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, May 19, 2015

Bertha repair will take longer — there are lots of broken parts

 Work had been set to resume in August, but now that’s not going to happen. Officials emphasized, though, that progress is being made elsewhere — tunnel entrances, for example.


By Mike Lindblom, May 18, 2014

  With Bertha’s 2,000-ton cutter head assembly now above ground for repairs, unexpected damage has been found further inside.  (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

 With Bertha’s 2,000-ton cutter head assembly now above ground for repairs, unexpected damage has been found further inside.

Now that stalled tunnel machine Bertha’s front end is disassembled, the damage looks worse than project experts thought — and contractors will miss their goal to resume digging in August.

Not only did grit penetrate the rubber bearing seals, but the steel casings around the seals broke apart, sending fragments into the drive gears.

Some teeth are cracked in the giant bull gear, which rotates the circular drill face, as well as several pinion gears that are spun by 24 electric motors.

The news was revealed Monday morning by Todd Trepanier, administrator for the state’s Highway 99 replacement project, at a Seattle City Council briefing.

Bertha, the world’s biggest tunnel-boring machine, overheated and quit digging on Dec. 6, 2013. The machine is stuck near Pioneer Square, some 1,083 feet into the 9,270-foot route from Sodo to South Lake Union.

The highway tunnel has lapsed two years behind schedule, and is now estimated to open in early 2017.

Hitachi-Zosen, which built the $80 million, 57-foot-4-inch-diameter machine, is replacing or retrofitting virtually the entire front end.

Chris Dixon, project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), did acknowledge last winter that his August timeline was aggressive. STP and Hitachi-Zosen wouldn’t comment Monday afternoon.
Contractors have blamed the stall on a leftover steel pipe that Bertha hit underground, but the extensive damage suggests the machine may have suffered from inherent weaknesses.

“It was poorly understood, going that big in diameter, expecting that seal to work,” said Howard Handewith, of Seattle, a consultant and tunnel manager retired from the Robbins Co. “It was just that the structure was too big, and too flexible.”

Before the giant drill broke down, metal fragments dropped into the pinion gears and the bull gears and the bull gear, cracking and chipping several teeth. (Source: Todd Trepanier, Washington State Department of Transportation. (Mark Nowlin / The Seattle Times)
Before the giant drill broke down, metal fragments dropped into the pinion gears and the bull gears and the bull gear, cracking and chipping several teeth. (Source: Todd Trepanier, Washington State Department of Transportation.
Nonetheless, he said, Hitachi shouldn’t be scapegoated, and he predicted that after Bertha is outfitted with tougher seals and steel stiffening plates, the machine should work. He said gear damage is certainly not common but has happened in tunneling history.

While the damage is more extensive, the broken and chipped parts, bull gear included, already were scheduled for replacement.

“So that damage they didn’t expect is not causing additional time delay to the repair,” Trepanier told reporters.

So in that case, why would STP miss the August goal?

Trepanier said that’s a schedule question for contractors, who are supposed to give the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) a new timeline in June.

Contractors have decided to replace not only the outer seals that were known to be damaged but also Bertha’s inner seals “to make them more compatible with the new outer seals, and easier to access should the need arise,” a WSDOT statement said. Those new inner seals are scheduled to arrive in May from Japan.

An earlier schedule from Dixon called for finishing repairs and lowering the cutter unit back into the ground by the end of May.

They are clearly nowhere near that milestone. Work was under way Monday morning on the rusty cutter face, where openings for dirt to enter will be widened. A WSDOT photo shows contractors smoothing out scuffed surfaces on a drive ring.

Council members at the Monday briefing showed growing impatience. In light of Bertha’s woes, Sally Bagshaw, a solid tunnel supporter, wondered how the city knows if Bertha can survive the next 1½ miles of drilling toward South Lake Union.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen raised a formerly taboo question, of whether WSDOT might wind up hiring a new contractor.

“Is this open-ended or is there a deadline at some point? Two years, five years or 10 years, something out there?” he asked.

Trepanier said WSDOT shares the council’s frustration. He urged members to keep in mind STP is still making progress on every other area of the project, particularly the north and south entrances to the tunnel.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien, a former state Sierra Club chairman and early opponent of the tunnel, said he didn’t see changing builders as an option.

