Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tear Down the Damn Viaduct Already!

Posted by on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 3:04 PM

The Washington State Department of Transportation posted new information today about newly discovered damage to the 61-year-old, double-decker Alaskan Way Viaduct. And meanwhile Mike Lindblom—love that guy—at the Seattle Times reports on growing cracks in the concrete:

Inspections on the Alaskan Way Viaduct on March 1 found new cracks forming near Seneca Street, and some existing cracks have lengthened, according to state highway engineers....

Tom Baker, WSDOT bridge engineer, said the most likely cause for cracking is the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, which he said weakened the underground foundations in ways that aren’t fully understood. Cracks have recently spread on vertical columns, as well as the horizontal girders that support the road deck, he said.

The viaduct has been sinking and cracking a lot since since the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. One part of the central viaduct has sunk five inches since then. Here's a photo from 2007 of cracks in the upper deck. In 2008, former governor Chris Gregoire said she would tear down the central portion of the viaduct by 2012—the part that's still standing—because, as former county executive Ron Sims put it, "It's not safe." The Seattle Times reported portions of the viaduct have a 9-out-of-100 safety rating. In 2009, the state issued an alarming video that depicts the viaduct collapsing into a flame-engulfed waterfront:

No joke. This was the states 2009 depiction of the imminent risk to the viaduct in an earthquake.
  • This was the state's own depiction—in 2009—of the imminent risk to the viaduct in an earthquake.

There's also the Washington State Department of Transportation's "Seismic Vulnerability Analysis Report":

The risk of an earthquake causing the Alaskan Way Viaduct to fall down is significantly higher than was previously thought. Until now, it was estimated that it would take seismic ground motions with a 210-year return period to initiate collapse of the Viaduct. In practical terms, this translates to an approximate 1-in-20 chance in the next ten years of an earthquake sufficient to cause portions of the Viaduct to collapse. We found that an earthquake capable of initiating collapse of the Viaduct has a much shorter expected return period of 108 years. This translates to approximately a 1-in-10 chance in the next ten years of an earthquake that would cause portions of the Viaduct to collapse, or roughly double the previously identified risk. This change in risk is based on new geotechnical information and a better understanding of local and regional seismic behavior.

That report was issued seven years ago. Expert faculty at the UW said we should close the viaduct within two years. They wrote that eight years ago. But we've kept the viaduct standing.

We're supposedly waiting for the deep-bore tunnel to replace the viaduct, but the tunnel is being delayed longer and longer. First it was reportedly on time, then a couple months behind, and now the latest reports say drilling won't even resume until September, when the drilling was supposed to be mostly finished. Based on its track record: We cannot trust the state to give us straight answers, to finish the tunnel on time, or tear down the viaduct soon.

Apparently trying to assuage fears, the state insisted last week that the Alaskan Way Viaduct is safe. But that contradicts the state's earlier position from 2009, when it issued this dire warning:

The specter of another major earthquake, however, is always present. That is why we are determined to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct before Mother Nature makes the decision for us.

Mother Nature isn't going to wait for our endless delays. She doesn't give a shit about our cursed tunnel megaproject. Close the viaduct—it was supposed to happen years ago—and deal with the traffic. It's not worth it.


Comments (48) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Max Solomon 1
Look, the plans are made. The risks have been assessed. They have set the parameters for safety, and so far the old gal's within the limits, or they'd have shut it down March 1.

If you want to move the goalposts, go convince SDOT & WSDOT. The broken seal repair delay isn't going to be enough to do it.
Posted by Max Solomon on March 10, 2014 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Clara T 2
Yeah, I'm opposed to the no solution solution but tear it down - the hassle's not worth the potential loss of life.
Posted by Clara T on March 10, 2014 at 3:14 PM · Report this
Isn't the new damage to the Viaduct caused by the tunneling project? Isn't it a little disingenuous to call a structure unsound after its has been intentionally damaged to reduce its safety?
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 3:14 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
I could do it with one roll of timer cord and three rolls of det cord and a box of metal backed duct tape - plus a canister of blasting caps.

Would take me about a day to wire it.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 10, 2014 at 3:19 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
@3 is correct. When the Cascade Curtain unzips it will come down in pieces, though.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 10, 2014 at 3:20 PM · Report this
When the Cascade Curtain unzips, every tunnel will fill with sand, mud and water, killing everyone inside them. Pioneer Square will be a pile of rubble. After the 250 foot wall of water, over 50% of Seattle and Bellevue (the tsunami will come across the lakes) will be gone and the Nisqually Valley will become a lake.
At that point, the Viaduct is the least of our worries.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 3:33 PM · Report this
fletc3her 7
Without intervention the viaduct would likely have already collapsed, but they've been retrofitting it since 2001 in order to lengthen its life.

