Guest Editorial: Seattle, Pull the Plug on the Tunnel Unless You Can Answer These Seven Questions


It's a state road, still.
And the state's plan B would be another viaduct.
come back, Dominic. The Stranger recently devoted an entire issue to humping a suburban mall's leg. Or... don't come back, I suppose.
@2 is wrong - official backup is cut and cover trench tunnel - but surface boulevard makes more sense with truck/transit only lanes no parking & on demand turn lights for freight & transit
Point 5. Governor announced zero funding for SR99 Tunnel today
I forget, is Burgess running for reelection, or is he retiring?
I guess, in some minor, ironic, self-indulgent way.. I am glad that I am not a property owner and that I don't pay income taxes to pay for this major error. I guess we'll all suffer with the coming sales tax hike later on. Or maybe Gregoire/Inslee/ could find a way to soak our local billionaires and other rich types for this newly reamed hole that they (she) wanted so much.

In the other way, I am sad. Maybe living here was a bad idea in the end.
A half-tunnel is a nice replacement for the Montlake ramps to nowhere.
great post. the key question is when does STP give up?
This is the dumbest thing. We've been humping this dead drill for over a year. A YEAR. A SOLID FUCKING YEAR.

I'm glad Gregoire is gone. But, really...this was the most fucked thing that we could have done for all the reasons Dominic listed in his original article. I partially blame the Sierra Club fuckers, and both McGinn and Dominic's constant embrace of those bike assholes, because their "Stop supporting cars" idiocy threw so much doubt on the critics of the tunnel that it drowned out all the real world and practical concerns over the tunnel manufacturing.


Now what do we do about it? We demand a backup plan (preferably a solid wall viaduct that cuts off all the fucking coastal views to the property owners who pushed this shit through) and we demand it be invoked now.

As if anybody would listen to us.
Nice to see another stranger "tunnel boring report" that's not about the tunnel in Cap Hill.
@10, blisteringly hot take. Very incisive analysis. 10/10, would mock again. Pro-cycling infrastructure clearly at fault here. Wow.

Just amazing.
Damn it's great to see you back, Dominic if only for one article. But, double damn, what a painful reminder of how fast and low The Stranger/Slog have fallen.
We miss you Mr. Holden!

Great article. Thank you.
@3 - Or gather all the other Stranger expats we miss and start a new paper: The Strangler.
The reason it broke is because the state was running it at something like 120% of normal. The contractor said it would break. It did. Why did they run it so hard? Because if it tunneled another 1000ft (or some such distance) the state owned the machine. But since it broke, the contractor owns it and the repair costs.

Before it broke down, there was talk of a mediator being called in because the meetings between the contractor and state were so contentious. Still are.
The Stranger isn't the same without you Dominic!
Dom has a good column at his current work

That said, time to pull the plug.

@16: um, the state was not running Bertha, the contractor was. Also, it is not the state that is on the hook for the cost of the borer, it's STP -- the contractors -- they are the ones buying it.

I didn't keep track of what his current work is, other than that it's elsewhere.
Maybe we could all move to New York City if the tunnel goes bust? I hear that it's dangerously underpopulated nowadays.
Dominic's piece is a painful reminder of how dumbed down The Stranger has become. It's target audience now seems to be pot and booze addled undergrads.

Yeah. let's have more Drunk of the Week type columns.
some of Dom's questions can't be answered until they get to the goddamn drill head.

STP likely has a schedule but if I were them I wouldn't release it to anyone. the knives are out.

1. figure out what's going on with the dewatering. determine a safe rate of pumping for all the rickety historical fabric in P Sq.
2. get to the goddamn drill head.
3, pull it out and figure out wtf happened.

THEN release a new schedule.
@22 - to be fair—speaking as someone that's been reading it since the fold-out newsprint days—that's basically always been their demo.
You do a great job of identifying all the problems (as most writers in the Stranger do). That's great, but any thoughts for a solution? Or are you just going to complain like everyone else?
Perini, a partner in STP, just announced a settlement in litigation regarding the MGM City Center tower in Las Vegas. As part of the settlement, Perini will receive over $190 million. If it comes down to it, there's a good chance Perini walks away with taxpayer money in their pockets.…

@10- You blame people who had an opinion on a relatively unrelated issue because other people had a negative opinion about them and so they did something stupid?


