By John Ryan, August 1, 2013
Correction 8/1/13: A previous version of this story stated that the tunnel contractor had drilled through a power line but missed hitting live wires. In fact, the tunnel contractor drilled through a concrete power vault and it missed hitting the power lines inside.
The world’s largest tunneling machine started grinding into the soil beneath downtown Seattle Tuesday afternoon. The machine known as Bertha is digging a 58-foot-wide tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
As it works its way north, it will come within a foot or two of the century-old One Yesler Way building, right next to the viaduct. A motion detector on the roof there uses a laser to see if the massive tunnel machine causes the surface, or the building above it, to move at all. It's part of a network of devices the tunnel contractors have put up all along the two-mile route.
"We’re hoping at least what we’re told, we won’t feel it, or feel it very little," said Bryan Runberg, owner of One Yesler Way.
His building has already suffered some damage from work getting the ground ready for Bertha. Mortar has fallen from its brick walls onto the sidewalk and onto desks at Runberg’s architecture firm. "We did have a sewer line that broke, which seems to have come from the soil movement as well," Runberg said.
Runberg’s isn’t the only sewer line damaged by the tunnel work.
As Publicola first reported last week, early underground work on the tunnel has caused sewage spills and damage to water mains.
Last week Seattle Public Utilities said that workers with the Washington State Department of Transportation's tunnel contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, had drilled through a live power vault but were fortunate to miss hitting the power lines contained inside. A power vault is a concrete structure that houses equipment such as underground transformers, connectors and power lines.
Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light and the Port of Seattle have all clashed with Seattle Tunnel Partners. That’s according to an internal email from Ray Hoffman, the head of Seattle Public Utilities.
Replacing the viaduct is expected to cost a total of $3 billion and is scheduled to be done in 2019.
July 23 email from the head of Seattle Public Utilities to Ethan Raup, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's Director of Policy and Operations:
(Please see website for the email.)
Morning Fizz: Internal SPU Email Details Tunnel Blunders
July 26, 2013
Apparently, the June 24 and 25 STP construction mishaps were simply the latest in a long list of construction blunders.
In mid-July, we reported that the Washington State Department of Transportation had issued a temporary stop work order
on the Seattle Tunnel Project—the group of contractors doing the
waterfront tunnel construction —after workers had slammed into a Seattle
City Light electrical vault and a Seattle Public Utilities sewer line
in late June.
According to an SPU email sent to the mayor's staff this week, and obtained by PubliCola, titled "A brief history of Bored Tunnel construction impacts to SPU facilities," STP construction dating back to 2012 and running up through spring of 2013 has caused, among other things: "excessive settlement from dewatering," "red-alert level" water main "leaking," "failure to notify SPU of illicit discharge ... into Elliott Bay," "unusual readings in overflow monitoring system" resulting in a "third discharge violation," and "knock[ing] the the top off of a combined sewer maintenance hole and fail[ure] to notify SPU causing a dry weather overflow."
The email also documents STP's petulant and delinquent responses to warnings. The email notes:
SPU isolates zone and requests replacement, or temporary main, so zone can be re-opened before Safe Have 3 cut & Cap; STP refuses. SPU refuses to send crews out for Safe Haven 3 work until the replacement is complete. STP backs down and constructs a temporary 8” and WSDOT verbally promises to provide a permanent 12-inch replacement after tunneling. ... STP indicates they will not proactively replace the Alaskan Way 12” [water main] from Main to Yesler before tunneling. SPU points out the risk to the Port and requests WSDOT to enforce their contract and WSDOT does so. STP has started construction of the replacement. ... Failure to timely replace temporary sewer constriction in Alaskan Way at King St. ... After a protracted battle starting in August 2012, STP replaces a temporary 12” flex pipe sewer constriction at downstream end of Alaskan Way 21-inch sewer at King Street in March 2013.
There definitely seems to be some Existential angst about the tunnel project.
With notes about Notices of Violation (NOV), and cynical commentary of STP's "Root Cause Analysis" (which STP was asked to prepare for WSDOT in response to all the problems), SPU concludes its email with a summary of the contentious relationship:
Currently WSDOT has shut down STP’s work on the west side of the north portal pit. WSDOT sounds like they are serious about getting STP in line. SPU, SCL [Seattle City Light] and SDOT are working with WSDOT to respond the STP’s root cause analysis. WSDOT wants the City to be satisfied with STP’s response. Attached is a DRAFT response from SPU to the RCA (XXXX is editing the SPU response as our legal Catcher in the Rye)I'm not sure I get the Catcher in the Rye reference, but there definitely seems to be some existential angst at City Hall about the tunnel project.