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Arrival of pointless and expensive SR 99 tunnel boring machine will close Alaskan Way Trail intermittently

bertha2With the arrival of Bertha—the machine that will dig the pointless and extravagantly expensive SR 99 car tunnel under downtown—users of the Alaskan Way Trail through Pioneer Square should be prepared for intermittent closures and delays as WSDOT moves the obscenely misguided use of public funds into place.

Alert from WSDOT:

Update to bicycle community about Bertha’s arrival and changes to shared-use path along the waterfront in Pioneer Square

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Bertha is on her way from Japan to Seattle! As you can imagine, the arrival of the world’s largest-diameter tunneling machine will affect your route near the SR 99 Tunnel project construction zone. We’re here with the information needed to keep you rolling.

The first change will come on Monday, April 1, when the crossover will shift a block south, from South Jackson Street to South King Street.

Once we start unloading Bertha in 41 pieces from a vessel docked at Terminal 46, the path will be temporarily closed at South King Street several times per day. This is necessary to maintain safe path access while we move large equipment across the sidewalk. Police officers will be on site to help direct traffic while we move Bertha’s pieces.

The sidewalk near South King Street offers a great view of Bertha’s arrival point, so we’re expecting that people will gather on the path to catch a glimpse of Bertha being unloaded. Please ride with caution and expect delays if there are crowds.

We expect Bertha’s ship will arrive around April 2, but because sailing times across the Pacific vary with the weather, we will not be able to confirm the arrival date in Seattle until about 24 hours in advance. Our website is a great place to track Bertha’s journey to Seattle and, upon her arrival, the offloading process.

Thank you for your patience. If you have questions or concerns, please email [email protected] or call (888) AWV-LINE (298-5463).

Greg Phipps

WSDOT Communications

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31 responses to “Arrival of pointless and expensive SR 99 tunnel boring machine will close Alaskan Way Trail intermittently”

  1. Mark

    Not sure about your credibility on this when you cite The Stranger.

    1. A

      X2.. Or for that matter when titleing the article using opinionated and emotional words, and using a cartoon graphic that claims additional car dependency is the result of a road that will have new tolls and less capacity than the road it is replacing. I’m no supporter of a tunnel, the viaduct or any new car roads for that matter, I’m in favor of closing downtown to private auto traffic entirely, but this article just comes off as whiny.

    2. Biliruben

      The stranger is the town’s sole paper with any credibility.

      I appreciate the occasionally strident opinion piece. Not everything has to be pseudo-objective, passive-aggressive Seattle-nice fish wrap.

      If Tom feels strongly this is a huge step in the wrong direction for Seattle, it’s refreshing that he say so, and it shouldn’t impact his credibility at all.

      1. biliruben

        I should probably include Publicola and, occasionally, crosscut in the mix here as papers with credibility, even though they are exclusively on-line. Mainly I wanted to highlight that the Seattle Times completely lacks credibility, by any objective standard.

    3. Tom Fucoloro

      Wait, did I use emotional or opinionated words? It’s almost as though wasting $2,000 million on a tunnel that will only make traffic times and safety worse is a concept that inspires emotions that I have a strong opinion about.

      Just because we lost the political fight against the tunnel doesn’t magically make it a good idea. The state’s own plans and studies show it will result in increased traffic downtown, a massively expanded waterfront surface road (Alaskan Way) that is more dangerous than the one we currently have, and $2,000 million spent on a downtown bypass tunnel that people biking, walking, using transit, driving flammable freight or trying to drive to or from our region’s largest employment center won’t even be able to use. It’s still an awful idea and terrible waste of money.

      I hope I haven’t sent mixed messages that my opinion has changed on it. I just don’t write about it much because all political momentum against it stopped after the vote. We lost, plain and simple. But I didn’t lose my ability to continue to call it what it is: An unsustainable and uninspiring ode to car-dependence.

      (I will cede one point to you, A: I’m definitely whining.)

      1. Shawn

        I’m with you, Tom. Yeah, we lost. No, we don’t have to ‘get over it’. A bad idea is still a bad idea regardless of the number of voters that go along with it. And it’s his blog, people. He can whine if he wants to.

      2. BTW

        “Just because we lost the fight against the tunnel…”

        So who exactly is this “we” that you Tom claim to represent? I bicycle, you bet. I also take transit and drive so I guess I am not in the camp that all cars are bad.

        Since your blog is presumably for Seattle bicyclists and those interested, I don’t see how “we” the general readership would all be lumped into fighting the tunnel. A presumption that “we” all fought the tunnel and agree on some position on an issue that is only indirectly related to bicycling, ie, replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is a real editorial stretch for your otherwise, fairly even-keeled reporting. Please tell me this was just a 3am lapse of judgment after the bars closed, otherwise your blog will be relegated to the likes of those irrelevant comment troughs of the Stranger and Publicola. Your blog is much more powerful without this kind of editorializing by the way.

        Other than this posting, thanks for what you do by the way!

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        “We” was meant to refer to people who fought against the tunnel, of which I was one.