@22- Drunk of the Week and other such columns were going on well before Dominic left. I like Dominic's work, but let's not start imagining golden ages when there were none. Nor should there be one. The Stranger is a dirty rag and I love it.
From a retarded cop to a retarded councilmember, big leap, huh?
@10: Yes, yes, the bicyclists caused the tunnel. And the Jews.

Why the Jews?

Why the bicyclists?

(If you weren't intentionally referring to it, you kinda walked right into it.)
@10 calls it correctly. The surface transit cabal distracted many from dealing with what was then the only practical real solution, that is, fixing and repairing the viaduct.
@22 - Maybe they can't afford better investigative writers? Or maybe J-schools are turning out less-qualified journalists, because Internet, ergo interest in that major has dropped. I really don't know; but I do know that Slog's quality has dropped some in the past two years at least. :>(
Here's how we make our money back:

1. Take Bertha apart. Piece at a time and sell it for parts/scrap

2. Take the 1000 feet of hole we've already dug and make it a museum to Seattle's idiotic leadership. See the cowardly mayor Paul Schell close down the space needle on New years because "terrorists!" See the wax museum mock up of "Nickelsville"! See the Seattle City Council put a monorail funding bill on the ballet 8 times in 20 years and STILL never make the goddamn thing! Just a testament to the stupidity of the local politics.

It would make Parks and Rec look like the West fucking Wing.
The partial tunnel should be converted into a homeless shelter.
The partial tunnel will be made into... a completed tunnel.
Oh whoa is us, mistakes have been made. Everything is so difficult, so costly.
It has been clear from day one that there is a sizable constituency in this state that would love to shove a rebuilt highway just like the existing viaduct but bigger safer and more more right down Seattle's historic waterfront. Those of us who grew up in (and with) Seattle can't abide by that, so we'll build this damn tunnel. No to more elevated concrete.
Cut and cover had it's merits (I was a yes) but couldn't get over the disruption. So be it, the Bertha disruption is still pretty small.
And while I have no doubt that eventually we'll have everything and more on the surface, that was never going to be the replacement for State Highway 99. I'm glad we're going to bury it at least, even if it takes a while. After we've spent multiple billions getting the rickety highway squished underground (and tolled), maybe then we'll be able to see that a spare billion or so for vastly improved mass transit is a good deal after all.
Now we get to carry on.
Question for Dominic -- several years ago, should King County have abandoned the Brightwater tunnel project when one of its drilling machines broke down underground? Did you take a similar position with that project that you are now with the tunnel in Seattle?
@24: But when Stranger/Slog had 5 good writers -- Goldy, Paul, Dom, Cienna, and Anna -- it was a modified Golden Age. Only one's left. Most recently, I really miss Anna for her great City Hall reportage.
@35 no budget funding for SR99 so that only allows for ZERO problems - and we know there are more to come

Stick a fork in Bertha, she's done
Hi Dominic! Great to see your writings again!
@37: agreed. One of the things I miss about Cienna and Anna's absence is the total lack of posts re "the ladies". Has there even been a post of feminist outrage since their departure?
Anybody know if the water being pumped is fresh or salt? If salt it may take a little longer to dewater.
TBF, the lying in contract bidding is encouraged by the fact that usually the lowest bid wins, which is partly driven by anti-government nimrods demanding the government pay as little as possible for anything whatsoever. You get what you pay for. They don't seem to understand this.
Solution: Raise the streets, like after the 1889 fire. What is now ground level will become a big underground grid of traffic.

You're welcome.
@28 (et al) The Sierra Club wasn't unrelated. They were chiming in as anti-viaduct, anti-tunnel, anti-everything but bike paths. Maybe you weren't here back then, or don't remember, but I remember people being all "Dominic and McGinn are just being paranoid anti-car bike humpers. Look! They're in bed with the Sierra Club."

