney on July 11, 2010 at 1:54 PM · Report this
102
Dominic, you've really said it all (and there is a lot to be said). You've got the salient facts and the proportions of this giant hairball of a story--no more or less than enough to make sense of it. There is always an engineering explanation for why it will work, but no one's attempting to explain away the lack of basic research (EIS) and the exposure of the city to risks it has no control over. I just don't understand the legislators and other highway supporters who believe the state is doing the cranky city of Seattle a big favor. Just who are these "property owners" who are benefiting, and on the hook for overruns? And when did Richard Conlin get his lobotomy?
Posted by clair on July 11, 2010 at 4:42 PM · Report this
103
WTF!-SEATTLE! Please kill this project!!!! What A waste! Just save your money wait for an earthquake to 1/2 demolish the Alaskan Way Viaduct finish the job erect a new and improved one...trust me, it will be cheaper! I am not even living there right now but please kill this project.
Posted by jemben77 on July 11, 2010 at 8:30 PM · Report this
104
How many homeowners are there in Seattle to split this tunnel overrun bill?

These government projects usually go from 3 to 10 times over budget, up to 10 times and even more for the Pentagon and the Feds, the Big Dig in Boston being 6 times from a budgeted $2.6 billion to $15 million, I figure this one estimated at $4.2 billion will cost us about $25 billion +/- 3 billion in the end...if we're lucky.

Most of the people for this are the contractors, sub-contractors, engineers, unions, government agencies and everyone else who will financially benefit from it.

We've already got the first $100 million years before we start. The Gates Foundation has reported a problem with it going under their $500 million campus.

Good luck to us Seattle taxpayers.

I figure the overrun cost will cost Seattle homeowners about $1,100 per year for each $100,000 in home value.

But it'll probably never be finished anyway for these reasons.
Posted by ezeques on July 12, 2010 at 7:25 AM · Report this
105
Boston's Big Dig !!!! Original Budget 1985 $2.8 Billion in (2006 Dollars $6 billion) total expected cost with overruns $14.8 billion with interest on the debt $22 billion. Good luck Seattle
Posted by Bawsten on July 12, 2010 at 9:21 AM · Report this
dan10things 106
You left out another possibility of what could go wrong. The drill could break into some underground gas called The Blight and turn everyone into zombies! Oh wait, that was Boneshaker, another piece of fiction.

The surface/transit option just isn't viable, it will mean even worse traffic for those of us that drive I-5 and 99 and this town already has some of the worst traffic in the nation. The deep bore tunnel plan certainly isn't ideal and may very well have cost overruns, but, building right now is cheap and competitive and it's the path we've chosen to take. And we have quite a few great tunnels in the Seattle area that haven't been plagued with all the problems listed in your scare tactics. Most of us would rather solve this problem sooner than later, the last thing we need is to still be debating our options in another 5 years and have the viaduct collapse killing hundreds of people or closed and creating even more of a traffic nightmare than we currently have. And don't even get me started on how many times our Mayor has flip flopped on this issue and how he also wants to set back the 520 bridge build a few years be reopening it for debate. Christ, can't this city ever move ahead on a transit plan without debating it for 10 or 20 years? We need to elect people that can make decisions and follow through despite the naysayers and doomsday scenario fantasies.
Posted by dan10things http://10thingszine.blogspot.com on July 12, 2010 at 3:23 PM · Report this
107
I generally don't disagree with anything that the author has said. I just want to bring up a question.

What is better? Paying for possible cost overruns up front? or paying for a cleanup when an earthquake hits and the viaduct falls down and the piers slide into the water?

People here have a right to bitch... but let's try to be proactive and come up with alternative viable solutions. There is no doubt that something needs to be done about the crumbling viaduct and the risk during an earthquake.

I for one, don't see any problem with completely eliminating 99 through the city. I-5 is fine. Sure it would be busier, but it still wouldn't compare to the traffic going though LA, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Atlanta... you get the point.
Posted by detsea on July 12, 2010 at 4:51 PM · Report this
108
If you think the thriving metropolis of Seattle can survive without two corridors of traffic through downtown (I-5 & 99 currently), I have this proposition for you: let's clamp off half of the bloodflow of your aorta and see how you and your body handle that...

Rebuilding the viaduct would be a small fraction of this deep bore screw-job's cost --perhaps there's an even cheaper option of reinforcing the old viaduct structure that's in place, a la the pillars with steel superstructure between Yesler and S Washington.

