Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk
- The citizens of Seattle have voted in favor of the bored tunnel solution to the highway viaduct replacement. Postal ballots submitted by the Tuesday, 16 August, deadline gave a clear 58% majority in support of moving ahead with plans to build one of the world's largest diameter bored tunnels under the streets of the city.
Photo By - Jim Bates, The Seattle Times
Jubilation at the pro-tunnel campaign party on Tuesday night
- Rather than a direct vote on the bored tunnel, Referendum 1 on a ballot asked voters their opinion on the process by which the City Council enacts its agreements with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on public infrastructure projects. Had the vote failed to win a clear majority, the project would have been mired in the kind of legal delays that might have signaled its. The State Road SR-99, of which the viaduct is part, belongs to the State Government, but is built on City land and is used by King County for its transit services. These three stakeholders have been struggling for more than a decade to find consensus on whether to repair, rebuild or replace the earthquake-damaged viaduct.
- In January 2009 the large-diameter, double-decked bored tunnel option was selected as the best alternative solution by State Governor Chris Gregoire, the then Mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, and King County Chief Executive Ron Sims. Other options studied included seismic repair or rebuild of the viaduct, or demolition of the viaduct and replacement of the traffic lanes either at grade or in a cut-and-cover tunnel along the foreshore.
- The vote on Tuesday effectively ended the 'anti' campaign spearheaded by the current City Mayor, Mike McGinn, who ran for office in 2009 on a platform of stopping the tunnel. The 'Protect Seattle Now' campaign opposed the tunnel project on the grounds of potential cost overruns and a funding arrangement that will make the City responsible for any cost overruns above the State's capped contributions. It preferred the alternative of demolishing the viaduct and directing through-traffic onto the parallel Interstate I-5 highway and providing more commuter transport services into the city.
Voters accept the bored tunnel as the viaduct replacement solution
- Despite the opposition of the anti-tunnel lobby, the State moved ahead with the preferred bored tunnel solution, awarding a design-build contract to the Dragados-Tutor Perini Seattle Tunnel Partners Joint Venture in January. Moving the project along further, the JV issued a letter of intent with Hitachi Zosen for manufacture and supply of the proposed 58ft (17.6m) diameter EPB TBM for excavation of the 9,100ft (2.7km) long tunnel under the streets of the city.
- A positive ballot result on Tuesday was not a foregone conclusion. Pro-tunnel lobby groups raised a reported $500,000 in contributions for their 'Let's Move Forward' campaign, five times more than the reported $100,000 raised by the anti-tunnel campaign.
- In a statement on Tuesday night, Mayor McGinn conceded defeat saying: "I worked to give the public a direct vote on the tunnel. The public said move ahead with the tunnel, and that's what we're going to do."
Demolition of the viaduct will transform Seattle's waterfront
- The result removes the political doubt that has overshadowed the bored tunnel project for the past two-and-a-half years and allows it to "shift up a gear", as one of the leading project engineers described it to TunnelTalk.
- There are still hurdles to overcome, not least of which is approval for the project from the Federal Government. The final environmental impact statement (EIS), that includes the bored tunnel along with the viaduct rebuild and at-grade and cut-and-cover tunnel options, was submitted in July this year and a Record of Decision is anticipated before the end of this month (August 2011). A second notice-to-proceed can then be granted to Seattle Tunnel Partners to advance with construction.
- A first notice-to-proceed granted at the time of contract award in January this year, allowed for only 'project neutral' construction work and advance of the detailed design for the design-build contract.
- Repair or replacement of the viaduct, following severe damage by the 2001 earthquake, has been a source of frustration and failed citizen-involvement measures. Now, 10 years on, Tuesday's vote removes any doubt as to the opinion on the street and allows the citizens of Seattle to get behind the project and see this estimated $1.96 billion world-class tunnel through to a planned opening in December 2015.
Seattle's bored tunnel - a political story - TunnelTalk, Aug 2011
Federal approval for Seattle's bored tunnel - TunnelTalk, Aug 2011
EIS supports Alaskan Way tunnel - TunnelTalk, July 2011
Alaskan Way mega-project procurement - TunnelTalk, Oct 2010
Alaskan Way bored tunnel alignment – video report - TunnelCast, Oct 2010
Alaskan Way contract signed - TunnelTalk, Jan 2011
Alaskan Way frustration - TunnelTalk, Sep 2007
Japanese machine for Alaskan Way mega drive - TunnelTalk, July 2011
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