I wasn’t sure I would ever drive through the new Downtown Tunnel. Our home lies part-way along its route, meaning that we would ordinarily have to backtrack to get to either portal. Our kayak, though, dwells at Salmon Bay, well to the north; so a trip to any of the beaches in the south part of Puget Sound may conveniently include motoring through the tunnel — at least until the toll kicks in, some time later this summer.
The birth of the tunnel is linked to the demise of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and that process has a ways to go yet. Some parts are still standing, while others are completely gone: the effect is like the isolated buttes that persisted during the street regrades a century ago. The legacy section in this first picture survives because it is holding up the Columbia Street pedestrian walkway from downtown to the ferry docks (which are themselves being made-over, as the seawall recently has been). The land that the remnant stands on did not exist when the Denny Party arrived; it was later made from fill.
Fill is now the destiny of the viaduct itself. When it was decided that the rubble would be placed in the now-empty Battery Street Tunnel, I imagined that trucks would busy themselves backing in and dumping their loads in the darkness. But no, the choice was made to funnel the debris in from the top. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see those long trucks rumbling by our house.
I caught up with one of the trucks between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. To the pedestrian, it was always the grates in the sidewalk that marked the underground path of Highway 99 — but the narrower openings in the middle of the roadway are, naturally, where the dust goes in. The truck pulls up next to a big metal quarter-pipe-like trough, a spray of water materializes to suppress airborne particulates, and the hopper of the truck lurches sideways to dump its load into the old tunnel below the street. There’s a video here of such a truck dumping its load, a block away between Third and Fourth Avenues.
Below is my mid-80s picture of the Viaduct from near the Pike Place Market, heading south toward the unsuspecting Kingdome (itself reduced to rubble in 2000) and then veering around to the right: