If you read this first you think “Why would be something boring so interesting?”. Well it is not about a lame exhibit, it is about a big project, which is happening right now in Pioneer Square to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which also happens to be State Route 99.
The viaduct got damaged in a big earthquake and it’s in bad condition ever since. There were a lot of discussions, how to fix this problem and many ideas were discussed. The final plan now is to dig a tunnel underneath the city and move State Route 99 underground. Bertha, that’s the name of the tunnel boring machine, which is currently the worlds largest tunnel boring machine by diameter is digging this tunnel. But shortly after Bertha started digging it broke down after about 1000 feet in. Right now there is another big project ongoing to fix Bertha and bring it back to dig. If you are interested in this project and want to know more about it or the machine and things happening, you can stop by at Milepost Thrity-One.
Milepost Thrity-One is the name of the visitor center located at 211 1st Ave S between S. Washington St. and S. Main St. At the visitor center you learn more about the history of Seattle and Pioneer Square as well as about the tunnel project itself. The admission to the visitor center is free as well as the tours offered.
Tours are at the following times:
- Tuesdays: 5:30 to 6:30 pm
- Wednesdays – Fridays: Noon to 1 pm
- Saturdays: Noon to 1 pm and 3 to 4 pm
Advanced registration is required either at the website or in person at the center. The visitor center itself is open Tuesday – Saturday 11 am to 5 pm.
They tour takes around an hour and you will learn more about Bertha and the project at the visitor center and afterwards you head out to the jobsite. You will walk up a staircase on a scaffolding to get up to a not used part of the viaduct. From here you can see the launch pit of Bertha and you have a great overview of the jobsite in general. It’s worth bringing a camera. During the week you can actually see the crews work. I visited at Saturday and there was nobody working at all at the 3 pm tour. I was the only person in my tour group. Maybe not a lot of people know about the tour or the visitor center itself. I walked by this place a couple of times and never really recognized it. Fortunately I found a flyer at the airport when I picked up a colleague.
The following pictures were taken from the observation platform, which you will visit on your tour.
For the tour you have to sign a form about safety and insurance and you will have to wear a safety vest during the tour – No hard hat is required. After the tour you will return to the visitor center, where you also get a voucher for some cafe’s and restaurants in Pioneer Square. That is definitely a nice bonus.
Once the tunnel is completed the viaduct will be demolished and new spaces for recreational and business use will be available. The tunnel will have 2 decks with 2 lanes on each deck. There will be also a state of the art safety and security system installed in the tunnel as well a operations center on either end for maintenance and operation of the tunnel. The tunnel will be a toll road once finished, but the prices are not set yet. I am just concerned if this will bring people to rather use the new surface streets instead of the tunnel just to safe money. There will be no toll booth at the entrances. You will need to have a “Good-To-Go Pass” to pay for the use of the tunnel. That is another reason about avoiding the tunnel, because tourists probably won’t buy this pass if they travel to Seattle in their own car. Unfortunately this will put the traffic back on the surface with a lot of congestions and traffic noise. But this are just my thoughts, it maybe completely different to what I anticipate.
At last I want to show you some pictures I took at night at the project site. This was possible, because I worked on-site.