SEATTLE, Wash. -- Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez joined Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and local officials in breaking ground on the State Route 99 tunnel in downtown Seattle that will improve safety and relieve congestion for hundreds of thousands of Seattle area drivers.
When complete the tunnel will connect to the new SR 99 roadway south of downtown to Aurora Avenue in the north providing for a safe corridor and better mobility.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Transportation Committee Chair said, "This event marks the next critical phase of the tunneling project as the pit is readied for the boring machine. The tunnel project maintains capacity of Viaduct, avoiding the kind of congestion that could cripple movement of freight and growth of commerce in Seattle. The tunnel project will take the traffic, noise and blight that now separates our downtown from our waterfront and will bury it underground."
"Today we break ground on a tunnel that will finally allow Seattle to rediscover our waterfront," stated Councilmember Jean Godden, chair of the Central Waterfront, Seawall and Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program Committee. "When complete, our waterfront will be active and vibrant, populated with parks, restaurants and cultural amenities. It will be a waterfront second-to-none, which will be cherished for generations. We are truly building for the future."
"Building this tunnel will ensure commuters continue to travel to and through Seattle safely, while putting our friends and neighbors to work," said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "President Obama called on us to strengthen our infrastructure and create a foundation for economic growth, and that is what is happening today in Seattle."
The SR 99 tunnel replaces the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decker bridge that plays a major role in sustaining Seattle's economy and providing a means of travel through the city. More than 100,000 vehicles travel on it each day, as SR 99 is a main north-south route through Seattle and is used as an alternative to Interstate-5, including by Port of Seattle traffic. Moving SR 99 traffic underground will significantly reduce congestion because the tunnel will serve as a bypass for people and goods moving through downtown. In addition, because it was designed to withstand a major earthquake, it will improve safety in the corridor.
"This project will not only provide immediate benefits by creating jobs, but it will support economic growth for decades to come," said Mendez of the Federal Highway Administration.
The viaduct was built in 1953 and was severely damaged during the Nisqually earthquake in February 2001. The four-lane, two-mile-long underground tunnel was designed as one of the safest places to be during an earthquake. A state-of-the art control center will be installed to respond to emergencies, and the tunnel will also be equipped with ventilation, fire and lighting systems. Wider lanes will ensure enough space for all vehicles and long, gentle curves will allow for safe sight distances for drivers in the tunnels. In addition, an underground tunnel will allow for more open spaces above ground for promenades and parks so communities can reconnect with the waterfront.
The total cost of the tunnel project is estimated to be more than $2 billion, using approximately $265 million in federal aid.
SOURCE: Federal Highway Administration & City of Seattle