Jon Stewart would sum up the Sierra Club's participation in the debate as "You're not helping!"
@ 36, did the Brightwater project have anything in common with the Alaskan Way tunnel project, aside from the tunnel boring aspect? Particularly, did it have any of the same unanswered questions hanging over it? If not, it doesn't make for much of a valid comparison.
Aaron @35, when you write, "maybe then we'll be able to see that a spare billion or so for vastly improved mass transit is a good deal after all," you come across as someone for whom transit is an afterthought. Where exactly is there a spare billion for transit? My recollection is that any funds that might have gone to transit (A) were more along the lines of $100 million and (B) were never committed to and were soon swallowed up in all the cost-cutting.

And if "vastly improved mass transit" is something you think can be accomplished with "spare" funds, whether those funds be some fantastical billion dollars or some amount more worthy of the word "spare," that's an indication you have little idea what mass transit is or the sort of commitment it takes to make it "vastly improved."

Aaron, please don't insult the intelligence of those of us out there who actually care about vastly improving mass transit as much as you apparently care about vastly improving the downtown waterfront or vastly improving the experience of drivers who could use a north-south downtown bypass.

For anyone who actually cares about, or who has given any serious thought to, "vastly improved mass transit" in this corridor, the only real option out there (and it's an option that requires a real commitment from real voters and real taxpayers) ain't coming as part of the tunnel project. It's a new light rail corridor from Ballard to downtown and on to West Seattle that would be featured in a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.
@46 - Here here! I, for one, would *love* to see a real light rail/mass transit option running from B'lard to downtown to W. Seattle.

Also, I would like to see regular and frequent rail trips from Everett, to Seattle, to Tacoma and Olympia... to, you know, reduce pressure on I-5.

But no, those won't happen --if at all-- for at least another 20-30 years, IMHO.

I also seriously doubt I'll ever take the tolled SR99 Bertha Tunnel (should it be completed), except for maybe once or twice to just check it out... ON MY BICYCLE DURING CRITICAL MASS. :>P *
treacle @47: But no, those won't happen --if at all-- for at least another 20-30 years, IMHO.

treacle, I'm curious as to the source of your pessimism. My understanding is that a downtown-to-Ballard route is among those being seriously considered for Sound Transit 3, which could go to the ballot in 2016. If it passes, then it's going to be another 20 years until it opens. But in my book, at least come the day after Election Day 2016 it's "happening," present tense.

To the extent that I have any pessimism about this, it would be about ST3 making the ballot at all in 2016. They can't unless they get the state legislature to authorize new funding sources, and I don't know how they're going to pull that off.
Technically, if you presented half of these questions to Sound Transit, they wouldn't be able to answer them as they draw up plans to tunnel under Seattle neighborhoods.

@ 49, technically, Sound Transit hasn't been stopped dead for a year without an estimate for when it can get back to work. Technically, that means most of these questions have absolutely no reason to be asked of ST.
@46: Uh, thanks for calling me out and suggesting I've engaged in insulting behavior because I guess you mis-undstand me (my bad, habit of oblique conversation). FWIW, in the Seattle core where I live and work I more often ride a bike or a bus than drive or ride in a passenger vehicle.
My point is that we started this civic project and now we're going to finish it too. We've gotten out of the habit of civic spending and that should change. There is abundant wealth to support the public commons, but we've taken to accepting that such wealth is unavailable. One of the things I expect will come out of the 99 tunnel (eventually) is an understanding that civic projects are worthwhile. Spending more on mass transit in such an environment is more likely than it is now.
From what I hear the light rail corridor dreamt of should go from West Seattle to Downtown, then continue on to Ballard (northward build out, not southward). Ballard is over built now anyhow and should probably sink under its own weight. Maybe we can build in both directions when we get back in the habit of spending on the public commons.
Hey, great! I'm all for sitting this project down. Just one thing - how do we do that? Writing the mayor seems fruitless. The city council doesn't give a shit and probably can't stop it anyhow.
@45 - the Brightwater project was quite controversial and began having major cost overrun problems. The tunnel project was arguably more complicated than downtown Seattle, as it had multiple contractors and multiple machines and is much, much longer. But because it wasn't going on in downtown Seattle, 99% of the people bitching about the downtown tunnel never paid attention or gave a crap.

