NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Sound Transit christens University Link tunnel boring machines at Husky Stadium

Let the tun­nel­ing begin!

This morn­ing, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton’s Husky Sta­di­um, Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, Fed­er­al Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tor Peter Rogoff, and local elect­ed offi­cials gath­ered to join Sound Tran­sit in chris­ten­ing the bor­ing machines that will exca­vate the tun­nels between the U‑District sta­tion at Husky Sta­di­um and the Capi­tol Hill sta­tion at Broad­way and Denny.

University Link TBM Launch Banner

The wel­come ban­ner at the Uni­ver­si­ty Link tun­nel bor­ing machine launch (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Uni­ver­si­ty Link, which is sched­uled to open in 2016, will extend light rail from down­town Seat­tle to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton via Capi­tol Hill.

Much of the fund­ing ($813 mil­lion of the total $1.9 bil­lion) is being pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, in recog­ni­tion of the strong rid­er­ship poten­tial and the pos­i­tive eco­nom­ic impact that the project represents.

““The Uni­ver­si­ty Link project is already cre­at­ing qual­i­ty jobs here Seat­tle, and it is going to be great for local com­muters and the com­mu­ni­ty when it opens in 2016,” Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray said in a statement.

Inter­im UW Pres­i­dent Phyl­lis Wise added, “Today marks anoth­er mile­stone in the progress Sound Tran­sit is mak­ing in con­struct­ing our region’s light rail sys­tem. Each step brings us clos­er to the day when peo­ple through­out the region will be able to com­mute to the Uni­ver­si­ty by train. We are eager for the dig­ging to com­mence and look for­ward to the day when this sta­tion is com­plete and the trains begin to arrive.”

At today’s event, bot­tles of cham­pagne were placed on a line teth­ered to the two tun­nel bor­ing machines, and dropped against the side.

The machines, nick­named Togo and Bal­to, are already in place, hav­ing been low­ered by the con­trac­tors to the bot­tom of the hole that’s been exca­vat­ed to the imme­di­ate south­west of Husky Stadium.They will oper­ate between one hun­dred and three hun­dred feet under­ground on their jour­ney south.

Togo and Bal­to were man­u­fac­tured by Her­renknecht, a Ger­man firm spe­cial­iz­ing in tun­nel­ing. They each weigh around 503.4 met­ric tons, and were fab­ri­cat­ed near the Port of Taco­ma by Jesse Engi­neer­ing. Near­ly forty-five truck loads were need­ed to bring the TBMs and their trail­ing machin­ery to Montlake.

Each TBM is divid­ed into three parts. The for­ward shell (which hous­es the cut­ter­head and the main dri­ve), the sta­tion­ary shell (home to the propul­sion sys­tem and steer­ing) and the trail­ing shield, which con­tains the equip­ment need­ed to exca­vate the spoils and lay tun­nel segments.

Sound Tran­sit per­mit­ted myself and pho­tog­ra­phers from sev­er­al oth­er media out­lets to descend into the shaft so we could get a bet­ter view of the TBMs. They’re actu­al­ly hard to see from the sur­face; there’s a lot of gird­ers that obstruct the view.

Here’s a shot from the top:

View from the top of the UW Station shaft

One of the two tun­nel bor­ing machines is vis­i­ble from the sur­face at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Sta­tion con­struc­tion site. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

And here’s the view from the bot­tom of the stairwell:

Balto and Togo

The twin TBMs Bal­to and Togo dom­i­nate the scene at the bot­tom of the UW Sta­tion shaft. Ini­tial­ly, only one will be exca­vat­ing; the oth­er will fol­low on a par­al­lel course soon after­ward. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The machines will break into the soil lat­er this week. The cut­ter­heads will spin at between 0.1 to 2.5 rev­o­lu­tions per sec­ond as they exca­vate. Exca­va­tion will con­tin­ue until mid-2013, so the con­tract­ing teams will be tun­nel­ing for an esti­mat­ed two years. That’s actu­al­ly not such a long time­frame, con­sid­er­ing that the entire Uni­ver­si­ty Link exten­sion is under­ground (there are no at grade sections).

Sta­tion con­struc­tion is the next pri­or­i­ty. That’s expect­ed to con­tin­ue until mid-2015. Sys­tems test­ing will then fol­low, and the line will open in 2016.

Closeup view of one of the TBM cutterheads

A close­up view of one of the tun­nel bor­ing machine cut­ter­heads. Each cut­ter­head is twen­ty-one feet in diam­e­ter. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The UW sta­tion is sched­uled to be com­plet­ed first, in ear­ly 2015. The Capi­tol Hill sta­tion should be done in late sum­mer or ear­ly autumn of that year.

It’s real­ly excit­ing to see Uni­ver­si­ty Link mov­ing for­ward. I remem­ber when the Emer­ald Mole was launched in 2006 to dig the Bea­con Hill tun­nels for Cen­tral Link. That was cer­tain­ly a momen­tous occa­sion, as today is.

As Sound Tran­sit’s plan­ners know, get­ting between down­town and the U‑District is present­ly very chal­leng­ing dur­ing rush hour, even for com­muters tak­ing a bus like the 545 Express. When it opens, Uni­ver­si­ty Link will offer a reli­able com­mute between these two vital neigh­bor­hoods, no mat­ter what the traf­fic or the weath­er are like. That day sim­ply can­not come soon enough.

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