Seattle Starts New Year With Transportation Highs and Lows – Next City
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Seattle Starts New Year With Transportation Highs and Lows

A now-filled sinkhole at the worksite of a giant tunnel being dug in Seattle (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

More Woes for Bertha in Seattle
The project to replace Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with an underground highway along its downtown waterfront has hit another snag. The latest: Now that “Bertha,” the giant tunnel boring machine that’s digging out the two-deck tunnel, is back at work after a nearly two-year hiatus, the ground above her is sinking.

The Seattle Times reports that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered a halt to work on the Highway 99 tunnel until a sinkhole that formed above the machine can be fully investigated.

A work crew filled the hole with sand and concrete, but according to the report, the ground above the machine continues to sink.

While the subsidence currently affects only the area directly above Bertha, Inslee’s worry is that if the construction firm building the tunnel under a design-build contract removes too much soil, the viaduct and nearby buildings will be threatened.

The governor’s order halts work on the tunnel until a root cause analysis of the sinking soil can be performed. The project contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, acknowledged that it had not been monitoring the soil removal as closely as it had been before Bertha broke down and will measure the soil manually every time Bertha stops to assemble a new tunnel ring going forward. Going forward, however, will require the completion of the ordered analysis and the written permission of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Sound Transit Celebrates
The transportation news out of Seattle isn’t all bad. There’s this encouraging item from MyNorthwest.com: The Sound Transit light-rail tunnel extension from Westlake to the University of Washington campus is slated to open in March, three months ahead of schedule, and the project came in more than $100 million under budget.

Test runs through the tunnel will begin in mid-February, with trains letting passengers off at Westlake then continuing under Capitol Hill to the Husky Stadium station before heading back south.

Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray said, “This is one of those projects where we had time and budget built in for a lot of risks that were out there before we started construction and things went smoothly and we didn’t have to dip into that time or money to deal with any of the risks. Things went as well as they possibly could have.”

The new tunnel extension will cut the travel time from UW to downtown to eight minutes. Total travel time from UW to Sea-Tac Airport will be about an hour.

Yangon Mulls Second Tram
The first tram line in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, opened for service Jan. 10, and already government officials there are talking about expanding its capacity.

Eleven Myanmar reports that the new line, the first to run in Yangon since 1904, operates with a single tram car that can carry 200 passengers at a time. The line currently runs east-west from Wardan Street to Linsadaung; the local government plans to extend the route at both ends to serve Kyimyindaing and Pazundaung train stations in March and April respectively.

The tram currently makes six round trips a day, and the local authorities plan to increase service to 10 round trips a day. Myanmar Railways General Manager Tun Aung Thin is quoted in the article as saying that if patronage warrants, a second, smaller tram will be added to the line, and that there are plans to reduce the tram fare from its current level. The tram’s purpose, the local government says, is to reduce traffic congestion and facilitate commuting if other modes of public transportation are out of order.

Railway Gazette International reports that the 4.8-km (3-mile) line runs on a former freight rail line in Strand Road and operates between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a single ex-Hiroshima tramcar. The line was built under a $3 million agreement between Myanmar’s Ministry of Rail Transportation and the West Japan Railway. The extensions, which would bring the total line length to 11.3 km (7 miles), would also connect the line to the 46-km (28.5-mile) Yangon Circular Railway, which is set to be upgraded with the aid of a $250 million soft loan from Japan.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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