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​Seattle Hits Another Milestone on Light-Rail Tunnel Project

Chuncks of a concrete support beam fall as a tunnel boring machine, turning a 21-foot diameter cutting head, breaks through a support wall in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Seattle Tunnel Boring Machine Breaks Through to U-District
Last week, Sound Transit officials celebrated the opening of the Link light-rail subway extension to the University of Washington campus via Capitol Hill. This week, they announced that tunnel boring machines working their way south from the future Northgate station to the just-opened station at Husky Stadium have gotten two-thirds of the way towards their destination.

According to an article in Mass Transit, the second of two tunnel boring machines holed through to the site of the future University District subway station on March 24. Meanwhile, the first machine is well on its way from that station to the eventual connection at Husky Stadium.

Once the first machine has reached its next hole-through site, both machines will be inspected to determine which will be used to dig the final tunnel segment between University District and Husky Stadium.

The article quoted Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine as saying, “With more tunneling work under way and construction of Northgate Station starting this year, we’re on target to extend fast, reliable light-rail service to Northgate in 2021.” The 4.3-mile Northgate extension has a price tag of $1.9 billion; when it opens, it will offer travel times of 14 minutes to downtown, seven minutes to Husky Stadium and 47 minutes to Sea-Tac Airport from Northgate Mall. The Northgate station will be elevated, and there will be underground stations at the University District and in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

Canberra Puts Tram Extension on Hold Until After Election
The government of the Australian Capital Territory has shelved plans to proceed with extending Canberra’s starter light-rail line to the Russell defense precinct until after the territorial election in October, the Canberra Times reports.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr now plans to develop a more ambitious second phase extension of the line that would also serve the parliamentary triangle and possibly the Canberra airport and Australian National University.

A rendering of the winning consortium for Canberra's Light-Rail project (Credit: ACT Government)

The proposal would then be presented to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the federal Labour opposition in order to persuade them to fund the extension, and details of its route would be put to the voters before the election in order to turn it into a referendum of sorts on extending the line.

The ACT government has not yet released a cost projection for the longer extension.

Though an online poll conducted by the Times shows that a plurality of all voters support an extension to Russell and even more said the light-rail line extension would be a “game changer” for their votes, the Liberals, who are in opposition in the ACT government, question whether a public mandate exists for the more ambitious extension. Putting the Russell extension on hold will also give the government time to negotiate with the airport and university over where the light-rail route would run.

$70 Million Allotted to Speed Up Overdue Gateway Project
With the existing Hudson River tunnels leading to New York’s Pennsylvania Station now living on borrowed time, the parties involved in building new ones have taken steps to get work started sooner.

Workers near an outbound train on the tracks under New York's Penn Station in 2015 (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Railway Track and Structures reports that the partners in the Gateway Project are moving to get preliminary engineering work underway, streamline environmental reviews and set up a development corporation to oversee the project, which also includes replacing the century-old Portal Bridge near Newark. The partners involved are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Amtrak, the U.S. Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit.

The tunnel project is receiving $70 million for preliminary engineering work, with half coming from the federal government via Amtrak and half coming from the port authority. The work will help expedite environmental review and permitting for the tunnels. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has also pledged to devote federal resources towards speeding up the permitting process.

As a first step towards creating the development corporation, the four partners will also draft a memorandum of understanding that will establish an interim framework for cooperation among them. The development corporation will be structured so as to be eligible for all possible sources of funding.

In addition to the new Hudson tunnels and replacement of the Portal Bridge, the Gateway Project will also replace a second New Jersey bridge, preserve the new tunnel right-of-way through Manhattan’s Hudson Yards and add capacity to New York Penn Station, Newark Penn Station and Secaucus Junction.

Know of a project that should be included in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.