Sound Transit’s first tunnel under Capitol Hill nearly complete as Montlake noise concerns continue

Workers inside the first Capitol HIll tunnel (Image: Sound Transit)

Over the weekend, contractors for Sound Transit’s U-Link project went to work beneath the neighborhood streets of Montlake smoothing rails and tightening joints in an effort to eliminate noises and vibrations that have had some residents of the area on edge. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the 3.15-mile project, the first of U-Link’s tunnel boring machines to depart from Capitol Hill is about to break through into the extraction shaft next to the Paramount after a 4-month journey that most people on the surface were blissfully unaware was going on below.


Shelby/Hamlin
CHS first reported on the noises and vibrations in Montlake earlier this month. Described by some as a sound similar to somebody dragging a thunking plastic recycle bin down a flight of stairs and others as a rhythmic scraping, Sound Transit Thursday night repeated to a room full of concerned Montlake residents Thursday night what the agency told CHS — the noise and vibrations under the Shelby/Hamlin neighborhood were coming from the rail system to remove dirt from the tunnels being bored from Montlake up to Capitol HIll, not the tunnel boring machines.

“What you are experiencing is correlated with the supply train,” Joe Gildner, executive project director for U-Link told the unimpressed crowd as Sound Transit representatives detailed mitigation efforts being planned for the neighborhood including new rail in the tunnels for the supply trains, replacing steel ties with wood rail ties and adding rubber mats between the rail ties and rail fasteners in an effort to quite the operations.

Sound Transit officials acknowledged that noise complaints in Montlake started as far back as the start of boring in August. Some residents speaking at Thursday night’s meeting said Sound Transit’s initial response at that time denied the possibility that the noise was caused by the supply train process.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Sound Transit reps also said they did not know why noise issues would be an issue in Montlake but not on Capitol Hill when operations in the tunnels between Broadway and downtown are happening at similar depths. The U-Link tunnels traveling between Broadway and the downtown transit tunnel pass under the homes of thousands of residents — but the dense environment of commercial structures and apartment and condominium buildings is apparently a much different living environment than the residential streets of Montlake.

Capitol Hill to Downtown
It has been a mostly quiet journey for tunnel boring machine Brenda as she dug her way for four months from Broadway, under I-5 to the Pine extraction site where the TBM is expected to break through this week. There, the huge machine will be taken apart and trucked back to Broadway to start her mission to bore a second tunnel to downton. Officials expect that second run to begin in January or February and to take six months.

In Montlake, Sound Transit says crews have already installed new ties in portions of the tunnels beneath the neighborhood and this weekend sections of rail were smoothed and and tightened. Crews have also been operating the blamed supply trains in first gear during the night shift reducing the speed of travel by half to 2.5 miles per hour in an attempt to keep things quiet. “Anecdotally, we think this may have improved things but we’ll be back out doing more monitoring to see for sure,” the rep told CHS of the various measures being tried underground in Montlake.

ULinkStreetmap1_07

Chatter about the issues has quieted down on a neighborhood forum where the noise and vibrations were being discussed. An email sent to one resident who had complained of damage to his home from the vibrations has not been answered.

At Thursday night’s meeting, representatives told a crowd of around 30 residents that Sound Transit’s immediate concern was reducing noise experienced by neighbors and said it was too early to consider “long-term consequences” of what is happening in the area. The noise and vibrations could continue for another six months of scheduled tunnel boring on the Capito Hill to Montlake portion of the line if mitigation efforts aren’t successful. Even more worrisome is the possibility that the irritation and possible damage to homes could continue once the line becomes operational in 2016.

While backing off the worries about possible noise impacts during operations after 2016, Sound Transit acknowledged the complaints regarding current noise but and said its analysis of cracking reports in the area showed that vibration levels in the area could not be responsible for any cracking and that there has been no evidence of any settling in the area like the sandy voids that damaged this Beacon Hill home.

At least one neighbor wasn’t satisfied with the Sound Transit community outreach effort. Following Thursday night’s meeting, the Montlake resident posted to the neighborhood forum:

I think we should work as a group to make it their most important priority. I will be investigating city noise standards and whether S.T. somehow struck a deal that means that residents where ever their track goes must forfeit nighttime sleep. It would seem unholy if that is the case. I would like the help of one or more of you lawyer neighbors in filing appropriate paperwork with the city to demand S.T. immediately cease the noisy nighttime work until they solve this issue.

We asked the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development about the noise complaints in Montlake. A rep says DPD has received “several” complaints but that it won’t be acting on them. “We have conveyed that the noise generated by the underground trains on the tracks is not addressed under Seattle noise regulations,” the rep told CHS.

For now, the noise and vibration worries appear confined to Montlake. As the boring continues up past Interlaken, the supply trains will soon be running beneath northern Capitol HIll and the Volunteer Park area. Will the noise and vibration reports follow them?

Sound Transit says its mitigation efforts already underway plus a plan to replace a component of the supply train tracks with thick rubber pads should eventually make for a quiet journey. If that’s the case, Montlake neighbors suffered for a time honored reason — their area went first. One resident at Thursday night’s meeting wasn’t pleased with this kind of course correction on a major engineering project. “Aren’t you guys the experts?,” she asked the assemblage of Sound Transit officials inside the Montlake Community Center.

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2 thoughts on “Sound Transit’s first tunnel under Capitol Hill nearly complete as Montlake noise concerns continue

  1. Wow, are these Montlake people spoiled; they’re the very cream of the NIMBY lot. Anti-tunnel, anti-freeway expansion, anti-anything that might slighly intrude on their wealthy, exclusionary enclave.

    Guess what, folks – EVERYBODY in Seattle has been putting up with tunneling, bad roads, crowded freeways, etc. Just because you live in “ooh ooh Montlake” doesn’t make you more important than the citizens of – oh, let’s say Rainier Valley” – even though you’re legends in your own minds…