“Unless we’re planning to throw billions and billions more at this, it’s pretty unrealistic,” he said. Knowing what’s known now, it seems unlikely another company would want to touch the job, he said. “I kind of think we’re stuck with STP. It’s not clear what their finances are and how long they’re going to stay with it.”

However, he once again wondered aloud how far the old Alaskan Way Viaduct can sink or crack before it’s retired, for public safety. A few spots have dropped more than 6 inches since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. State bridge engineers have said previously there’s been little sideways twisting, of the type that can cause a rapid failure of the concrete beams — so the highway remains safe to drive, barring an earthquake.

The tunnel was always high-risk because the size and the soil conditions are “beyond precedent,” Boston consultant Thom Neff warned in 2010, in a report for then-Mayor Mike McGinn.
Bertha remains under warranty until 1,500 feet, just before it would dive beneath the old viaduct and pass beneath downtown.

In addition, Dixon has said Hitachi-Zosen is funding the machine retrofits, while major partners Dragados USA and Tutor-Perini will pay for the deep repair vault.

The state continues to provide a monthly cash flow, paying for work on the tunnel’s north and south ends, maintenance building and road deck — but subtracts money based on Bertha’s lack of progress. The state has paid about $1 billion toward the $1.35 billion contract. That doesn’t count overruns, which might take years of talks and lawsuits to settle.

Patricia Galloway, chairwoman of the governor’s expert review panel, said Monday she hasn’t yet been briefed, so can’t comment on cost or schedule impacts. The panel is expected to undertake a midyear review.

“It’s like any first-of-a-kind technology, or scale-up, that’s going through what you’d call growing pains,” she said.

It made sense to her that STP already planned to replace gear parts, before finding damage — other tunnel contractors make similar swaps during an outage, as a preventive measure.

In related news, Trepanier also said the soil around Bertha remains stable at about 1¼ inches net loss since November, along the viaduct and in Pioneer Square.

Three geotechnical reports were recently finished, he said, two of which suggest that other construction around Pioneer Square has contributed to ground sinking. Satellite-based data show at least seven spots around Yesler Way and Western Avenue lost 3 or 4 inches between 2010 and 2013, before the tunnel project commenced.

But the leading culprit remains deep groundwater pumping, related to excavating a 120-foot-deep access vault to reach Bertha, near Main Street at the waterfront. This is due to the very rapid settlement of an inch or more in November 2014.

Seattle Public Utilities has torn open Western Avenue to install a temporary water pipe, to replace a cast-iron main that was damaged by soil settling. A new permanent pipe should be installed by fall, said spokesman Andy Ryan. A city-state agreement clearly calls for WSDOT to fund a replacement, yet the state hasn’t agreed to do so, and cost negotiations have just begun.

Seattle’s tunneling megamachine is more effed than we thought


By Ana Sofia Knauf, May 19, 2015


Ah, Bertha. Here in Seattle, your tunneling project is one of our favorite things to talk about. But not always for the best of reasons because, well, it’s been one helluva fustercluck. You’re tunneling beneath downtown to create a subterranean re-route for State Highway 99, which stands on stilts and could fall down the next time the earth shakes. So clearly, you have an incredibly important job.

We were promised you’d be finished this August, but you’ve had quite a few breakdowns. And we get it, we do! Machines malfunction all the time and usually it’s no big deal. But the state has already sunk about $1 billion into making sure you can tunnel underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, so people are, understandably, a little upset.

Also, we don’t mean to kick you while you’re down, but you have only drilled 1,083 ft. of your 9,270 ft. route. And all these new repairs pushed your drilling restart date, which was supposed to be this August, to 2017 – that’s two years later! TWO YEARS, BERTHA.

And now we learn that, having dug you up to make sure you’re OK, construction crews have discovered that you were worse off than they’d thought – you blew a seal and cracked a casing, which busted some of your gears with fragments and grit.

Here, Bertha, is the news we were delivered yesterday, care of The Seattle Times:
Contractors have blamed the stall on a leftover steel pipe that Bertha hit underground, but the extensive damage suggests the machine may have suffered from inherent weaknesses.

“It was poorly understood, going that big in diameter, expecting that seal to work,” said Howard Handewith, of Seattle, a consultant and tunnel manager retired from the Robbins Co. “It was just that the structure was too big, and too flexible.”

Nonetheless, he said, Hitachi[-Zosen, the company who built the tunneling machine] shouldn’t be scapegoated, and he predicted that after Bertha is outfitted with tougher seals and steel stiffening plates, the machine should work. He said gear damage is certainly not common but has happened in tunneling history.
So it’s not totally your fault, Bertha! And fret not – you’re scheduled to get new parts later this month, according to the Times. So once those are installed, you’ll be back in your drilling pit in no time … hopefully.

PS: Just keep in mind that if that new 2017 deadline seems too tough, some creative Seattleites have dreamed up an amazing, if imaginary, park to make your fusterclucked tunnel at least somewhat useful.

Bertha repair will take longer — there are lots of broken parts, The Seattle Times.

7 reasons why America needs to get tough on smog


By Christopher Wilson, May 19, 2015


The 2015 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association recently confirmed that four in 10 Americans are living in areas with harmful levels of ozone pollution. But the big oil companies have just launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign telling us our country doesn’t need and can’t afford stronger limits on ozone.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s why:

1. Ground-level ozone — or smog — is really damaging to our health and the natural environment

Ozone is the most pervasive air pollutant in the United States today. It is formed in the atmosphere when chemical compounds emitted by vehicles, industrial processes, power plants, and other sources interact in the presence of sunlight and heat.

Ozone is also among the most harmful air pollutants. Elevated ozone levels cause lung irritation, aggravate asthma, and worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — leading to increased emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Ozone endangers the health of our children, elderly, people with chronic diseases, and healthy people working or exercising outdoors. Among the most vulnerable are the estimated 25.9 million Americans with asthma, including 7.1 million children.

2. Science tells us the current ozone standard does not adequately protect our health

Scientific research has shown for some time that ozone causes harm at — and well below — the current national air quality standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb). This conclusion has been supported by three separate, highly expert scientific panels that have reviewed the extensive evidence — under Republican as well as Democratic administrations.

Most recently, after a four-year public process assessing all the latest science, EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended revising the ozone standard to a level between 60 and 70 ppb, noting that the lower end of the range would provide the best health protection with an adequate margin of safety.

Based on current science, the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and other leading health and medical organizations are calling for a new ozone standard of 60 ppb.

3. The stronger ozone standard EPA has proposed would have big health benefits

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new standard for ozone in the range of 65 to 70 ppb. Though not as protective as many experts would like, these limits would have huge benefits for Americans’ health.

Altogether a new standard set at 65 ppb would prevent annually an estimated 960,000 asthma attacks, 1 million lost school days, and 180,000 lost work days. Most importantly, it would prevent up to 4,300 premature deaths each year.

4. We have a right to know whether the air we breathe is healthy

National standards for ozone and other air pollutants are the basis for the Air Quality Index (AQI), the system that informs us about the daily air quality in our communities. Parents, seniors, coaches, and others rely on air quality alerts to know whether they should take steps to limit outdoor time when air quality is poor.

With the current outdated ozone standard, there is a real, ongoing risk that we will think our air is healthy when it is not. This deprives us of the opportunity to protect ourselves from unhealthy conditions.

5. Stronger ozone controls will be manageable and affordable

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set the ozone standard at a level that will protect human health, without taking costs into account. However, costs, timing, and technology are fully considered during the implementation phase when states and communities work with EPA to craft cleanup plans.

Cost-effective technology to reduce ozone-forming pollutants already exists. With wider and more consistent use, it will take industry a long way toward reducing ozone affordably. Efforts underway to clean up power plants, diesel trucks, and car emissions will also contribute greatly to achieving lower ozone levels — at a cost our country can handle.

6. Cleaning up ozone pollution is a great investment — for our health and the economy

EPA has projected that the total benefits of a more protective ozone standard will significantly outweigh its costs. The benefits of a 65 ppb standard are estimated at $21 billion to $42 billion annually after 2025, compared with yearly costs of $16.6 billion.

There is good reason to think that EPA’s cost-benefit estimates are in the ballpark. The Office of Management and Budget in a 2013 report to Congress calculated that 21 EPA air pollution rules from 2002 to 2012 had benefits of $529 billion compared with costs of $35 billion.

Contrary to repeated dire predictions from polluting industries, achieving cleaner air has never been at odds with building a strong economy. Since 1970, dangerous pollutants in America’s air have been reduced by 68 percent, while our economy has grown by 240 percent.

7. A stronger ozone standard is attainable and will help areas with high ozone pollution

Our country has been making steady progress in reducing ozone pollution over the past four decades. According to EPA’s trend analysis, ozone levels have dropped by 33 percent since 1980 and 18 percent between 2000 and 2013. The vast majority of our states and counties could achieve a stronger ozone standard just by working with existing technology and control measures that are already in place.

Counties facing serious ozone challenges will have additional time to comply with a new standard, potentially up to 2037, depending on the severity of their air quality problems. Most of these areas are already well engaged in measures to drive down high ozone levels and recognize that these efforts are critical to the health of their residents.

Reducing ozone will be a challenge — but we’re up to it.

Cleaning up ozone pollution is one of most important environmental challenges we face today. Despite the ads from America’s big polluters, it makes no sense to dial back our efforts now. We need to keep at it until our air is safe and healthy — building on our decades of success in reducing air pollution and our world-leading capacity for innovation.

Law-Breaking Drivers Disrespecting New Wilshire Boulevard Bus-Only Lanes


By Joe Linton, May 19, 2015


 Illegally parked car blocks the Wilshire BRT peak-hour bus lane last Friday. All photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

On April 8, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other Metro, federal, county, and city leaders cut the ceremonial ribbon opening the second phase of the $31.5 million Wilshire BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Metro forecasted that the Wilshire Boulevard peak-hour bus-only lanes will significantly improve commute times for the more than 25,000 people who board Wilshire Boulevard buses at peak hours every weekday.

But those improvements will only materialize when the bus-only lanes only have buses in them.
Unfortunately, many peak-hour drivers are breaking the law by driving in the exclusive bus lanes.


This Mercedes with license plate 6JJH202 is blocking the Metro 720 bus from getting to the Crenshaw Blvd stop. That car and the one behind it followed me through the intersection, ignoring the right-turn-only designation for cars in their lane.

Last Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., I observed hundreds of drivers breaking traffic laws, most of them driving straight ahead through right-turn-only designated intersections, but also two cars illegally parked in the designated “anti-gridlock” tow-away no-parking lane. I observed dozens of these cars clearly impeding the progress of the very frequent Wilshire buses. The majority of drivers did respect and stay out of the bus-only lane.

Signage on Wilshire designates right turn only during peak commute hours.

At the start of each bus-only lane block, the pavement is marked “BUS LANE.” At nearly every intersection from Beverly Hills to MacArthur Park, there are signs that state “RIGHT LANE[:] BUSES [and] RIGHT TURNS ONLY 7AM-9AM 4PM-7PM MON-FRI.”

I stopped at a handful of intersections, and every time observed multiple cars breaking laws by proceeding straight ahead through right-turn-only intersections. Both rapid and local Wilshire buses were arrive very frequently at the peak commute hour, though, between buses, there was still often a one or two-minute space that law-breaking drivers file into.

I uploaded four videos showing numerous peak-hour right turn violations–see above, and here, here, and here.

This situation is as much of a proverbial fish-in-a-barrel (to use the L.A. Times‘ description) enforcement opportunity as LAPD’s ill-advised downtown pedestrian ticketing. It seems that a few LAPD motorcycle officers patrolling these lanes at morning and evening rush hours could easily write dozens of right turn violation tickets. After some police enforcement, the word would likely get out, and drivers would stay out of the lane, benefiting the commute times for the tens of thousands of Wilshire bus riders.

SBLA will make inquiries to LAPD and find out how LAPD bus-only lane enforcement activity has been proceeding. The first phase of the bus lanes opened in June 2013, so, for some stretches, there should be a couple years’ worth of enforcement records.

There is some evidence that, despite “BIKES OK” signage, LAPD sheriffs sometimes wrongly tickets cyclists on the Sunset Boulevard bus-only lane. (Correction 10am: L.A. County Sheriff officers did this, not LAPD. Could the L.A. County Sheriff Department also patrol Wilshire bus lanes?)
In my observations of the Metro Silver Line BRT running on freeway ExpressLanes, a visible traffic enforcement presence has helped ensure that errant drivers do not get in the way of that BRT project’s success. For my (admittedly small) sample last Friday, I saw no traffic enforcement on Wilshire Boulevard.

Other cities, notably New York and San Francisco, use on-bus traffic cameras to enforce driver compliance with bus-only lane laws; these cities do still experience some issues with scofflaw drivers impeding transit.

Maybe Metro can look into a similar camera programs to ensure that Los Angeles’ Wilshire BRT delivers the ridership benefits projected.