So how does a humble un-connected John Q. Public sheeptizen do anything to stop this deep bore a$$-raping? What are your suggestions?? Sign a petition? Try to attend the stealth (when was that again?) city council meeting and register dissent in person? Sell house and move away?
Posted by $omething'$ gone wrong again on July 12, 2010 at 6:52 PM · Report this
109
@66 Well...if the editor of a new tunneling magazine says a tunnel is safe, then it must be.

Why on earth would someone trying to start a business that will be depend on advertisements from construction firms rush to the defense of an expensive and unproven project?

I'm at a loss...
Posted by wannascribble on July 12, 2010 at 10:50 PM · Report this
110
@66 Well...if the editor of a new tunneling magazine says a tunnel is safe, then it must be.

Why on earth would someone trying to start a business that will be depend on advertisements from construction firms rush to the defense of an expensive and unproven project?

I'm at a loss...
Posted by wannascribble on July 12, 2010 at 10:52 PM · Report this
111
Who hates the viaduct so much that they are willing to undertake a doomed project for tons of money we don't that won't solve any problems and will probably bankrupt Seattle, if not destroy downtown? And the rebuild option requires closing 99 for three years, which will destroy city traffic. A group of highway engineers two years ago estimated that the existing viaduct can be retrofitted in place, keeping the 99 corridor open form most of the project, to be earthquake safe for less than a billion. Why aren't we investigating this seemingly sensible option?
Posted by BuckAce on July 12, 2010 at 11:48 PM · Report this
112
I'm from Holland where they are currently drilling a tunnel below the historical city centre of Amsterdam. Even though all technicians said nothing could go wrong and buildings would at most skew or sag by 3 millimeters. They haven't even had the hairiest bit yet but already houses have been sagged so much that large cracks appear in the walls and many people have to leave their (very expensive, historical) canal houses. Generally drilling tunnels below city centres as a prestige project is a bad idea. In Amsterdam, people whisper that it'll never gain as much as it has cost...
Posted by femster on July 13, 2010 at 5:45 AM · Report this
113
Oh and did I mention that they had to TRIPPLE the budget?! And that there is "still no light at the end of the tunnel" in terms of when the project will be complete?
Good luck with yours....
Posted by femster on July 13, 2010 at 5:55 AM · Report this
Demetria 114
Please write a companion article about the hundreds of millions in city money that are piggybacked on the tunnel project and will lid Aurora Avenue for no other reason than connecting -- and vastly upping the value of -- Paul Allen's property on both sides of Aurora.
Posted by Demetria on July 13, 2010 at 9:39 AM · Report this
115
One more time: the financial angle,

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-06-30…

and the technical angle,

http://seattletransitblog.com/2010/07/07…

(Thanks to #58, NaFun for this site link -- outstanding!!! It will go under both the bus tunnel and train tunnel!)

To #66 Amanda Foley, another Brit trying to cause unprecedented ecological and economic problems in America (isn't enough you people gave us British Petroleum - BP?????), we kicked you out in the Revolutionary War, and we'll kick your limey asses out again!

To #86, skaphan, who says:

"..just put down a tube on the floor of Elliott Bay, like the BART tube under SF Bay."

Geez, dood, last scientific analyses of Elliott Bay I read stated the bottom surface was rather unstable, rising an average of 3 inches every year or so!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by sgt_doom on July 13, 2010 at 11:26 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 116
@114 - good point.

As I said, this is a Billionaires Tunnel. It's being built for them, to provide them with stuff they don't want to pay for, at public expense.

Tax exempt corporations don't even pay most Seattle taxes, and they don't even LIVE in Seattle.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 13, 2010 at 12:30 PM · Report this
117
And people wonder why I left Seattle. There has been discussion about what to do about the Alaskan Way since before I was in high school almost 20 years ago. Way to be progressive folks!

I'll bet too that in another 20 years a similar debate will be going on, except it will be between those who want to remove the tunnel due to the economic and environmental disaster it caused (buildings sagging, Pioneer square/surfaces streets/I5 beyond gridlock all the time) and rebuild the Viaduct, vs. those that say it must be kept as it hasn't paid off the bills!
Posted by Tom from PDX on July 13, 2010 at 3:20 PM · Report this
118
Dear Editor,

I want to compliment Dominic Holden on the astute, insightful, educational, well researched and objective article he wrote on the prospective deep bore tunnel. It’s a landslide of info that should be reprinted in all papers and reported on in all forms of media in the state.

