Belltown Scene


By Mike Lindblom

The new Highway 99 tunnel could be ready for drivers by October.

Crews were installing the final rows of lights over the upper, southbound deck and painting the walls white during a news-media tour Tuesday. Fireproof gypsum has been sprayed onto the arched ceilings, which now look like cappuccino-colored stucco rather than a vast grotto of trapezoids.

Contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) is closing in on a mid-August finish line. Tests of emergency signals and ventilation have started. Once the state confirms the lanes and safety systems are done, other contractors will take three weeks to connect the tunnel portals to their entry and exit ramps.

During those three weeks, the Battery Street Tunnel, Sodo lanes and Alaskan Way Viaduct will be closed — bringing a period of detours and regional congestion — until the Highway 99 tunnel opens this fall.

“Probably, October would be the earliest,” said Dave Sowers, deputy Highway 99 administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Schedules must be coordinated with the city of Seattle, which is tearing open First Avenue to build new streetcar tracks and concrete lanes, along with nearby road, bus-lane and bicycle projects. Sowers thinks the public will receive six to eight weeks’ notice before the fall viaduct closure.

More traffic stress arrives in January, when demolition of the old viaduct will cause lane closures along waterfront Alaskan Way and affect pathways to the state ferry terminal.

The double-decked, 1.7-mile tunnel provides two lanes each direction. It has no exits at mid-downtown or Belltown, but it adds ramps next to the portals at Sodo and South Lake Union.

Construction workers this week are pouring a two-inch layer of concrete over the 1,152 recently installed lower-deck slabs. That layer covers what would otherwise be a seam every eight feet under passing cars and trucks.

Groundwater is still dripping into the tunnel entrance at Sodo, where STP is expected to inject more grout to seal scattered leaks.

A new WSDOT video calls the 57 foot, 4-inch-wide tube “One Smart Tunnel” because of its modern safety systems. These include jet fans at either end to pump in clean air. Along the east side of the highway, a series of ventilation ducts and fans suck out foul air during any fire.

Vents also would activate whenever traffic slowdowns, typically below 30 mph, causing vehicle fumes to accumulate, said Susan Everett, WSDOT’s design manager.

There are more than 300 cameras inside. Overhead traffic-information signs can display emergency messages, or instruct people to evacuate, via a walkway behind the west, or waterfront, wall. Fiber-optic heat sensors detect temperatures of 150 degrees, activating fire sprinklers and notifying tunnel operators.

The project is nearly three years late, and lawsuits continue over who pays for up to $600 million in overruns, beyond the $2.1 billion budget. Debates, design or construction have gone on 17 years, since the Nisqually earthquake of 2001 damaged the 65-year-old viaduct.

“I get goose bumps when I go into the tunnel because it’s such an accomplishment,” Sowers said. “Now it looks a little bit more routine, more like the I-90 tunnel or a typical highway tunnel … .

“I know there’s been a lot of work that’s gone to build this thing, a lot of labor, a lot of energy, a lot of years, a lot of politics. But at the end, it’s a monumental accomplishment, it’s a huge engineering feat, and I know all the guys who worked on it are very proud of what they’re seeing,” he said.

During the project, shifting commute patterns from Belltown and Interbay have kept the viaduct a crowded traffic artery, while detractors point to a shift toward transitto say the Legislature’s 2009 decision to build a tunnel replacement was a mistake.

Syndicated from The Seattle Times. Featured photo credit Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times.

Mama’s Cantina is now offering a super fun two-for-one happy hour served twice daily 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-12 a.m.

Here’s how it works: During happy hour one token is given out with each order of food or a beverage. For example, order one margarita and get a free drink token. Guests can choose to use the tokens right away to get their next round free or can pocket their tokens to use at a later date. There’s no limit to how many tokens guests can collect! Photos of the tokens attached.

Happy hour food is $6 each and includes:

  • Chicharrones, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeños, Nachos, Chicken Wings, Tacos de Papas, Taquitos Con Chorizo y Papas and Quesadillas

Happy hour drinks are $6 each and includes:

  • Frozen margaritas, draft beers, wines by the glass and well drinks 

All of these are two for the price of one! View the full happy hour menu here.