They managed to make Brightwater happen even with a broken machine. The downtown tunnel will get done, it's just a question of how much it will cost. I tend to think that it shouldn't take 2-3 hours to get from West Seattle to downtown during rush hour, so I'm in favor of it happening.
Will in Seattle argues for the shallow Trench cut/cover tunnel option studied in 2008. While it should be considered a viable alternative, the 2009 FEIS includes only the Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall alternative for good reason. It's the only cut-cover possible to construct while the AWV remains standing. It makes a sturdy seawall and a massive earthquake barrier not possible with the cheap, weak "drill-fill sea fence" Wsdot prefers. And it is still possible by directing the completed segment of the bore tunnel to its portal and finish that type tunnel near Pike. The 'double-deck' bore at this point is below the level of the Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall as proposed, but a 3rd deck above the other two could be constructed as a parking level for Coleman Dock and Waterfront employees.

Careful study of the Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall reveals how Wsdot and Sdot directors and department heads committed fraud, rigged their studies AND the 2007 voter referendum. While it was ready for public review in 2006, it was kept under wraps until 2009. While Wsdot based objections against cut-cover tunnel options as too disruptive to construct, they kept this 'least disruptive' option out of the public discourse, probably gambling that voters would approve their elevated replacement monstrosity. Yet, it made it into the FEIS as the most ideal cut-cover.

We are at a crossroads, people. Wsdot committed fraud and now plan to use State transportation resources to dedicate the Pacific Northwest as a fossil fuel export corridor. Were their studies conducted honestly in this regard? No way.
Oh, you with your "questions" wanting "specific" "answers." SO pedantic of you.

@54 I don't argue for that - actually the most optimal solution is a modern Viaduct rebuild, second most optimal is surface plus transit, third etc are the less optimal cut and cover tunnels.

But the Powers That Be sold you a bill of goods.
@53, was Brightwater, even with its length, as expensive a project? Did it have a ticking timeclock aspect the way replacing the one-day-it-will-collapse Alaskan Way viaduct? From what I read, while it had its own challenging engineering problems, digging parallel to the waterfront within 100 yards of it wasn't one of them, nor was using as huge a boring machine as Big Bertha.

But that's mostly immaterial, because the real problem with the Alaskan Way tunnel seem to be the fact that there was virtually no contingency plan in place for what has happened, even though all the problems were eminently foreseeable, nor is there a plan in place for covering what may be enormous cost overruns. Was that also the case with Brightwater?
@57 -- Brightwater wound up costing almost $2 billion. And yes, it did have a ticking time clock element -- without it, King County's sewer system would be overloaded and incapable of handling any new growth. Had the tunnel boring for Brightwater failed, the entire plant would have been rendered useless.

So yeah, even though it flew under the radar, it had a lot of the same issues the viaduct does. In many ways it was more serious, as if the Brightwater tunnel boring failed, it would've caused all new growth in North King and a big chunk of South Snohomish counties to grind to a complete halt. But they figured it out on the fly and got it done. It cost more money than originally planned to be sure, but they made it happen.

The same thing will wind up happening here.
You gotta know when to fold em, know when to hold em, know when to
As Bax says, this project isn't going anywhere. They are going to keep trying to build it no matter what. Once the machine gets fixed, it will start drilling again. If it breaks down again, they'll just fix it again. Or at least try. Eventually, if STP goes bankrupt, then that could actually stop the project. Then Seattle would have a REAL mess.

It's funny how the Stranger was an adamant supporter of another huge megaproject that promised great things with a design-build contract. The Green Line Monorail project. They hid everything from the public for 9 months. Thankfully, lots of citizen activists didn't support the project and eventually the project was cancelled, before any dirt was turned. Sadly, that is not the case here.
Dominic's opinions and conclusions are not based on logic. Why would the state make a plan b assuming the contractor who is on contract is going to abandon the project? Just to be clear Dominic thinks the state should go out and write a contract with another contractor with the assumption that Tutor Perini and Dragados is going to default on their contract? Cost overruns aren't lies. ESTIMATES are exactly that estimates! Nobody can account for unforeseen circumstances. I would be more concerned about owners such as Sound Transit being under budget. What that means to me is Sound Transit is "PADDING their engineering estimates.

Remember what ever you read is only part of the story. Regardless who writes the they're not all powerful and knowing. For the most part they're outsiders making assumptions regarding something they don't know the facts about.