Tag Archives: tunnel

Closing the Viaduct and Opening the Tunnel

For decades, the dominant feature of the Seattle waterfront has been the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  This carried Route 99 from the south side of the city along the waterfront before diving into the Battery Street Tunnel and then popping above ground to continue to the north.  It was a double deck viaduct with the northbound traffic on top and the southbound traffic on the lower level.  The viaduct suffered damage in the Nisqually Earthquake and further investigation showed just how vulnerable it was so the replacement process commenced.

The replacement is a tunnel.  Building the tunnel under the city was not an easy task.  A tunnel boring machine named Big Bertha was brought in to cut the tunnel.  Unfortunately, at some point it struck a hard object which damaged the main bearing for the cutting head.  A hole had to be dug and the machine extracted, repaired and reinserted.  This added years to the project but finally, in January 2019, the viaduct was closed.  A three-week period was set aside between closure of the viaduct and opening of the tunnel to allow reconfiguration of the approaches at each end.

On the weekend before the tunnel opened for traffic, WSDOT held celebrations.  A fun run took place on the Saturday and the Sunday included a bike ride.  This included riding both directions through the new tunnel as well as both directions on the old viaduct.  I signed up to take part.  Tons of cyclists also took the opportunity and the event was sold out well in advance.  The number of people mean things were pretty crowded and it could be congested at times.  The long descent in the opening tunnel section could have been quite fast but it wasn’t possible to speed along given how many people there were.

The new tunnel sections were nice and well let.  We actually rode quite a distance south after popping out near the Coast Guard base in the harbor and the wind was in our faces but that meant the run back was a lot easier.  The second part of the tunnel had to be a climb given the descent we had made originally but it wasn’t too bad.  Then we turned and were directed on to the streets to enter the Battery Street Tunnel.

This was a far more dismal experience.  It is a dark and dirty tunnel and I was pleased to get through it quickly.  We actually went through it the wrong way and we went south on the northbound part of the viaduct before diverting off and coming back on the lower level.  One last run through the dirty tunnel and we had completed the ride.  As I exited, plenty of riders were just starting.  It would have been possible to do it all again but I was happy to have done it and decided it was time to go home.  Later that day a serious (for Seattle) snow storm swept in so we had been lucky to get the ride done without any disruption.

Sutro Baths

A once popular attraction for San Francisco residents was Sutro Baths.  Located on the shore looking out into the pacific, the baths were fed by sea water and covered a large area that was enclosed by a glass and iron structure.  A railway brought visitors around the cliffs from the city for their day out.  Landslides eventually did away with the railway while other entertainment took visitors away and a fire eventually dealt with what was left.  However, the underlying structures of the pools are still there.

The water is not recirculated as it would have been in the days of operation so some of the pools have a decidedly murky quality to them.  The concrete dividers between the pools are still mostly intact so you can walk along them to check the place out.  If you aren’t confident with your balance or are likely to be freaked out by having to pass someone coming the opposite way, this might not be for you.  If you do lose your footing, you will be damp!

There is a tunnel under the cliffs that comes out amongst the rocks where the waves are crashing up.  Halfway along the tunnel is another hole to the shore and, as the waves rush in, you feel the air pressure change briefly.  It is certainly cool and damp in there.  Given how derelict the place is, it is hugely popular with visitors.  Cars circled the lot looking for spaces all the time we were there.  The opportunity to hurt yourself was certainly available but, despite the current risk aversion of locations, this one seems remarkably open to allow you to explore and (if you are not careful) do yourself some harm!  It’s like being a kid again.