Mama’s Cantina also has a brand-new cocktail menu featuring:

  • The Guitarrero – Tradicional, fresh lime, habanero simple syrup, cilantro and garnished with fresh peppers – $12
  • Bond Girl – Codigo Rosa, prosecco, lemon, dash of sugar – $14
  • Coco Punch  1800 Coconut and Pineapple – $12
  • Cinna-Rita – Sweet, citrus and cinnamon – $12

View the full cocktail list here.

By Neal McNamara

There’s an almost ghoulish fate in store for the Battery Street Tunnel, the 1950s-era SR 99 corridor underneath Belltown. The Seattle City Council voted Monday to fill in the old tunnel, sealing it forever.

But in a sick twist, the tunnel will be filled in with debris from the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The tunnel will essentially be stuffed with the bones of the highway that it fed cars to for more than 60 years.

Partners in countless traffic jams, resting in peace together for eternity.

But the City Council isn’t trying to punish the memory of the tunnel, just trying to save some money.

A group called Recharge the Battery was advocating for the tunnel to be turned into a local attraction – a pool, driving range, or even an underground park. An “urban icon” on par with New York City’s High Line, the group members said.

Those ambitious projects were estimated to cost up to $100 million, however. Others had suggested making the tunnel a bypass for Belltown-area traffic, or making it a bus layover spot. Those ideas were also deemed too expensive.

Councilmembers Deborah Juarez and Sally Bagshaw were the only two who voted against the fill-in plan.

The new SR 99 tunnel under Seattle could open as early as this fall. Demolition of the old viaduct will likely begin in 2019, according to WSDOT.

Syndicated from


Mushroom farms. A composting laboratory for Bill Gates. And sewage storage in the heart of the city. All ideas for what to do with Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel instead of simply closing it up and filling it in.

“It could be a laboratory for the Gates Foundation to finally work out their composting commode idea …” said Buster Simpson at the city council’s Sustainability and Finance Committee meeting Thursday. “I beg to differ with the engineering assessments that this cannot be secured and stabilized … Looks like we have to go to the governor, right? To convince him that if he wants to be president, this would be a great opportunity for him.”

The Battery Street Tunnel is slated to be filled in once the new Highway 99 tunnel opens later this year. The old tunnel has provided a route under Belltown — and has had a bladder control problem — since 1965.

Battery Street Tunnel

When the new tunnel was designed, it was agreed that the Washington State Department of Transportation would decommission the Battery Street Tunnel. The Seattle council is now considering a bill which allows the mayor to negotiate responsibilities for that job. It’s the latest in a series of agreements between the city and the state.

KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan says that the plan for the structure was cemented years ago.

“The tunnel is going to be filled in,” Sullivan says. “That’s the plan WSDOT has had. It’s part of the deal to complete the 99 tunnel project. It has an obligation to fill it in. WSDOT says the tunnel would need major updates and improvements to be used for anything else.”

The current plan is to hire a contractor to fill in the tunnel in the spring of 2018. Work will take 18-24 months. A parcel of land at the south end of the tunnel is being considered for new open space.

A group called Recharge the Battery has sprung up, however, to change WSDOT’s plan. Members spoke at the  Thursday meeting to promote other ideas. Councilmember Mike O’Brien noted that while he thinks good ideas have come from the community, halting the tunnel plan would have financial impacts for the city. The committee recommended moving the bill to the full council.

Seattle’s stinky problem

The most cited community suggestion is to use the tunnel for storm water overflow. Steven Fry with the 2030 District agrees with Recharge the Battery.

“We believe the Battery Street Tunnel is an invaluable asset to the continued sustainability of Belltown by adding storm water management capacity, providing a testing ground for new methods of wastewater treatment, or some other use determined after careful analysis,” Fry told the committee.

It’s not a new idea. Seattle bored another tunnel under Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford to provide sewage / storm water storage. Another tunnel was constructed underneath the canal near Fremont.

When the city was designed more than 100 years ago, planners flushed sewage from homes and storm water into the same pipes. But as more streets were built and as heavy rain storms increased, those pipes have overflowed more often. Overflows push sewage into Puget SoundLake Union, and Lake Washington.Seattle and King County were fined for how often pipes overflow into natural waters.

The problem is expected to get worse as the region’s population continues to boom.

Syndicated from

By David Kroman

As Seattle races to increase its affordable housing stock, the City has a seismic retrofitting problem affecting nearly 2,000 apartments for low-income renters — that could cost as much as $80 million to fix. The city now faces an uncomfortable question: Should scarce dollars go towards making the existing housing safer at the potential expense of building new housing?

