Sunday, August 14, 2011

Seattle Times Newspaper's Danny Westneat: Digging into Seattle's century-old debate

Seattle, vote Yes on Referendum 1.

In 1904, the Great Northern Tunnel, although not the longest, was the highest, 28 feet, and widest, 30 feet, in the United States. The finished tunnel was lighted by electricity, well ventilated and large enough to accommodate a double line of tracks. In constructing the tunnel, $1,000,000 was spent on labor alone and $500,000 was spent for materials and other costs. The tunnel was intended for use by both the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railroads, who split the cost of construction.

Today, in the Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat points out that we have a tunnel already, it is 100 years old, and was constructed to reduce traffic congestion.
I think it is odd that a journalist has to point something out to the anti-tunnel folks, including the mayor.

In part, here is Danny Wesrtneat:
Mayor Mike McGinn mostly opposes digging a tunnel for financial and environmental reasons, but he has also called the project "unacceptably risky." He cited how it will be dug through "extreme soil conditions" beneath a major American city.

But nobody ever seems to mention that we already have a tunnel down there. It was dug through these same soils. It's no minor tube, either. It's a mile long and 30 feet in diameter (enough room for two train ways). In places, it is 140 feet below the surface.

And here's the thing that gets me: They dug it by hand.

In April 1903, "an army of 350 workers with pickaxes, shovels and wheelbarrows began digging into the hillside" at the foot of Virginia Street, according to theSeattle history website

The Great Northern Tunnel is smaller — it's 60 percent of the length of today's proposed 1.7 mile-long tunnel, and only about half as wide. Still, at the time it was the largest train tunnel ever attempted (again — sound familiar?). Yet it took two work crews digging from opposite ends only 17 months to chisel the entire thing out by hand.

That's about the time it takes us to convene an advisory commission.

According to newspaper reports at the time, incessant water seepage hampered work, as did soil cave-ins, boulders and the discovery of a prehistoric forest. Yet the entire project cost only $1.5 million. Plus it's still in heavy use 108 years later. The last earthquake, in 2001, didn't crack it or move it an inch.

In today's dollars, the old train tunnel cost about $40 million — fifty times less than what we're projected to pay for the new tunnel.

"I don't think that train tunnel has ever missed a day of service," says Ron Paananen, manager of the state's team planning the current tunnel. "It changed the face of Seattle, and it doesn't get a lot of notice."

How can we be so freaked out by something when we did a version of the same thing more than a hundred years ago?

Danny Westneat | Digging into Seattle's century-old debate | Seattle Times Newspaper

I have mentioned it, many times, and so the joke goes like this:
1 hundred years ago, hundreds of pickaxes, hundreds of men, 10's of jackasses, were used to build the tunnel we already have.
Now we have 1 machine, hundreds of men and women, and 1 jackass - Mike McGinn, will be used to build this tunnel.