– Ben Martens

Seattle’s Big Dig

sr99viaductprojectSeattle is in the middle of an enormous construction project. I haven’t┬ákept up with the details, but my general impression was that it was a financial disaster. I spent a little time doing some research into the current state of the project and how far it has come:

  • The double decker highway, SR 99, going right along the waterfront is in severe need of replacement. The 2001 earthquake damaged it and it is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s also a terrible spot for an elevated highway. It runs like a big scar right along the beautiful waterfront creating a dark, gloomy, wet area that you have to walk through to get to the waterfront. The plan was to bore underneath it. You know, right next to the ocean. What could go wrong?
  • It is the widest bored tunnel ever attempted.
  • The initial budet was $3.1 billion and started in 2011. It was scheduled to be done in 2015. The tunnel boring part was expected to take 14 months.
  • At the point when the tunnel was 10% complete, the state had spent 70% of it’s money.
  • The drilling machine, Big Bertha, has moved 1437 feet. That’s about 15% of the total distance.
  • Problems so far have included the machine getting stuck, the machine breaking and needing major repairs, and the ground caving in.
  • When the machine broke, it was down for two years. There’s no way to back it out so they had to dig a huge hole to get down and repair it in place.
  • Even parts of the project that don’t involve tunneling are over-budget. Replacing the seawall along Alaskan Way was a $331 million dollar project which is already about $100 million over budget.
  • The most recent estimate I could find for completion was March 2018. Complete rebuilding of the waterfront will stretch into 2019.
  • I couldn’t find anything that gives a recent estimate of the actual cost of the project. It seems like most people just shrug, laugh and cry.

I get why people thought this was a good idea. It would be beautiful to hide all that traffic and really beautify the area, but the discussions now are not around what would be beautiful, but rather, when should they cut bait and run. And of course, if they do decide to stop, they still have the original problem of the decrepit double decker SR 99 to deal with. It’s anybody’s guess how (and when) this one will turn out.

One thought on “Seattle’s Big Dig

  1. Ken C.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up turning out similar to Boston’s “Big Dig”. I’ve actually driven through there since it was completed and it’s very nice, but it was a long, bumpy, expensive road to get the project finished.