Concrete chunks and dust steadily tumble from the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but the old bulwark has been more stubborn than demolition companies expected.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) last week told waterfront business and tourism leaders that contractors won’t be done smashing the core of the double-decker hulk between Pike Street and Yesler Way until June 22, according to Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s.
That would miss a June 1 target the state and Kiewit Infrastructure West announced when demolition started Feb. 14.
Demolition subcontractor FERMA is steadily reintroducing the waterfront to sunlight, to the delight of office workers and residents. The full 2-mile job can still be completed this summer, likely in August.
However, after nine weeks of work, only seven north-south deck pairs in the central Yesler-to-Pike segment, plus the Columbia Street onramp, have been demolished. Another two pairs are partly broken, leaving 27 deck pairs intact, plus the Seneca Street ramp.
“It’s disappointing, that when someone gives you a commitment and doesn’t fulfill it, especially in our busiest period during the summer,” said Donegan, a longtime supporter of the Highway 99 tunnel that replaced the viaduct Feb. 4. Crews were needing 1.3 to 1.7 days to remove each deck section, instead of the 0.6 days forecast in February, according to Donegan, who attended a state briefing last Tuesday.
WSDOT spokeswoman Laura Newborn acknowledges contractors started slowly.
“They are looking for efficiencies to speed up the work,” she said. The prospective delay is “not three weeks, but a couple weeks,” Newborn said.
For instance, crews have finally opened enough space to park their tallest munching machines. The grasping jaws now face north for a head-on attack, and they’ve got more room to swivel. Teams can work faster than they did in cramped workspace near the Columbia Street ramp.
“They are on a pace they intended now,” Newborn said.
Kiewit also decided to push through concrete along multiple decks at the same level, to spend less time shifting equipment between upper and lower levels, she said.
Here’s how the Alaskan Way Viaduct is being demolished | Video
Kiewit reports that more 30 percent of the overall viaduct is removed, including gaps near the stadiums and Battery Street Tunnel.
Last winter the state and Kiewit rejiggered the work sequence, in a nonbinding promise to clear the central portion by June 1 for tourism needs, and defer the south end near CenturyLink Field to come down in July.
The schedule change defused a controversy last fall, when Highway 99 Administrator Brian Nielsen postponed the tunnel’s grand opening until Feb. 4 — raising hackles of waterfront interests who foresaw viaduct demolition lingering deep into 2019.
Seattle Aquarium staff hoped the teardown near their door would come and go by Memorial Day.
“We are constantly worried about wayfinding, access to our guests, and reminding visitors that the aquarium is open and it’s business as usual,” public affairs director Tim Kuniholm said. A record 864,403 people visited in 2018, but four-fifths were from out of state, he said, as fewer Washington residents make their way to the central waterfront.
June demolition across the street would mean asking summer aquarium visitors to adapt, by taking a free waterfront shuttle bus, finding parking-garage spots through downtownseattle.org, or embracing the once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness the massive demolition, he said.
Thousands of people already stop to watch or take photos, especially sports fans and commuters who arrive at Colman dock by ferry.
Joe Follansbee of West Seattle, watching the breakdown Friday from the sidewalk, said a short delay wouldn’t matter after 18 years of debate, design and construction, following the 2001 Nisqually earthquake that damaged the 66-year-0ld viaduct.
“The little kid in me, watching the machines munch and chew up the concrete, is kind of like a Transformers movie. As far as the program goes, take your time, do it right. If it takes a few more months that’s OK, nobody will remember it 10 years from now,” Follansbee said. “I wanted to see the viaduct gone; it’s an ugly monstrosity.”
Farther north, several spans have already been removed near Pike Place Market and Battery Street. Just below Victor Steinbrueck Park, a worker bolted a temporary observation catwalk to a leftover viaduct column, where a delicate operation will saw and extract whole girders that supported the highway above BNSF Railway tracks.
Ivar’s will be OK, as it runs restaurants across the region, but Donegan says he worries about smaller merchants, Ye Old Curiosity Shoppe and Argosy boat tours that were supposed to see surface parking restored this tourist season. The state should strive for June 1 even if that requires more personnel, weekends and night shifts, he said.
Kiewit’s demolition work is already a $40 million expense, within a larger $94 million contract that includes decommissioning the Battery Street Tunnel and rebuilding lower Aurora Avenue North.
Donegan said another summer of heavy demolition follows years of waterfront disruptions, including a seawall replacement project that ended in 2017, in which contractors strived to reduce peak-month access closures. The Highway 99 project itself ran three years overtime.
WSDOT responds that even if contractors go a couple weeks late, nearly all the central viaduct will be gone June 1, to create a brighter, quieter experience than before. The state on Friday posted a YouTube video of a span being demolished.