I'm all for tearing it down. The tunnel is on the way so any traffic problems will be temporary. Let's get on with the waterfront reconstruction while we wait.
Posted by fletc3her on March 10, 2014 at 3:41 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 8
Fun to say!
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on March 10, 2014 at 3:43 PM · Report this
Original Andrew 9
@ 6,

That prediction is way too Pollyanna-ish. You should add that Sarah Palin will be appointed our interim governor after Olympia is submerged under the Salish Sea.

We're also out of coffee.
Posted by Original Andrew on March 10, 2014 at 3:44 PM · Report this
theophrastus 10
there are a number of structures which aren't being so carefully monitored which are suffering similar declines. but somehow being overtly reported publicly frustrates folks that the decline isn't rapid enough. one just has to be a bit more patient. even bertha's project will before the viaduct falls - of its own accord anyway - it's just that far into the future. so sit back, relax, photograph a cop or two, and let your outrage pour into new and unexplored vast social conspiracies. oh, they're out there; they're not chris-christie sized, but someone deserves the Holden treatment and they're not getting it. (egad i miss Goldy...)
Posted by theophrastus on March 10, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
@6, your description of 250ft tall tsunamis inundating Seattle and Bellevue as a result of M9 quake on the Cascadia subduction zone is hyperbolic and wrong. Such a quake would undoubtedly generate a large tsunami--offshore, and coastal communities need to prepare. Seattle, on the other hand, is far enough inland and shielded somewhat by Whidbey and the Kitsap, that by the time the wave reached Elliott Bay it would likely cause little to no major damage.

That being said, the intense shaking in Seattle from the M9 quake could cause local landslides into the Puget Sound/Lake Washington, which could trigger smaller local damaging tsunamis.
Posted by Justin on March 10, 2014 at 3:54 PM · Report this
The Washington State Department of Transportation and City of Seattle are both exposing themselves to significant liability claims in the event that the viaduct does collapse (and there is resulting damage to property and/or life).
Posted by Montlake1985 on March 10, 2014 at 3:57 PM · Report this
seattlestew 13
Yeah, tear that fucker down so the developers/speculators can get on with making a killing on the waterfront properties whose views will improve. That, and then we can build the surface route that was inevitable regardless of whether the tunnel ever got built.
Posted by seattlestew on March 10, 2014 at 3:59 PM · Report this
@11…yep, lots of things for Seattleites to worry about in a M9 quake (it would probably be gruesome), tsunamis just aren't one of them. The models pretty clearly show that Puget Sound would be spared the tsunamis generated from a subduction zone megaquake.

Local faults are probably more unpredictable in how they could generate tsunamis, so something like a rip on the Seattle Fault might be deadlier for Seattle.
Posted by shotsix on March 10, 2014 at 4:07 PM · Report this
#9 and #11, the 250 foot wall of water estimate comes from geologists, not me. The Puget Sound will act as a funnel for all the water coming south from the San Juans, and due to the location of the fault line there would only be about 30 minutes of warning before it hit.
Granted, 250 feet is the high end of the estimate, the worst case scenario. But the Sound makes the problem worse, not better. This is why the Nisqually Valley would flood but not the Nalley Valley. The Nisqually is at the far end of the Sound, where the damage would be the worst. Olympia will simply disappear.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 4:14 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 16
Anyone who drives on the Viaduct (or the 520 bridge) puts their life and the lives of their passengers at risk.

I really don't even trust the elevated parts of I-5 that much.

After that, what you can you say?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on March 10, 2014 at 4:15 PM · Report this
I'm with Holden. Let's tear down the viaduct and cancel the tunnel. Who needs cars? It'll be fine because we'll also build lots of high-density affordable housing subsidized entirely by the new millionaire income tax! Then everyone can ride unicorns to their $15/hr jobs.
Posted by Keenan C on March 10, 2014 at 4:17 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 18
@11 and 14, sure, science says there's no particular tsunami danger. And UW so called "scientists" say the tunnel will be safer in a big earthquake than anything aboveground.

But we have to remember none of that matters. Because of what our own Slog scientist Will in Seattle discovered: any tunnel will wind up full of drivers baked to death by a sudden river of molten lava from...wait for it...Mount Rainier erupting.

