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The Transformation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2019 | Personal Injury

By Pendergast Law on July 10, 2019

The Alaskan Way Viaduct opened in 1953 to provide a way to transport vehicles north and south along Seattle’s waterfront. As Seattle grew and traffic increased, the viaduct offered an alternative passageway for more than 90,000 vehicles per day.

In the 1960s, the viaduct was recognized as an obstacle between the waterfront and the downtown area of Seattle, but worries over safety – particularly during earthquakes – eventually eclipsed this concern. When engineers concluded that a powerful earthquake could lead to a complete collapse of the viaduct, government agencies investigated several replacement options. They decided that a tunnel would be the best alternative. In 2009, they announced that the two-year construction project would begin in 2013. But it didn’t all go as planned.

A Project Fraught with Problems

To create the tunnel, the world’s largest tunneling machine was sent to Seattle from Japan, which was the first of several long delays in completing the project. The tunneling machine, nicknamed Bertha, took three months to assemble and only functioned intermittently by December 2013. The project was halted for two years in January 2014.

After finally resuming construction, two more problems occurred: a sinkhole formed near the site, after which it was determined that Bertha had veered about six inches off course.

Finally, in February 2019, State Road (SR) 99 Tunnel was opened to traffic.

Injuries Suffered by Construction Workers on the SR 99 Tunnel Project

The SR 99 tunnel, to date, has resulted in $1 million in workers’ compensation claims. Many of the injuries sustained were extremely serious. For example, four men suffered injuries when an elevator shaft in which they were working plunged 25 feet after a wall of the shaft collapsed. (They had been installing rebar for a concrete wall.) This resulted in arm, neck, and back injuries. Just a few other accidents on the tunnel project included chemical burns, falling objects, vehicle crashes, and countless other minor to severe injuries.

OSHA’s Report on Safety and Fatalities in the Construction Industry

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in a recent year, 20.7% of all worker fatalities were in the construction industry. The tunnel has proven to be a dangerous project, with many workers injured through what OSHA calls the Fatal Four:

  • Falls are reported as causing 39.2% of total deaths in construction in a recent year.
  • Being struck by an object caused 8.2% of worker fatalities in the same year.
  • Electrocutions contributed 7.3% of construction deaths.
  • Caught in/between accounted for 5.1% of fatalities. These incidents occur when a worker is killed when “caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material.”

What to Do If You or a Loved One Is Injured on the Job

While workers’ compensation may, at first glance, appear to be the obvious way to cover the costs of living after being injured on the job, there are a number of other facts that have to be evaluated to determine the type of benefits to pursue. In some cases, a personal injury lawsuit could be filed against a negligent third party. Accidents involving equipment failures, or negligent actions by subcontractors make it possible to file a lawsuit to pursue compensatory damages far above benefits paid through Washington State’s workers’ compensation.

There are specific laws related to claims against the government, whether the defendant is a federal, state or local agency. Generally, claims against third-party government agencies have certain filing requirements under RCW 4.92.100. It is imperative that a serious injury case is handled correctly, with the help of a qualified Seattle personal injury attorney.