If this quality of reporting were present in all our media we wouldn’t be facing as many critical problems re the environment, invasions and occupations of other countries, financial collapses and depressions etc.

Fantastic work and writing Dominic!

One thing I might add that you didn’t touch on and that is how the city council, governor, former mayor et al, could plan on putting so much financial support toward a project that supports the fossil fuel burning industries 81 days after the catastrophe in the Gulf. Am actually glad you didn’t, but stuck to the facts re this potential disaster of a deep bore tunnel. Yeahhhh for Dominic….and for the Stranger and Editor for printing the story!

Posted by 4 alivablegreener seattle on July 13, 2010 at 4:27 PM · Report this
119
Dear Editor,

I want to compliment Dominic Holden on the astute, insightful, educational, well researched and objective article he wrote on the prospective deep bore tunnel. It’s a landslide of info that should be reprinted in all papers and reported on in all forms of media in the state.

If this quality of reporting were present in all our media we wouldn’t be facing as many critical problems re the environment, invasions and occupations of other countries, financial collapses and depressions etc.

Fantastic work and writing Dominic!

One thing I might add that you didn’t touch on and that is how the city council, governor, former mayor et al, could plan on putting so much financial support toward a project that supports the fossil fuel burning industries 81 days after the catastrophe in the Gulf. Am actually glad you didn’t, but stuck to the facts re this potential disaster of a deep bore tunnel. Yeahhhh for Dominic….and for the Stranger and Editor for printing the story!

Posted by 4 alivablegreener seattle on July 13, 2010 at 4:33 PM · Report this
120

"The Monorail"

What else do you need to recall?
Posted by Tard on July 13, 2010 at 5:03 PM · Report this
121
Is it true that three out of four tunnel advocacy magazines recommend a deep-bore option for their readers who chew gum?
Posted by Wanker on July 13, 2010 at 5:54 PM · Report this
Posted by sgt_doom on July 13, 2010 at 6:21 PM · Report this
123
Pay your way! Seattle, it is time to pay for those things you want. You want an unobstucted view for a few old white guys with awesome view offices? pay for it! you want a new waterfront and seawall? pay for it! You stupid pussies! this is your city and you want some dumbfuck redeck in Eastern Washington to pay for YOUR waterfront? Up yours! Pay for it!
Posted by mcguired on July 13, 2010 at 10:29 PM · Report this
Dr_Zhivago 124
SO is there a conflict of interest here? Due to the fact that if Seattle property owners incur new debt because of cost over-runs by the state project, if they default because they owe so much, their property is forfeited back to the state or whatever? Is like a wild west landgrab if you ask me. Like a coerced eviction.
Posted by Dr_Zhivago on July 13, 2010 at 10:57 PM · Report this
artistdogboy 125
"The sky is falling, the sky is falling"
Posted by artistdogboy http://artistdogboy.blogspot.com/ on July 14, 2010 at 8:45 AM · Report this
sven forkbeard 126
Tunnel-boring might end up costing all taxpayers millions or billions but cut-and-cover can end up costing the livelihoods of local citizens. Just take a look at the recent cut-and-cover controversy that surrounded Vancouver's recent Canada Line Skytrain construction. Millions were lost straight out of the pockets of businesses along Cambie Street, which saw years of dynamite, severely reduced traffic flow, impassable boundaries, blocked turns, etc. etc. etc. Beyond that, businesses affected by cut-and-cover could easily sue the local/state governments for even more money.
Posted by sven forkbeard on July 14, 2010 at 10:04 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 127
@123, you are hilarious. You do know Seattle's money goes to pay for things all over the state? On average, Seattle pays out more, a lot more, in state tax money than it takes in. If you think tax money should be spent locally - don't go there. The rest of this state can't support itself.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on July 14, 2010 at 10:26 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 128
I say we in Seattle should form our own State, with our own County, and let the rest of Washington suddenly realize HOW MUCH we subsidize them.

Plus, bonus points, we'd get two US Senators. And two Congressmembers.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 14, 2010 at 10:58 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 129
By the way, Dominic deserves a Pulitzer for this series.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 14, 2010 at 12:43 PM · Report this
130
What could go wrong? Three words for you: Boston's Big Dig.
Posted by California woman on July 14, 2010 at 3:34 PM · Report this
131
To @115, sgt_doom, who says

"Geez, dood, last scientific analyses of Elliott Bay I read stated the bottom surface was rather unstable, rising an average of 3 inches every year or so!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

OK, where is that information? I couldn't find it with a casual search on Google. Is it online somewhere?

