From atop a 170-foot tower crane in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood views spill away in multiple directions. To the west, the snow-capped spires of the Olympic Range and the picturesque Seattle skyline. To the northeast, the glacier-carved crevices of the North Cascades. And to the southeast, the imposing bulk of 14,411 Mount Rainier, the largest of the Cascades’ big volcanoes.
The big red crane at Capitol Hill is said to be among the country’s largest. Weighing 40 tons and capable of lifting 16 tons (called a pick in crane parlance), it is part of a $1.9 billion public transportation project that will add 3.15 miles to Seattle’s light rail system.
Called University Link, the light rail extension project will connect downtown Seattle and the University of Washington with stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington campus. It will run in twin-bored tunnels beneath the city’s existing infrastructure and is projected to add 70,000 passenger trips per day to Seattle’s existing light rail system. If things go as planned, University Link will be completed in 2016.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to tour the site of the Capitol Hill Station, where there’s an 80-foot-deep concrete-lined hole in the ground—the eventual light rail station. At the bottom of the hole there is a huge tunnel boring machine dubbed “Brenda” that was being prepared to make its first cuts to the southwest. After boring a roughly 30-foot diameter tunnel downhill while making a right-hand turn, Brenda will excavate beneath Interstate 5 and then connect with the existing light rail line beneath downtown Seattle.
According to Sound Transit, the region’s transportation authority, the Capitol Hill Station will serve 14,000 daily riders by 2030.
The huge red crane, built by Kroll, will deliver pre-cast tunnel segments to the tunnel boring machine for placement and will lift muck and dirt that come out of the tunnel into dump trucks at street level.