By Andrew Smith, March 7, 2014
Here’s what we know so far about the SR-99 tunnelling project:
- Bertha, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) has been more or less completely blocked since early December.
- The TBM was damaged in part by a metal pipe WSDOT installed to study this tunnel project’s feasibility.
- The tunneling won’t start again until the end of the summer, with the tunnelling contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) hoping it will begin by Sept. 1st at the earliest.
- The TBM had problems early on, during testing after construction in Japan.
- Internal reports from the STP and WSDOT show that there are more problems with coordination and oversight. It also shows that the tunnelling was never on track, even before the current stoppage.
- Viaduct traffic is down 40% in the past three years.
- In order to raise the needed tolls to help pay for the tunnel, more trips would need to go through the tunnel than currently travel the viaduct. It’s worth noting the viaduct serves more locations than the tunnel would.
- WSDOT’s traffic projections have been off, as traffic as been declining on all roads, rather than increasing.
- There’s also confusion over who will pay for the now-certain cost-overruns.
Bertha is stuck fairly early on, which is extremely fortunate; contractors are able to build vertical tunnels down to where Bertha is to work on it, since there are no buildings over the tunnel there. Now look at the rest of the tunnel route. It goes under Pioneer Square, the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, etc. If the tunnel had become stuck there, it would have been much more difficult to create those channels, as vertical tunnelling would involve tearing out important civic institutions.
If these bearing seals have been bad twice, are we 100% sure they won’t be bad again? Are we sure there are no other old bits of rubbish and debris lying under downtown Seattle? Are we willing to risk digging under Pike Place Market to find out?
How many problems does a project need to have before we re-think its necessity? The risk is just far too great for the little use this tunnel is going to have. I think it’s time to pull the plug on Bertha and this tunnel.
 That pipe was put in place in 2002, and was used as recently as 2010. It was also noted on maps and materials provided to the STP.
 You know, just downtown, Belltown, the cruise-ship terminal, and Denny Way.