As 2019 turns to 2020, the construction stories that dominated the news over the past year will either carry over into the new year or give way to a new focus. Let’s explore some of the top bits of news that proved key in 2019 and will likely offer importance in 2020.
The Tunnel is Open
The continued talk of a tunnel under downtown Seattle dominated the area’s construction news for years. But now that the State Route 99 tunnel is open, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is fully removed and even one court case has gone the way of the Washington State Dept. of Transportation in the dispute over funding for delays and damages in the project, we’re ready to switch our focus. The SR99 project, a story of 2019, will now give way to the future as we focus on reshaping the Seattle waterfront.
Whether Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, B.C., light rail and transit expansion continues to happen or take shape. Sound Transit, the provider for the greater Seattle area, is the fastest-growing transit agency in the country and expect the news on project expansions and openings to continue to push forward. Sound Transit is simultaneously working to extend light rail north, south, east and west. Northgate Link is the next to open, followed in 2023 by the opening of service to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake community. Additional extensions to Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace Lynnwood, Kent/Des Moines, Federal Way and downtown Redmond are planned for 2024 openings. But that isn’t all. Vancouver is planning to extend light rail toward the University of British Columbia campus and Portland is exploring light rail extensions south of the city. Not just for next year but expect that for many years to come the transit discussion will dominate the landscape of these growing regions.
Vancouver is replacing the Pattullo Bridge. The George Massey Tunnel, south of Vancouver, may move closer to a finalized replacement plan. And Portland is also discussing the possibility of a tunnel under the Willamette River. As Vancouver and Portland deal with aging infrastructure over the bridges of their cities, each crossing will have its own set of problems, but expect the discussions to go back and forth through 2020. The Pattullo Bridge, though, a four-lane crossing to replace the existing bridge, is already underway so expect movement there first.
Columbia River Crossing
One bridge project so daunting it deserves its own category is the Columbia River Crossing project, a new bridge for Interstate 5 to connect Portland and Vancouver, Wash. While started, shelved, started, shelved and started again, this project is currently in the let’s-see-where-it-goes phase. Nobody gets too excited any longer about the prospects of replacing the current bridge because lawmakers have proven so wishy-washy in the project’s scope and backing, but with the project again an official effort, it must be watched.
Projects at Portland International Airport, Seattle/Tacoma International Airport and Vancouver International Airport all keep the region’s three largest cities moving forward on efforts to modernize and expand. Portland is remaking and expanding concourses, with the first phase ready in 2020. Seattle is creating an entirely new international arrivals hall, all while continuing to expand gates elsewhere in the airport. In Vancouver, more gates and modernization throughout the property keeps that as one of the largest airport projects around.
Ports all want a larger piece of the business, so expansions by the Northwest Seaport Alliance at the Port of Seattle and a project by the Prince Rupert Porth Authority in northern British Columbia both aim to give those ports extra capacity. The Prince Rupert project could push that port to the second busiest in all of Canada when work wraps up in 2022. The Seattle project will happen in two phases, with deep-water berths opening in both 2021 and 2023.
Hanford’s Continued Movement
Progress is evident at the $16.8 billion Vit Plant project at the Hanford Nuclear Waste Site in southeast Washington. The U.S. Dept. of Energy continues to move forward on treating the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste on the site through the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, known as the Vit Plant, and as the needed components to run the plant continue to come online, everything points to the likelihood that the site will start treating low-activity waste in 2023.
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.