        I would never claim to speak for everyone who rides a bike. Though I write from a point of view of what I see as good for biking, walking and transit, which the tunnel certainly isn’t.

        And you can think cars are not all bad and still be against the tunnel because it is simply a bad idea and won’t help most people, including those trying to access the region’s largest employment center: downtown.

  2. Major Major

    Tom, I voted against it too. I don’t support a lot of the huge and expensive infrastructure projects. I’m a bike commuter. I’m on your side. Having said that, I wasn’t impressed with this entry . I’d like to refer you to the way the Portland Bike blog handled their ongoing opposition to the Columbia River crossing. Lots classier. Much better written.

  3. I love the tunnel. ALL autos should be relegated to tunnels.


  4. eric

    Well, I’m a bike commuter who actively supported the tunnel. A third of people wanted surface, a third a viaduct rebuild, and a third the tunnel. The tunnel was the obvious compromise- it gets the cars off the surface streets without greatly reducing capacity.

    The key issue that I would hope people focus on going forward is whether tolling is set up correctly. In a worst case, they only toll the tunnel and they end up causing a traffic mess as people seek to divert around it. In a best case, they toll only single occupant vehicles in both the tunnel and I5, and then set the tolls at a high enough dollar value to eliminate regular congestion. That would open the roads up for carpoolers and buses- i.e. transportation alternatives.

    1. Eric gets it right. There was never a political reality that would have yielded no tunnel and no rebuild. The city electorate wasn’t there, and the state wasn’t there. The worst thing that could have have happened — a rebuilt viaduct blighting the waterfront for another 50 years — is precisely what would have happened if the tunnel proposal had died.

      Getting to the goal of reduced car traffic and more alternative transportation is not achieved by wishing away the people who disagree with you. (McGinn’s antics and his comeuppance provide an instructive example of how not to lead.) As things turned out, the alternative transportation people have gotten a pretty good deal. Driving will be less appealing with the tunnel’s lower capacity. Driving will be less appealing when more tolling is imposed. We are taking a step forward by raising the cost of driving. It’s taxes, gas prices, and gridlock that will force people out of their cars, not a minority view (which I hold) that bikes are the best transportation ever. This is a long-term game, not a campaign platform.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I agree there was never a momentous and uniting push for such a plan. Complete fail on many people’s ends. And it’s over now, unfortunately (well, I’m glad the never-ending fight is over, just not glad about the result).

        The whole thing was a mess, and people understandably voted with the only option that appeared to at least have it’s shit together and a clear plan to do something and just stop talking about the damn thing. I don’t blame them. But the result isn’t going to be good for the city, and it’s a huge drain on resources we need to things like expanding—or at least NOT CUTTING—transit and to improve safety and access for folks walking and biking.

        Do you know how many miles of sidewalks, cycle tracks and neighborhood greenways we could install for $2,000 million? Our city could be saturated with safe, livable streets. Instead we’ll have a car tunnel that 40,000 cars will use. Sigh…

  5. ant g

    wahh! So when the people vote for something that you don’t agree with it is “pointless”?? Good thing we are a democracy and those with blogs don’t make the sole decision for everyone. as a commuter that uses the alaskan way trail daily, I support the tunnel and will live with the intermittent inconvenience.

    1. bill

      It erodes one’s faith in democracy when people make ill-informed choices. Prior to the vote it was no secret the tunnel would not replace the viaduct’s capacity. Yet when I told people about the lack of downtown exits and the projected effects of tolling they were not inclined to believe me. There are still people who are surprised to learn there will be no downtown exits. A republic governed by bloggers might be a very good thing.

      After the present intermittent inconvenience passes, what will we have? Years more inconvenience as Alaskan and E Marginal are rebuilt. And the final result could be permanent inconvenience if the political leadership does not remain pro-bike.

  6. Rob

    In this article about the Bullitt Center as a sustainable marvel, the NY Times referenced “Seattle’s inadequate mass transit”. So one has to ask, why is Seattle building a huge car and truck boondoggle when it could be spending a fraction of the money on a world-class transit system?


    1. Gary

      “inadequate mass transit” is partly due to the site of the building. It’s not in the downtown core where the transit all runs.

      As for bicycling, it’s not in a horrible location, yes Madison sucks, but Pike/Pine aren’t bad and to the East there’s the 19th corridor.

      1. Rob

        The point is Seattle is dropping $2B on a tunnel. It should have gone the route of SF and NY in creating a boulevard. Highways just attract more cars.

  7. AiliL

    The history of the tunnel and the huge amount of motor-vehicle infrastructure that is required for not only the tunnel but the SURFACE streets is fairly well documented if one wants to do some research into it. Even without tolling the increase in traffic on surface streets was estimated to be at least 20,000+ per day. Thus we are going to see immense intersections of which it may take pedestrians two light cycles to cross and ferry queuing on the street surface (like it does now, only bigger). There will be, hopefully, some sort of bicycling infrastructure along the waterfront, but the plan for it was only started last year, after the motor vehicle infrastructure was already laid out. This bikeway will be good for many and hopefully it’ll draw people out to the waterfront via bike but with the huge street plan it may not be for the feint of heart….and will consist of many potential pedestrian conflicts (not to mention motor vehicles at the intersections and how to get bikes across).

