The tunnel boring machine called Bertha is currently about a half mile from the end of its journey. Contractors expect to be pulling it out of the ground by June. But the tunnel through downtown Seattle is only part of the project.
The neighborhood around the tunnel’s northern entrance is also getting a makeover.
Aurora Avenue North is like a wall that separates two neighborhoods that otherwise might feel very close: South Lake Union and the Seattle Center. A concrete barrier runs down the middle of Aurora Avenue.
“The intention is that people cannot cross the wall,” said Deborah Daoust, director of communications for Seattle Center.
Daoust brought me to the intersection of Harrison and Aurora. When the tunnel opens in 2019, this part of Aurora will change dramatically.
“We’re getting closer," said Daoust, "There is light at the end of the tunnel for Seattle Center and South Lake Union."
That’s because the tunnel emerges several blocks north of Denny Way. About three blocks of Aurora will no longer be part of Highway 99.
There are hints of that future: Widened sidewalks on Harrison make the street comfortable for walking. But the bigger change has to do with that concrete barrier in the center of the street: It's going away.
Starting in 2019, pedestrians and cars will be allowed to cross Aurora for the first time in decades. That's good for the Seattle Center. “It’ll make it so much easier – and pleasant – for people to walk and to drive here," said Daoust.
Harrison Street will punch through Aurora in 2019. John and Thomas streets will follow after that.
Daoust warned me not to get too far ahead of things, though. Bertha still has to make a diagonal turn and pass underneath the Monorail. That's something Daoust intends to watch very carefully.