To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Big Bertha in Seattle News: Video by Joe Cano

Night shifts at L.A.-area ports to be cut, in latest move during talks


By Andrew Khouri, January 13, 2015

Trucks on the road to the ports
Trucks make their way out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on the 710 Freeway.

Employers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will no longer order dockworkers to unload ships at night, a move they contend will help relieve crushing congestion on the waterfront.

The labor cut, scheduled to begin Tuesday, is intended to put fewer new containers on docks that are near capacity, allowing night-shift workers to focus on clearing the cargo boxes already there, said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping lines and terminal operators.
Workers will still be called at night to put containers onto trucks and rail cars and will also unload ships during the day, he said.

But the union representing West Coast dockworkers said the work reduction would increase port congestion and is intended to pressure union negotiators who have been attempting to reach a new labor agreement for eight months.

If cargo isn't unloaded at night, the backup of ships anchored off the coast will grow, said Adan Ortega, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 in San Pedro.
“It can only do one thing -- it can only make it worse,” he said.

Last week, tensions between the sides appeared to ease when employers and the union asked for federal mediation to help reach a new contract for about 20,000 West Coast dockworkers.

But the two sides have broken their brief silence, issuing dueling news releases that blamed each other for severe cargo congestion up and down the coast.

The bottlenecks have wreaked havoc on supply chains across the country and caused some businesses to lose sales.
“[Employers appear] to be abusing public ports and putting the economy at risk in a self-serving attempt to gain the upper hand at the bargaining table,” the union said.

Employers also accuse the union of trying to gain leverage during negotiations. They say the union is  deliberately slowing operations at ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.

The union, however, has said congestion is the result of employer-induced snafus, including a shortage of trailers that truckers use to haul goods from the ports and the rise of massive container ships that have overwhelmed the docks.

Before the slowdown accusation first surfaced, L.A. and Long Beach were already experiencing the worst congestion in a decade. The two ports make up the nation's largest cargo container complex, receiving about 40% of the nation's imported goods.

In L.A. and Long Beach, employers say the union has refused since November to dispatch many skilled crane operators who put cargo containers onto trucks and rail cars.

The tactic has reduced the number of workers and worsened congestion at the two ports, employers say.

But Ortega said the union stopped dispatching untrained, non-certified crane operators for safety reasons, following several accidents. He said employers have failed to train enough workers.

The five major West Coast ports are now “approaching complete gridlock,” according to employers.
"The [union] slowdowns and the resulting operational environment are no longer sustainable,” Getzug said.

Two weeks ago, employers reduced the number of workers called to unload ships at night in Los Angeles and Long Beach, saying doing so would allow them to more easily clear congested yards.

Getzug said that reduction led to “some incremental improvements” and employers hope that by stopping all-night unloading improvement will quicken.

Current contract talks have been ongoing since May and dockworkers have been working without a deal for more than six months.

The talks are the most heated since 2002. Then, following slowdown accusations, employers locked out workers for 10 days, shutting ports along the West Coast and sending ripples through the national economy.

Employers haven’t threatened such an action this time.

Westbound 10 Freeway reopens after big-rig fire


By Veronica Rocha and Matt Hamilton, January 13, 2014

The westbound 10 Freeway in East Los Angeles reopened just before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, more than five hours after flames engulfed a big-rig and snarled traffic on both sides of the busy roadway.

Los Angeles County firefighters responded just after 11 a.m. to the burning truck, which ignited after the driver stopped under the North Eastern Avenue overpass, about a quarter of a mile west of the 710 Freeway, said county fire Inspector Rick Flores.
The westbound 10 freeway and the Eastern Avenue overpass reopened following inspection by state engineers, said California Department of Transportation spokesman Patrick Chandler. Two eastbound lanes had also been closed but were reopened about 12:30 p.m.

The Campus Road on-ramp remained closed as hazardous materials crews continued removing diesel fuel that had leaked from the truck onto the pavement, Chandler said.

The freeway was not damaged in the blaze, but the overpass sustained cosmetic damage, Chandler said. Crews will return later to clean soot from the underside of the bridge.
What prompted the hours-long delay was uncertainty over whether the fire was extinguished. The truck fire was put out promptly, but flames caught at least some of the wood frame built into the bridge, which was built in the 1950s, Chandler said.
As traffic backed up more than four miles into East L.A., the county Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team drilled holes in the overpass and inserted fiber optic cameras to determine whether the fire was burning, Flores said.
Caltrans engineers conducted sound and visual tests on both the westbound 10 Freeway and the overpass, spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said.
It’s unclear what sparked the fire. The California Highway Patrol has launched an investigation into the incident.

The truck was carrying washing machines, TVs and other appliances, Flores said. The driver was uninjured.

Seattle Officials Not Warned About "Catastrophic Failure" Concerns for Bertha Rescue Pit


By Sydney Brownstone, January 12, 2015

 Why did WSDOT tell its contractor to stop digging Berthas rescue pit in mid-December? Was it because engineers warned of imminent doom?