    Keep in mind that WADOT only gave a pittance to the city for transit mitigation for a couple years. I think that funding goes away sometime this year. And that was only after the city raised heck about the lack of transit funding within this roads package.

    So I agree with Tom. The massive funding needed for this project could have been used more effectively to fund transit, bike infrastructure, re-worked improved roadway systems, pedestrian infrastructure, etc. that would have improved mobility of people rather than motor vehicles.

  8. longtime cyclist

    Thanks for being brave enough to tell the truth Tom.
    There will always be people with their head in the sand, even if they have to spend billions to bury their head.

  9. gene

    Well, I was a surface option supporter, though in the end I guess I was just relieved they didn’t decide to rebuild the Viaduct. But in any case, if we get a waterfront anything like the plans, you can’t say it’s all bad.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Well, if the waterfront boulevard is expanded to 5-6 lanes, it will be worse and more dangerous than it is today. It’s vital that we prioritize the movement of people on foot and bike on the waterfront. Unfortunately, plans so far make the new Alaskan Way look more like a second Hwy 99, needed because of the inadequacies of the $2 billion tunnel that does not have access to downtown.


      Alaskan Way should be a waterfront boulevard, not a highway. This we can still work towards.

      1. gene

        Yes, definitely agree with that

  10. Gary

    The surface option died when the Green line Monorail project died. Had the monorail been built, the need for a viaduct or a tunnel would have been far less as it would been already moving people to and from Ballard and West Seattle the group that hwy 99 serves.

    But as Tom says the key now is to make sure that the waterfront doesn’t disappear into a 5/6 lane pile of pavement. One alternative is to help make sure that the Waterfront Street car is replaced to again “move people”, as well as to have adequate bike lanes.

    As for the tunnel just because the digger is here doesn’t make the tunnel dug, there are plenty of things that could still go wrong although I hope that they don’t as I don’t want us to spend even more money fixing those problems.

  11. I’ll take the water taxi…

    “Do you know how many miles of sidewalks, cycle tracks and neighborhood greenways we could install for $2,000 million?”

    Except that the federal transportation dollars earmarked for this project would have never ever been available for the types of projects you listed.

    This is a fundamental piece to the discussion that you conveniently ignored… why? There are plenty of us in the bicycling community that understand the pragmatic realities of how transportation funding works. Tilting at windmills and grouping us with you in the process isn’t that productive. Let’s advocate for the things our bike community needs moving forward and stop rehashing a fight that was lost well before the anti-tunnel crowd engaged on the issue.

    1. BTW


      “I’ll take the water taxi” is right on the mark. This argument is much like the ones where people wish that money dedicated to national defense could be spent on textbooks and schools. You may wish it did, but it doesn’t work like that. Hand wringing and screaming that it should doesn’t achieve anything except hand wringing and screaming.

      The Alaskan Way replacement project that was funded by the state was the amount to replace the current viaduct with the same thing. The tunnel was the compromise when enough people spoke up and pointed out the big missed opportunity this was to reinvent the waterfront. As far as bicycling goes, the objective should be to make whatever option is chosen work really well for bicycling, not digging heels into an ideological position that frankly has nothing to do with bicycling.

      The biggest current threat to bicycling in all of this is not the current design of the waterfront boulevard, but the insistence on tolling this thing. Tolling this tunnel the way they have designed it will result in a massive change to surface traffic in town and that will be the greatest threat to bicycling. Let’s focus on what matters for bicycling, and not dwell on wistful ideological stances that pit user groups against each other.

      1. Gary

        Counter intuitively, more traffic through downtown makes cycling easier as the cars are forced to go slower as they all jam up at the intersections. So heavy tolling is actually better for cycling!

  12. Steve

    if you want to put in 2,000 million dollars in bike lanes and greenways you should find ways to get the money from the bicyclists who would benefit, not take money from the drivers who would also be losing lanes.

    1. Kirk from Ballard

      Steve, the 2,000 million dollars is from everyone, including bicyclists. And everyone benefits from bike lanes and greenways, including automobilists. It is that simple.

  13. Steven Kelty

    This article is offensive. every time some one comes up with a large project there are those against it, but the return is always greater than the investment. I live in Utah, we have near perfectly efficiency in our streets due to the grid pattern. our roads take up huge swaths of land, and the street lights help provide for our as the worst light polluted state in america. This tunnel is something only a powerful county like Seattle could dream of and putting roads underground is an area of space no ecosystem will be stressed by. This space, should cars become obsolete by lack of oil, can be re-purposed as underground railroads, living space, or hydroponics facilities should there be no space left above ground. I hope some day you’ll all be happy with what you’ve paid for.

  14. […] And finally across the street and along the Bertha construction. […]

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