1. Alaska Way Viaduct/Tunnel
  • On August 16, 2011, Referendum 1 goes to the Seattle voters.

City of Seattle Referendum 1 asks voters whether an ordinance passed by the City Council in February 2011 that enacted agreements with the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) about schedules, design, utility work and environmental effects should be approved or rejected. Seattle voters are being asked to second guess the City Councils original decision that allowed the tunnel project to proceed forward. The Mayor of Seattle has indicated that his preferred option is to rely on surface streets rather than an underground tunnel to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct. Proponents of the tunnel argue that the surface street option will dump tens of thousands of cars on the Seattle streets and threaten the waterfront redevelopment project, as well as harm the downtown economy and retail core.

The tunnel project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct was awarded December 10, 2010, and work has started on the project. Does the vote on Referendum 1 really matter? Technically, the vote is immaterial, but it has political ramifications. A loss on Referendum 1 (that is that the City Council needs to pass a new ordinance to proceed with the WSDOT agreements) will undoubtedly embolden opponents of the project and make the political dialogue much more difficult. A loss on Referendum 1 will also postpone the project at the very time the nation is trying to put people back to work on infrastructure projects. If the Referendum is approved, the City Council is free to give the WSDOT notice to proceed with the construction phase of the agreements in time for the ground breaking this fall.

  • Hitachi Zosen is Awarded the Contract to Build the TBM for the Alaska Way Viaduct Tunnel.

The Japanese firm of Hitachi Zosen was awarded the contract to manufacture the 57.4 wide tunnel boring machine (TBM) that will be used in 2013 to drill the Highway 99 tunnel. Hitachi Zosen is the same firm that manufactured the TBM for the Sound Transit Capital Hill Tunnel Project, which is presently ongoing. It is difficult to imagine at this point simply terminating the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel project. The approach at Holgate and King Street is virtually complete, the contract to construct the tunnel has been awarded, and Hitachi Zosen is building the TBM. Termination of this contract will be exceedingly expensive, calling into question the wisdom of the Referendum at this advanced stage of the project.

  1. Brightwater Project Tunnel Concrete Liners Will Be Wasted

The $2 billion Brightwater Sewage Treatment Plant Project is again in the news. The contractor group Vinci Parsons Frontier-Kemper (VPFK) got its tunnel boring machine (TBM) stuck last year while drilling a section of the Brightwater outfall line tunnel.

King County terminated VPFKs contract and retained the JayDee/Coluccio Joint Venture (“JDC-JV”) another Brightwater tunneling contractor who successfully drilled its portion of the Brightwater outfall line to rescue VPFK’s stranded TBM. The Countys plan initially seemed logical and straightforward, rescue the VPFK TBM by hiring JDC-JV to bore a tunnel from the other end and dislodge the stuck VPFK TBM. There was one major problem however. The JDC-JV’s TBM was nearly 1.5 smaller in diameter than VPFKs TBM, and thus, the custom made preordered concrete tunnel liners, for which the County paid $2.4 million, will not fit in the smaller tunnel and are not usable for any other type of project. Over the next several weeks heavy machinery is scrapping or recycling nearly 2 miles of tunnel liner. The County and VPFK are locked in a lawsuit and the outcome of that lawsuit will determine who will pay the $2.4 million for the wasted concrete liners.

Brightwater is anticipating that the public grand opening scheduled for September 2011 will proceed forward and the main operating tunnel will be operational by mid-2012 (approximately 1 year behind schedule).

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