• July 21 project update: The path to program completion

    The first half of 2016 has seen exceptional progress on the SR 99 Tunnel Project. Since tunneling resumed in late December of 2015, Seattle Tunnel Partners crews have mined an additional 2,100 feet. One-third of the tunnel is constructed, and crews inside the tunnel are hard at work building the future highway. Progress is also visible at the north and south portals, where the tunnel operations buildings, and many of the future ramp and highway connections, are nearing completion.

    WSDOT’s focus is on delivering the entire Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, comprised of 31 projects. It has been nearly a decade since we broke ground on our first project. Since then, we have successfully completed 21 of those projects, and half of the viaduct has been demolished and replaced. 

    At the north portal, Atkinson Construction is in the final stages of the North Access Project, which is building the highway connections to the tunnel near the Space Needle.

    At the south portal, crews from Interwest Construction are preparing to start work on a newly-awarded contract to build a bridge near the stadiums that will serve as the northbound exit from SR 99 after the tunnel opens to traffic.

    Moving forward

    We are on the path to completion. After resuming tunneling, STP updated their schedule, allowing us to do a preliminary review of the overall program schedule and budget.

    As anyone who follows our work is aware, the tunnel project is delayed, which has led to additional WSDOT costs. For example, there are costs for contract administration and oversight. The costs to acquire right of way along the tunnel alignment have also been higher than originally projected, in part because of the need to extend agreements and leases. Upcoming construction projects, such as demolishing the viaduct, will have additional costs due to the tunneling delay.

    The legislatively-approved budget for the program is $3.1 billion. Based on our preliminary review, what we anticipate today is a 1.8 percent budget increase, or a cash-flow need of up to $60 million in the 2017-2019 biennium, to ensure continued progress.

    Looking toward completion of the viaduct replacement program, we estimate a total provisional budget need of $223 million. That reflects a potential increase of 6.6 percent. These are preliminary estimates and we will continue to refine them as work progresses.

    Next steps

    WSDOT has notified the Washington State Legislature of the program’s cash flow needs for the 2017-2019 budget cycle and will work with the Legislature through the budgeting process. Our immediate focus is addressing the up to $60 million needed as a result of the tunneling delay.  The next 18 months of construction will tell us a great deal about the program’s funding needs beyond the current biennium.

    “We remain committed to completing this important safety project while also protecting taxpayers,” said Roger Millar, Acting Transportation Secretary, “We will continue to follow the terms of the design-build contract to recover the added costs that are due to the delay of the project.” 

    This includes pursuing insurance claims, identifying potential cost savings in other elements of the program and ongoing litigation to recover damages. If efforts to recover costs are successful, the funds would likely not be available until after the project is complete.

    We will continue to provide additional details about the program’s budget needs as the 2017 legislative session approaches. In the meantime, our focus will remain where it always has: on delivering the tunnel and replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct for the people of Washington.

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  • July 19 project update: Seattle Tunnel Partners resumes mining

    Seattle Tunnel Partners resumed mining yesterday following a month of routine and hyperbaric maintenance on Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. Crews inspected and repaired machine components as needed during the maintenance period, which started on June 23. 
    The maintenance period included more than 40 shifts of work under hyperbaric conditions, changing cutting tools and performing other maintenance in the space behind the cutterhead. In all, STP changed 33 of more than 700 cutting tools. 
    Be sure to check out recently released videos of hyperbaric work and the highway construction that is ongoing in the tunnel behind the tunneling machine. 
    What’s next for Bertha?
    Tunnel boring is one-third complete. The machine is located approximately 120 feet beneath Spring Street, tunneling north toward First Avenue. At its deepest point near Virginia Street, the machine will be more than 200 feet below the surface.
    STP expects to stop two more times for maintenance before they reach the future north portal, near the Space Needle. You can continue to follow tunneling progress at our Follow Bertha page, and on Twitter @BerthaDigsSR99.
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  • July 11 project update: New video shows that changing Bertha's cutting tools is no easy task

    Seattle Tunnel Partners crews are making good progress as they continue performing routine maintenance on Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine.
    The machine has been stopped approximately 120 feet below Spring Street, just west of First Avenue, since June 23. There, crews have been checking and maintaining equipment, and are on schedule to resume mining by the end of the month. 
    Much of their focus is on inspecting and, when needed, replacing the cutting tools that scrape away the earth in front of the machine. This work must be completed in hyperbaric conditions similar to those found in an underwater dive (this post explains hyperbaric work in greater detail).
    These conditions require workers to adjust their bodies to greater air pressure than we live and breathe in every day. Crews are only able to spend approximately one hour working in this increased air pressure. As a result, five crews of seven people take turns replacing the tools and performing other work in the space behind the cutterhead.   
    Bertha’s cutterhead is outfitted with more than 700 tools. So far, STP has replaced only 25 of the more than 400 tools they’ve inspected during this maintenance stop. 
    New video captured by STP shows that performing maintenance on the cutterhead is no easy task. In addition to working in hyperbaric conditions, crews must complete their work in a confined space. The cutting tools shown in the video weigh approximately 75 pounds.
    We’ll continue to provide additional updates as STP’s work progresses.
    Recent tunneling updates 
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Program Spotlight

  • Building the highway inside the tunnel

    Seattle Tunnel Partners is performing routine maintenance on Bertha, but important work is ongoing inside the tunnel. As the video below illustrates, a massive highway-building operation is trailing not far behind the tunneling machine.

    This is no ordinary highway project. It requires a complex choreography to complete this work even as crews mine beneath Seattle. Check out the video to learn how it works.




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