Posted by skaphan on July 14, 2010 at 10:56 PM · Report this
132
"no they cant replace an old bridge to south park but they can start some giant hole in the ground? that says it all?"

Not the best of grammar and syntax. But this, as the poster says, "says it all". Great article Dominick.

The tunnel is a scam. I love how some are sardonically questioning if Mr. Holden is a geologist all of a sudden. No, idiot, he's a motherfucking journalist. Remember those days when we had those?
Posted by ortolan on July 16, 2010 at 5:52 AM · Report this
133
Great info about the Chunnel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Channel_Tun…
80% cost overrun for two 25 foot tunnels. "Surveying undertaken in the twenty years before tunnel construction confirmed earlier speculations that a tunnel route could be bored through a chalk marl stratum. The chalk marl was conducive to tunnelling, with impermeability, ease of excavation and strength."
So the soil was good for tunneling and the tunnels were half as large. 80% cost overruns.
Posted by Nick2 on July 24, 2010 at 10:50 AM · Report this
134
All of us need to get involved in stopping this coming disaster. Go to city Council meetings and scream bloody murderous fraud. Write your legislators. I am for starting a group somewhere where we can meet and organize. The no tunnel alliance etc. meetup or yahoo group. facebook etc.
Holy Crap Batman. I looked up the tunnel plans on WSDOT. The tunnel uses plastic parts to hold the dowels in place under the water level only 50 to 100' from the seawall. I have been writing to City Officials and WSDOT and Gregiores office and legislators. I have a better design for how to fix this problem that everyone overlooked. I cant get City Council to call me. I am going to get ahold of Frank Chopp though. ANyone with me on this email me at artandguitar@yahoo.com
Great work Dominic. You deserve some keys to the city.
Posted by artandguitar on September 30, 2010 at 12:08 AM · Report this
135
Re-reading this great article... I'm a home-grown West Seattle-ite. Not only does this plan screw everyone budgetwise, but completely fucks West Seattle in terms of commuting downtown. Makes me want to cry.

We need a secession. FREE WEST SEATTLE!!
Posted by WestSeattleite on July 21, 2011 at 9:38 AM · Report this
136
Only "government" can "blank" up as much as this.
As a government employee engineer, I watch political appointed clowns bring what was a fairly functional city, completely to its knees. I too grew up here.

West Seattle had a solution, monorail. compared to light rail, it takes 1/3 the time to build, 1/3 the cost to build, it travels 3 times as fast, transports about 3 times as many persons, and costs 1/3 as much to operate, and compared to light rail that travels on street levels, with cars and pedestrians, is about 10 times as safe. Monorail was killed by the local evil and for-sale politicians.

The dirty secret of light rail in Seattle’s Rainer valley. its already killed a significant number of people, and will continue to.

The viaduct, should have simply been rebuilt. it cost the least (by far), was the safest (by far), was the shortest in duration of build (by far). And would have worked better, day in and day out, by far. So.. why did that idea die? same as the monorail, it was killed by the local evil and for-sale politicians
Posted by Bloefeld on October 21, 2011 at 8:30 AM · Report this
137
Only "government" can "blank" up as much as this.
As a government employee engineer, I watch political appointed clowns bring what was a fairly functional city, completely to its knees. I too grew up here.

West Seattle had a solution, monorail. compared to light rail, it takes 1/3 the time to build, 1/3 the cost to build, it travels 3 times as fast, transports about 3 times as many persons, and costs 1/3 as much to operate, and compared to light rail that travels on street levels, with cars and pedestrians, is about 10 times as safe. Monorail was killed by the local evil and for-sale politicians.

The dirty secret of light rail in Seattle’s Rainer valley. its already killed a significant number of people, and will continue to.

The viaduct, should have simply been rebuilt. it cost the least (by far), was the safest (by far), was the shortest in duration of build (by far). And would have worked better, day in and day out, by far. So.. why did that idea die? same as the monorail, it was killed by the local evil and for-sale politicians
Posted by Bloefeld on October 21, 2011 at 8:36 AM · Report this
138
Good prediction! will we just bury the TBM where it is or will we dig it out and send it back?
Posted by Tuco on February 21, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this

Add a comment

Most Commented in Pullout