City Transportation Chair to WSDOT: Give City Some Reassurance on Tunnel
One question about the tunnel for city council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen.
City council transportation chair Rasmussen, a supporter of the downtown tunnel who frequently butted heads with tunnel opponent Mike McGinn during McGinn's term as mayor (calling him inconsistent and dishonest on the issue, among other things), now has his own tunnel concerns.
Rasmussen told PubliCola this week that, in response to the ongoing shutdown of the tunnel-boring machine, and in light of the fact that seawall construction is already moving forward while the machine remains stalled, he plans to send a memo to the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) asking the agency for information about "what their contingency plan is around safety, settlement, and transit" around the construction site. (We've requested a copy of the memo from Rasmussen's office).
"We knew [the downtown tunnel] was going to be very, very complicated, but it's a heck of a lot better than a new elevated [viaduct]."
"At some point, if the viaduct keeps sinking, someone has to figure out when it needs to be closed," he says. (So far, the viaduct has sunk, or settled, about 4/10 of an inch into the soil since construction began.)
Rasmussen's letter also asks WSDOT to lay out its plans for repairing the tunnel-boring machine if it gets stuck under the central business district downtown, where it won't be easily accessible, and what happens if the viaduct has to be shut down because of an earthquake or other calamity.
Rasmussen says he thinks WSDOT has been "keeping things very close to the vest," in part because of a lack of information from the tunnel contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners. And he says it seems increasingly unlikely that the tunnel will open by its 2016 target date.
Despite all the confusion and potential delays and cost overruns, Rasmussen says he still believes the tunnel is the best option. We asked him directly: Given everything that's happened, do you regret supporting the tunnel?
"Absolutely not," Rasmussen says. "We knew it was going to be very, very complicated, but it's a heck of a lot better than a new elevated (viaduct). And there was no support for a surface option at the state level, so we weren't going to get all the transit we needed." (The state funded "mitigation" money to pay for transit as a condition of tunnel construction.)
Hitachi Zosen, the company that built the tunnel boring machine, said a week ago that it would have a plan in place to replaced the damaged bearing seals that caused the mahine to overheat and eventuly stop working within 10 to 14 days of last Friday, which means some news could be coming next week about how STP and its contractor decide to repair the largest tunnel-boring machine in history.