A Repsonse To The Viaduct Earthquake Video

Five former members of the Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee just issued the following press release in response the viaduct earthquake scenario video that was made public yesterday by the Washington State Department of Transportation.



SEATTLE, WA — Oct. 26, 2009

Yesterday the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released a dramatization showing the potential damage to the viaduct in the case of an earthquake.  The probability of an earthquake strong enough to close the viaduct happening was stated as a 10% chance in the next ten years.

As citizens who served for a year in 2008 on the Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee, we are disturbed that WSDOT did not share this video with us during the stakeholder process, even though it appears that they had paid Parsons Brinkerhoff to prepare it in 2007.

“From the beginning of the process, we had always operated under the assumption that the Governor meant what she said when she insisted that the Viaduct was coming down in 2012,” said Mike O’Brien. 

“The deep bore tunnel was the only scenario that did not meet this strict deadline of removal of the viaduct by 2012,” commented Chuck Ayres.  “All of the other scenarios we studied, including the two recommendations made by WSDOT, would have allowed for removal by 2012.”

“After watching the video, we are even more convinced that taking down the viaduct by 2012 should be a non-negotiable public safety priority of all parties involved,” said Mary McCumber.

“Would you sign a ten year lease on a building if you knew there was a 10% chance of it collapsing on you in those ten years?” asked Cary Moon. “By delaying the closure of the viaduct, that is in essence what we are asking the citizens of Seattle to do.”

Viaduct Stakeholder Advisory Committee members:

Chuck Ayres  206.851.4312
Rob Johnson  206.920.9578
Mary McCumber  206.284.0605
Cary Moon  206.624.1061 
Mike O’Brien   206.200.2980


Here’s the video:

16 Responses to “A Repsonse To The Viaduct Earthquake Video”

  1. Joe G

    YES YES YES! Finally I hear someone official mentioning the fact the Gregoire said that she would be removing the viaduct by 2012. This has been something that I have brought up over and over and over again and I was beginning to wonder if I had misunderstood what she had said. They are exactly right. If it is truly believed that this could occur and that is why we must go forward with the tunnel because there is no time to waste deliberating a better solution, than they should take it down! I can’t wait to see a response on this. Do you think she will even bother responding? Hmmm.

  2. alexjonlin

    I agree with that letter; that video is ridiculously scary, but plausible, and made me not want to go west of Western until the viaduct is down and the seawall replaced.

  3. Bill B

    The light rail posse has spoken. We should all listen. We have only ten years before calamity! (or until our lease is up – I’m not sure).

  4. Zelbinian

    @Joe G:

    “If it is truly believed that this could occur and that is why we must go forward with the tunnel because there is no time to waste deliberating a better solution, than they should take it down!”

    Love the passion, but your logic is a bit flawed. The current tunnel solution has the viaduct coming down in 2016. The surface hybrid option has it coming down on schedule in 2012. And we have to do the surface hybrid option whether we drill the tunnel or not.

    @Bill B:

    “The light rail posse has spoken.”

    You have impressively stuffed 3 rather silly statements in one sentence. You’ll have to teach me that trick sometime.

    1. WSDOT is part of the ‘light rail posse’? o_0

    2. You seem to be one of those mass transit denialists. Explain to me please why a rapidly growing Seattle should be the only city of its size in the world to go without rapid mass transit. Especially when you consider the large populations of poor, disabled, elderly and homeless who really have no other way of getting around lest the city provide it.

    3. Did you seriously just make light of an earthquake? Have you ever done risk analysis? The scientific approach is to weigh the calculated probability of an event along side its perceived/calculated severity. An event that is relatively low in severity can be given a high priority if it is relatively certain that it is to recur frequently. A snowstorm in Boston is a good example. Likewise, an event that has a relatively low probability of occurring, yet would be catastrophic if it did – like, say, an earthquake – it is also given a high priority.

    Ask anyone in L.A. or San Francisco if they’d laugh at the probabilities presented by WSDOT. They wouldn’t. They’d move their ass to make sure they were prepared.

    I should also mention that this is just the probability of an earthquake knocking it down. There are plenty of other reasons it could fall, as Minnesota is currently very aware of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-35W_Mississippi_River_bridge

  5. Mike

    Is there any indication how secure a deep-bore tunnel would be if faced with a similar earthquake?

