ROADS/BRIDGES: Seattle road project restarted after excavation reveals no historic impact

Shellwork found in the ground was found to have no bearing on native Washington state history

November 10, 2014

Seattle Tunnel Partners, with whom the Washington State Department of Transportation contracted for the $3.1 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project, were allowed to resume work recently after a state-mandated delay of nearly two weeks following the discovery of shell material in the earth that was thought to have historic significance. It was determined that this is not so.

On Oct. 23, workers digging a vertical shaft toward a broken-down boring machine found what was described as “shell material” in the soil, and archeologists were subsequently called in to substantiate the importance—or lack thereof—of this material. At issue was whether or not this material was related to the history of tribes native to the area. After careful examination, it was concluded that the shells were little more than ephemera of the commercial fisheries activities undertaken by early settlers to the Seattle area. Of historic interest, but little historic consequence. Work was therefore approved to resume immediately.

The Viaduct Replacement project aims to replace a stretch of highway dating back to the 1950s that sustained damage in a 2001 earthquake. The delay has caused what the WSDOT has characterized as minor urgency in the project overall timetable, and it is believed that quick repair of the compromised boring machine will see tunneling completely with a minimum of impact on the work schedule moving forward.