By cross-referencing the city’s list of unreinforced masonry buildings with its portfolio of affordable housing, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections has found as many as 39 buildings containing 1,873 affordable apartments that could be unsafe in an earthquake.

Estimating a retrofitting cost of $45 per square foot to bring them up to safety standards, the Office of Housing warned then Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan during her transition that the city could need as much as $79 million to upgrade the buildings.

The city has set aside funding for the preservation of existing affordable housing. But it has not earmarked anywhere close to the amount needed to fully upgrade the buildings, which leaves a large number of low-income residents vulnerable.

Unlike statewide efforts in earthquake-prone California and Oregon to upgrade all buildings, Seattle and Washington have done little to address this issue. In a council meeting last October, city officials concluded more than 1,100 buildings need seismic upgrades, which could cost as much as $1 billion. The Seattle Times reported that as many as 33,000 people live and work in unsafe buildings every day, including as many as 2,000 people living in affordable housing.

To determine the list of affordable housing units in unreinforced masonry buildings, senior structural engineer Nancy Devine of the Department of Construction and Inspections used permit records as well as on-site inspections and Google street views.

She came up with 39 buildings across Seattle with varying levels of retrofit. She sorted them into two categories: high-risk and medium-risk in the event of an earthquake. Buildings land in either category based on how much, if any, retrofitting has been done, the building’s location and the number of potential victims in case of a catastrophic quake. Two buildings could have the same level of existing seismic upgrades but its location in Pioneer Square — where the geology is less stable  — or its use as a preschool would elevate the building to “high-risk.”

Some buildings already have upgrades so the cost to fully retrofit them varies from as little as $5 per square foot up to $65. To average it out, Devine used the city’s standard average of $45 to come up with the $79 million total.

“That’s truly a ballpark, just to start the conversation,” she said.

The city’s affordable housing providers, which receive funding from Seattle as well as a number of other sources, function on tight budgets and cannot raise rents. Shouldering the full cost of seismically upgrading their buildings at current funding levels would be impossible, they say.

“This could be a $14 million issue,” says Brad Lange, senior director of Asset Management and Acquisitions for Capitol Hill Housing. The housing provider, which owns and manages nearly 50 buildings in the Seattle-area, was notified it had ten buildings that needed upgrades. “We don’t have $14 million lying around to pay for this. We’re already operating on a very thin margin.”

The City Council has revisited the issue of mandating seismic upgrades for decades, including as early as last August. As reported by The Times, City Hall is unlikely to push a mandate until 2019, at the earliest. Lange says his organization is committed to providing safe housing to its residents, but mandating upgrades would be difficult without additional government support. “If government agencies mandate repair and owners are unable to make those repairs, there’s no option but to demolish the building,” he says. That could leave more people without homes.

His colleague at Capitol Hill Housing, Dylan Locati, echoed the point. “To think about adding on this other mandate for preservation, there’s got to be another source of funding.”

But recent battles for more housing dollars have not come easy. In August 2016, voters approved an affordable housing levy to raise $290 million over 7 years, or just over $40 million a year. But only $6 million per year is reserved for operation and maintenance costs; the majority of the total is earmarked to build or purchase new affordable housing.

The City Council also went through a protracted fight over whether to use bonds — essentially its credit card — to raise more money in the short term for affordable housing. It ended up pushing forward $25 million, which will mostly go toward building new units.

The council, during last fall’s budget season, engaged in a bitter fight over a proposed business tax to raise an additional $25 million for affordable housing. The tax proposal failed but efforts to revive it continue.

And the City Council recently signed off on Durkan’s proposal to sell publicly-owned land parcels property to recoup $11 million for affordable housing.

Lange understands the politics of all of this. The city “wants to say they’re building new units to address the affordability crisis,” he says. “But the city has a huge portfolio of properties they’re already investors in.”

Capitol Hill Housing is hiring engineers to get a better understanding of how much work needs to be done on each of its buildings. In addition to the 10 on the city’s list, it’s inspecting an additional six.

Locati emphasizes that any solution will likely take state and federal funds, as well as city dollars. But all three levels have moved slowly. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Syndicated from, featured photo source Matt McKnight/Crosscut.