Can't argue with that. Even if it's false AND I'M NOT SAYING IT IS, doesn't it seem truthy?
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on March 10, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Please stfu about the viaduct. Some of us need it. If you don't drive on it, stfu. It could fall tomorrow or last 100 years. YOU DON"T KNOW! stfu
Posted by banji on March 10, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
treacle 20
@11 - I suspect libertine doesn't mean the Cascadia subduction zone, but instead, the Seattle Fault, which may well create a tsunami on Puget Sound, since the fault runs under Sodo and across Elliot Bay. The wave wouldn't reach Elliot Bay, it would start in Elliot Bay. 250ft may be in question, but I'm in no position to say one way or another.

@9 - read up on that Fault, libertine's "prediction" is close to the expectations geologists have based on evidence from the last M9 quake that happened here in AD 900.

As for the Viaduct, I think people should take matters into their own hands: You know it's cracking, --whatever the present cause--, drive on it at your own risk.
I don't drive on it any more. I don't even bicycle on it any more... ;>)

Ya makes yer choices, ya takes yer chances.
Posted by treacle on March 10, 2014 at 4:26 PM · Report this
People love doomsday scenarios because it distracts from the more likely modes of death -- cancer, heart disease, etc. Wouldn't you rather go down like Pompeii than wait for your own mundane slow death?
Posted by wxPDX on March 10, 2014 at 4:43 PM · Report this
When it was expedient to force Seattle to accept the tunnel option, the gov, city council and WSDOT emphasized how dangerous the viaduct was, how Seattle couldn't dither any more, the time for talk was over, build the tunnel. NOW. Public safety is paramount! Lives are at risk! But now when the project's schedule is blown to hell, we're hearing how safe the viaduct is, that a few more cracks really isn't a big deal, blah blah blah. It is clear that public safety was never the primary reason for ending the discussion over replacing the Alaska Way viaduct. Nope, just a ploy to shut up the tunnel opponents. And it worked.
Posted by screed on March 10, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
I'm talking about what is referred to as a "belt ripper", where the entire fault line from the San Andreas to Vancouver BC shifts at once, causing an 8.5+ magnitude quake that would last anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on coastal location (longer in Oregon, shorter on the far ends).
These types of "mega earthquakes" are much stronger then the Banda Aceh quake, due to the hundreds of miles of fault that all slips "at once". The only comparison in power is to events like the eventual Cumbre Vieja tsunami.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 4:46 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 24
there are a number of structures which aren't being so carefully monitored which are suffering similar declines.

Which ones?
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on March 10, 2014 at 5:24 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 25
If we (or anyone else) gets hit with a M9+ earthquake at point blank range a tsunami is the least of our worries, between ducking falling over sky scrapers, hoping Rainier and it's brothers don't lahar us into oblivion, and hoping that half of Seattle doesn't sluice down into the new miles-long trench that may open for about 60-400 seconds or so.

I'm more worried about Nisqually 2.0 when I decide to skip SODO on a Mariners game day and the Viaduct looks tempting from the Columbia Street onramp.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on March 10, 2014 at 5:28 PM · Report this
Mr. Murray, tear down this viaduct!
Posted by sirmarksalot on March 10, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Report this
IIRC the Space Needle is built to withstand a 9+. If we could do that in 1962, what is the excuse for the rest of the city built after that?
Rainier couldn't lahar us in an earthquake. Lahars are caused by volcanic activity causing a boiling mudslide.

I'd rather be on the Viaduct in a 9+ than in the Columbia Tower. I can jump off the Viaduct and only break my legs, or ride the debris down the relatively short distance. Compared to the rest of downtown, that's golden.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 5:56 PM · Report this
I agree that the viaduct should be closed and torn down immediately. It's a safety issue. But an added benefit will be that when traffic is a complete nightmare like it was during the 2001 closure, the surface/transit people will finally have their position exposed as untenable in the real world.
Posted by Bax on March 10, 2014 at 6:17 PM · Report this
Notwithstanding the dire earthquake prognostication - it could happen any second, or it could continue to not happen - Tear Down This Viaduct!

Start work on the new waterfront now, that's the part people are going to see and appreciate the most out of all this mess. Use some of the space to help every time the bore gets stuck, or the stuck bored. Traffic will suck, but then everyone will appreciate the end result more.

And no-one will die in a fiery earthquake-caused collapse.
Posted by bazzered on March 10, 2014 at 6:47 PM · Report this
Tear Down This Viaduct!

Start work on the new waterfront now, that's the part people are going to see and appreciate the most out of all this mess. Use some of the space to help every time the bore gets stuck, or the stuck bored. Traffic will suck, but then everyone will appreciate the end result more.