 Why did the state quietly tell its contractor to stop digging Bertha's rescue pit in mid-December? Was it because engineers warned of imminent doom?

 The Washington State Department of Transportation has not been straight with Seattle.

Last week, in a damning letter from Seattle's own Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities, city officials called on the state to explain why Bertha's rescue pit engineers had apparently warned about "risk of a catastrophic failure" for the pit as early as December 11. (The same day that a growing crack in Pioneer Square caught everyone's attention.)

Ah, catastrophic failure. What more could a troubled project wish for?

This story of an alarming warning, strange editing, and even stranger communication appears to begin when Bertha's rescue pit engineers, a firm called Brierley Associates, quietly issued a draft report on the pit excavation that told the contractors to stop digging. Here’s why, according to the report: "If we continue the current 'repair as we go' method of excavation, we significantly increase the risk of a catastrophic failure."

The warning came on December 11, the same day people started freaking out about that crack in South King Street. Seattle Tunnel Partners, WSDOT’s contractor for the project, then posted the report to a document sharing site—it's unclear with whom the report was intended to be shared—on December 18. But when they did, the language in the report changed. Instead of the part about stopping excavation because it would risk catastrophic failure, the report read: "In summary, we believe that the untreated soil zones … will have a significant impact on the structural, geotechnical and hydraulic adequacy of the shaft structure."

Shifting language from "catastrophic failure" to "will have a significant impact on … geotechnical and hydraulic adequacy" is no small edit. In the first version of the report, the engineers said the excavation "shall not proceed." But by December 18, when the edited report was posted on the document sharing site, digging had been cleared to resume. So what the hell happened between December 11 and December 18 that would have made the engineers—or STP, or WSDOT—change their minds?

In the letter to the state, Seattle officials insisted on some answers. Like: What kind of catastrophic failure did the engineers mean? Was it the same catastrophic failure as whatever might happen to the "adequacy of the shaft structure"? Did the facts change? Or did the language change to cover up the facts?

The city agencies railed on WSDOT. "Brierley's directive to your contractor to stop all excavation," the letter read," is a very significant occurrence. When combined with the documented settling of the ground … we believe that an immediate dialogue between the State and City was not only warranted but necessary."

The state did not engage in an "immediate dialogue." In fact, four days after the date on the original report, WSDOT showed up at the Seattle City Council chambers and didn't mention it at all. The state did tell city council members that it had ordered the contractor to temporarily stop digging, and that excavation probably didn't cause those settlements in Pioneer Square we all heard about. (Dewatering may have—but no one was sure.)

Maybe the state didn't know about the report until December 18. Or, maybe it did.

But if excavation was going to possibly lead to catastrophe, there's another reason why we may not have seen the report yet: STP has not been digging lately.

The day after the city council meeting, December 16, the state gave STP permission to start digging for Bertha again. It said that STP had expected to begin that very night. But then last Friday, several weeks after December 16, WSDOT sent out an update saying that STP had "resumed excavating the access pit." When The Stranger asked WSDOT to clarify—STP had stopped digging again?

—WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn said that STP had not been excavating in "the past few weeks." A project update from December 22 shows that while WSDOT had given STP permission to dig, STP took a voluntary two-week break to stabilize the soil and remove piles of earth.

"We are planning to respond to the SDOT/SPU letter tomorrow," state transportation department spokesperson Lars Erickson wrote in an e-mail to The Stranger Sunday night. "Just to clarify, the viaduct and access pit are safe and not at risk of catastrophic failure due to excavation." (Brierley Associates, the engineers who drafted the original report, declined to respond and redirected my questions to STP instead.)


So, what does all this suggest?

- WSDOT either has been omitting information or was ignorant of the engineers' assessments when communicating with the city council.

- Something about that pit is, or was, really worrisome.

- The city is still very concerned about settlements.

- City agencies are standing up to the state.

- Today's 9:30 a.m. city council session with WSDOT is going to be interesting.

The city agencies ended their testy letter by asking WSDOT to create new plans to study the impacts of Bertha's rescue pit on the surrounding area and utilities. That means updated dewatering analysis and settlement predictions. The agencies also asked WSDOT to fork over earlier reports on dewatering, as well as all of STP’s raw survey data.

SPU also sent an additional letter to WSDOT to point out that part of a water main had settled beyond the state's maximum displacement criteria. The city’s lessened the flow in that direction in case something worse happens.

The Stranger reached out to all nine city council Members and Mayor Murray's office to see what they made of SDOT and SPU's letters. Only Council Member Sawant replied.

"Unfortunately, even without this new evidence, it has been clear that WSDOT has been vague and obfuscating in its responses," Council Member Kshama Sawant said in a statement. She added that back in 2007, the city council took a vote on what would replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in case the deep-bore tunnel could not be completed. The resulting ordinance recommended a transit-and-surface-street alternative.

When asked what "catastrophic failure" might have meant in the context of SDOT and SPU's letter, Sawant added this: "I would like to ask WSDOT that very question before there is a danger that Pioneer Square sinks into Elliott Bay like Atlantis."