  6. Regan

    Some levity: I’m impressed that Ivar’s survives the earthquake in the video – I’ll be sure to head there first thing after the quake for some fish & chips.

    Oh, and besides animating what the liquification of soil next to the sea wall would look like, the video showing collapse of the viaduct is not all that new or revelatory. If you just search footage of the ’89 earthquake in San Francisco, you get the same take-aways (and without the $80K price tag): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zS_g3QDdUQ&feature=related

  7. Wells

    The question to ask is which viaduct replacement option eliminates the threat of catastrophic collapse soonest. The answer there is the Surface/I-5/Transit option.

    Advantage: Mike McGinn.

    Which tunnel option, Deep-bore or 4-lane cut-n-cover, reduces the threat soonest? The critical factor is the Seawall. The cut-n-cover is a slow-progressing construction process for rebuilding the Seawall. The Deep-bore would most likely finish the seawall first.

    However, a ‘box’ tunnel on the Waterfront would strengthen the soils and prevent major liquification. The cut-n-cover is built in 2-block segments. Each completed segment has less threat of soil liquification.

    So, in addition to the 4-lane Cut-n-cover handling traffic much better than the Deep-bore, it also acts as a major soil stabilizer.

    Advantage: Mike McGinn

  8. Max J

    I am against the tunnel like everyone else, but the video is fun to watch.

  9. Bill B

    @4 Zelbinian

    1. WSDOT is not part of the posse. TCC, Futurewise, Sierra Club, Cascade Bike and Ms Moon are. Sorry that was so hard to figure out.

    2. I am not a mass transit denialist. I do not know all the reasons why Seattle is going without rapid ‘public’ transit. But I do know that Light Rail is not ‘rapid’. Nor is it good public transit for the people of Seattle living here today. It may be good ‘mass’ transit for for future populations that Mr McGinn and his supporters (the development and real estate playas) want to build our way to sustainability for. And it is a great system that reinforces our regional sprawl. I am all for a ubiquitous multi-modal public transit system that serves the people of Seattle. Sadly Light Rail is not it. (and sadly, nor will Mr McGinn’s west side light rail).

    3. are you kidding me? 2012-2016 in geologic time is a blink. I think any geological scientist would say that the odds are about equal for the big one. Maybe we should just shut the AWV down now if we’re so frightened…

  10. Max J

    Your third point is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. If we think earthquakes happen ten times a century:

    And can often come as little as 3 years apart, how is 4 years “a blink” on the most meaningful scale?

    You, sir, are an idiot.

  11. Bill B

    “To summarize: the maximum probable earthquake in Washington would be a subduction earthquake having a magnitude exceeding 8 and an epicenter near the coast; it would be caused by sudden slip between the Juan de Fuca and North America plates. From the dating of organic material preserved in rocks along the coast, some scientists believe that such earthquakes have occurred every 300 to 1,000 years. Other large earthquakes in the Puget Sound region can be expected to have magnitudes of at least 6.5 to 7.5 and depths greater than 40 kilometers. Rasmussen and others (1974) estimate 10year return times for magnitude 6 earthquakes in the Puget Sound area. They also propose return times of 35 and 110 years for magnitude 6.5 and 7.0 earthquakes, respectively.”


    Nisqually was 6.8. The WSDOT visualization is a 7.0.

    @Max – if you are so worried about the timeframes, you should start a campaign to should the AWV down now.

  12. Bill B

    sorry, “shut” not “should”…

  13. Joe G

    All this discussion about when the next quake will hit is really kind of silly. The science for predicting earthquakes is very unreliable and pretty much nonexistent.

  14. Cary

    Here’s a reasonable, principled suggestion for what leaders should do given this risk. According to an impressive collection of experts at UW — including a certified MacArthur Genius! — planned closure is much safer and more manageable than a catastrophic failure.

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  16. Endorsements: WSDOT for Mallahan « Seattle Likes Bikes!

    […] EDIT: It also now appears that the Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee hadn’t even been informed of this video even though WSDOT had been sitting on it for the last 2 years. http://hugeasscity.com/2009/10/26/a-repsonse-to-the-viaduct-earthquake-video/ […]

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