And no-one will die in a fiery earthquake-caused collapse.
Posted by lamazzer on March 10, 2014 at 6:55 PM · Report this
Anything but "the new waterfront". Have you seen the design for the south entrance of Pike Place after the Viaduct is torn down? It screams "Gentrification condos for all!". I'd rather have our "old" waterfront, with Ivar's, Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, and no ferris wheel than what is planned for the waterfront after the Viaduct is torn down.
One speaks to our roots as a city. The other speaks to the soul sucking hollowness that has been steadily moving in.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 7:42 PM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 32
Look forward. Not back. If you want the waterfront that was the true roots of this city you'll have to lookforward to one made up of unregulated sawmills manned by conscripted (and disposable) "Chinks" chewing up old growth timber. Oh, and the only job opportunities for women will be in the whorehouses. But yeah... Let's get all nostolgic about Seattles roots. Do you suppose those Indians have any more land to trade for whisky and beads???

Or are you nostalgic specifically for the white, male utopia of Seattle in the 50's?
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on March 10, 2014 at 8:04 PM · Report this
No, I'm more of an 80's, 90's, Kingdome kind of guy. I'll take any of those other periods over what is planned for the future though. Gentrification leads to stagnation and death. Other alternatives are bad, but gentrification is worse.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 8:23 PM · Report this
TVDinner 34
@28: I lived in West Seattle when the quake hit, worked on Eastlake, and remember that traffic congestion vividly. It was nightmarish. Ok, so I rode my bike right past it, but I definitely felt for the folks trapped in it. Bus riders were stuck, too, because there are no dedicated transit lanes there.

Now I'm a transportation planner, and I support tearing down the viaduct and beefing up - substantively, not in a half-assed way - transit, water taxi, and bike facilities along that route. It's cheaper in a million different ways.

What caused so much of the congestion after the quake was the suddenness of the event. Tear that fucker down, and it won't be sudden. People adjust.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on March 10, 2014 at 8:25 PM · Report this
I suggest we also tear up all the bike lanes that aren't segregated from traffic by curbs. They're crazy unsafe and to use them puts bicyclists in mortal danger that they can't control.
Posted by ChefJoe on March 10, 2014 at 8:40 PM · Report this
4 to 5 minute earthquake! Bye bye folks!
Posted by pat L on March 10, 2014 at 8:40 PM · Report this
Bunch of persons with nothing better to do than post doomsday scenarios about something they know nothing about. Go walk your dog, go jogging, go volunteer at the animal rescue. Some of you posters are on this site all day long! Get a real life!
Posted by longwayhome on March 10, 2014 at 9:21 PM · Report this
If you don't live in West Seattle and you can bike or walk to work, it's easy to say tear the thing down. Jobs, rents and mortgage payments are at stake if one isn't able to get to work on time or at all with the closure and no viable options but telling people to gut it out. I'd prefer a subway in that corridor if possible--but thanks to lesser King County residents voting down forward thrust and as well as a large transit initiative in the mid 90's we're trapped with misguided idealism of transit success without a viaduct and no other viable transit options. If they did the right thing then, the closure of the viaduct would have been much easier to take. I'd take my chances with the flawed option we were given of building the new 99---If we closed it we would still be seriously f*cked by an earthquake and if not, jobs and the economy will be trashed by gridlocked traffic to the max with a bigger commuting population than we had in 2001.
Posted by neo-realist on March 10, 2014 at 9:33 PM · Report this
sperifera 39
@libertine - You are showing yourself to be an idiot in this thread, and you really need to stop spending so much time at GLP or wherever it is that you play your apocalyptic games.

First off, lahars are NOT "boiling mudflows". They are typically a similar temperature to air local temperature, and are a real concern near volcanos like Rainier. If fact Rainier's worst lahars are associated with edifice collapse rather than eruptive episodes. Crashing glaciers and hydrothermally altered andesite do not boiling make.

As to the unzipping of the "Cascade Curtain" and 250 foot tsunamis, you are gravely mistaken about two separate scenarios. The only potential 9.0 earthquake is from the subduction zone off our coast where the Juan de Fuca plate is diving beneath the North American plate. The focus of that future earthquake would be about 300 km west of Seattle.

Niigata, Japan is the same distance from the epicenter of the 3/11/11 Tohoku quake as Seattle is from the future Cascade Curtain event you envision. It is a pretty good apples to apples comparison, being across a mountain range, and on the east side of an inlet just like Seattle is. 300 km away from the epicenter, Niigata only felt shaking of MMI 5 in the Tohoku event, and there was no tsunami damage at all.

We're certainly going to feel a 9.0 Cascadia subduction quake here, but we're not going to feel it as a 9, because we're not at the epicenter. The farther away you go, the lesser the motion.

