Waterfront for Dummies: New Tunnel "Discovery Center" Opens in Pioneer Square

Got questions about the massive deep-bore tunnel project? Do you like your tranpo info delivered in the form of cool animation, touch-screen simulations, and adorable soundbites with children? WSDOT's ambitious new "project info center" opened today in Pioneer Square with all that and more, clearly the labor of love of a handful of dedicated WSDOT employees.

The center—free and open to the public Tuesday-Saturday—incudes displays on the history, geography and geology of Pioneer Square and surrounds: ceiling-high core samples of dirt, archeological artifacts dug up during the project (basically, broken Japanese dishes) and a cool wheel-o-glacial death that depicts 20,000 years of icy and lahar-y geo-history. A bit of a tunnel itself, the deep, narrow room terminates in the coolest thing of all: a startlingly realistic, life-size painting of the inside of the tunnel, traffic and all.

It is dizzy-making, but then, so is the scope of this project, the details of which became clear after a lengthy chat with Chris Dixon, the project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners—essentially, the Captain Kirk of the deep-bore Enterprise.

Things I learned from Chris: This is the second-largest deep-bore tunnel project in the WORLD (the largest—in St. Petersburg, Russia, isn't yet underway and will beat us by 2.5 feet). At any time during the drilling, as many as 40 people will be working inside the machine as it churns through the glacial till. At first, drilling will proceed at about 6 feet a day, accellerating to 36 feet a day at its peak. To give you an idea of how much dirt will be churned: At the end of th project, the cutter head will weigh 5 tons less than it did at the start, worn away as it grinds.

And no, he doesn't think SoDo and Pioneer Square will shake as the bore makes its progress. So there goes my argument for "working from home" during the 16 months of boring.

Visit the center—called Milepost 31, after its location—online
Watch a cool animation of the bore in action