The massive tunneling project to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle seems to be back on track. As of June 23rd, Bertha, the 57-foot diameter tunneling machine, has completed 3,088 feet of the 9,270 foot journey. With an estimated price tag of $3.1 billion, you can bet local residents are eager to see what their tax dollars have bought. However, commuters can expect to pay tolls as the Washington State Legislature mandated that $200 million be raised to meet funding goals. For more on the growing prevalence of tolls, see my June 12 post HERE
The tunnel will have two 11-foot travel lanes with an eight-foot safety shoulder and a two-foot shoulder in each direction. The growing need for an updated option through downtown Seattle became alarmingly apparent in 2001 when the Nisqually quake hit. Simulations showed that an event that was 10 miles closer, lasted 10 seconds longer, and registered 7.0 instead of 6.8 on the Richter scale could quite possibly have brought the double deck bridge, which carries over 110,000 cars per day, crumbling to the ground. WSDOT made some seismic improvements to the Viaduct, but it was ultimately decided that a permanent solution needed to be found.
Bertha got off to a rough start. Tunneling began in July, 2013, but was halted less than six months and 1,000 feet later when she hit a vertical pipe used to measure groundwater, damaging several cutting heads and seals. The project ground to a halt for two years while a pit was constructed to bring the cutting head to the surface for repairs. Work resumed in December of 2015 but was halted just a month later because a tethered barge in Elliott Bay damaged some piers, which opened a sinkhole in the area. After determining it was safe to continue, Bertha began digging again in April 2016 and has been making steady headway ever since. WSDOT hopes to have the project completed by 2018.
Now go enjoy the day.