We're also NOT in danger of a 250 ft tsunami here in Seattle, and no geologists have said we are. Just because you say it @15 doesn't make it true. Name the geologists that have stated this, I challenge you.

If on the other hand, you are confused about your seismic scenarios, and actually mean a rupture of the Seattle Fault (which is just a matter of geologic time), please be advised that the largest event expected is 7.0. Let's say we're wrong. Let's say that the Seattle Fault rupture is twice as big as everything we know says it will be. That would give us a 7.2 quake (which is 1/80th the size of a 9.0 quake, btw). The highest tsunami estimates I have seen in all of the studies and forecasts written indicate the potential for waves with run ups to perhaps 100 feet. There is NO evidence anywhere which shows sedimentary deposits above 100 feet in any past events. We have looked for it, and it ain't there. No 250 foot massive wave crashing.

You are spreading absolute doomsday horseshit.

A Seattle fault rupture will certainly bring down the viaduct. A 9.0 "Cascade Curtain" event *might*. Either way, it's probably time we closed it and tear it down, because on a geologic timescale the Seattle Fault is probably the more likely of the two scenarios. So take that back to GLP and disseminate.
Posted by sperifera on March 10, 2014 at 11:37 PM · Report this
seatackled 40
Gee, it's like you can't really trust what Gregoire says.
Posted by seatackled on March 10, 2014 at 11:44 PM · Report this
Wow, are you off. While there are one or two other causes of lahars, the vast majority of them are caused by geothermal activity, and none are caused by earthquakes.
The North America Plate is the one that slips in this kind of earthquake. It doesn't just slip where it meets the Juan de Fuca Plate. It also slips under the Gorda Plate, which runs to around Mendecino, CA.
The eastern side of the Ring of Fire is not nearly as subject to this kind of "curtain" effect as you call it. Japanese quakes are of a completely different style than the type of quake we are talking about here.
Nuh-uh is not a valid argument. I don't know the names of the geologists that kayaked up and down the Sound, digging into sedimentary mud layers. But they were the ones who came up with the numbers, not me. I also stated 250 is the max they found. 100 to 150 is much more likely.
Ah, the ad hominem attacks. The last refuge of somebody who knows they're wrong.
What is GLP? The first Google hit is God-Like Productions, but I've never heard of them.
Posted by libertine on March 10, 2014 at 11:56 PM · Report this
@34, you're a transportation planner, and you want to do all that stuff, without money, I assume? Yes, that somehow fits.
Posted by sarah70 on March 11, 2014 at 12:09 AM · Report this
sperifera 43
@41 - No. Bullshit. If you can't name the geologists, name the studies. The list ain't that long. Nothing even close to 250 feet, and most estimates are in the 3-5 METER range. 75-100 foot run ups are the outliers.

And the subduction quakes in Japan are not "a completely different style" than the subduction quakes here or the subduction quakes off Sumatra. How are they completely different?

You coined the phrase "Cascade Curtain" @6 - don't try and pin that on me. You get to own that doomsday term, bud.

The problem with people like you is that you know just enough to be dangerous. You like to sound like you are an authority, but you aren't. You're far from it. You wouldn't know a transform fault from the crack in your ass, and it's obvious to anyone that does. You're getting your info from doomsday sources, which is obvious by your invoking Cumbre Vieja elsewhere in the discussion.

OMG, it's gonna fall into the ocean! (yawn)
Posted by sperifera on March 11, 2014 at 12:33 AM · Report this
It's fine

Stop worrying about that which you can't control.
Posted by balmontguy on March 11, 2014 at 6:56 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 45
If we can get away from the Irwin Allen crowd for a moment: it seems like the biggest problem with getting rid of the viaduct would be the West Seattle/Ballard connection. So how about an auto ferry between West Seattle and Interbay or Golden Gardens?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it would be expensive. So is the tunnel.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on March 11, 2014 at 7:08 AM · Report this

3 stfus in one post? The states own experts said it should have been replaced years ago. So perhaps you should stfu.
Posted by rbuzby on March 11, 2014 at 9:06 AM · Report this
#43, your reading comprehension is a little off. While you may not have coined the phrase, neither did I. I suggest you look at #5, then go eat some crow.
A "curtain" quake is nothing like a standard subduction quake. That's about the level of the rest of your post, so I'm done with you.
Posted by libertine on March 11, 2014 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 48
There's a book they sell at the UW Bookstore entitled
Cascadia's Fault by Jerry Thompson - reviewed by The Globe and Mail

Read that
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 11, 2014 at 7:27 PM · Report this

Add a comment


Want great deals and a chance to win tickets to the best shows in Seattle? Join The Stranger Presents email list!

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy