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Trenches Be Damned: Seawall Opens For Seattle Summer

It's been two weeks since the shops and restaurants of the Elliott Bay Seawall reopened after a long winter of being closed for construction.

Since reopening July 1, tourists have enjoyed unseasonably gorgeous weather for riding the Seattle Great Wheel, gorging on oysters and trying on Seahawks T-shirts.

But as our visitors play by the water, the nearby seawall project remains unfinished. A trench runs through it, crisscrossed by construction bridges.  

"We were all hoping that they'd be done July 1, which was what the schedule was,” said Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s Inc., which has a restaurant on the Seawall. “They didn't get there. And there's nothing we can do about that. It's a construction project, so we're making the best with what we have."

Businesses had agreed to close last fall, to allow the city to go full tilt in tearing down and rebuilding the sSeawall. It's a $331 million city project to stabilize an area built long before people understood the region’s danger of earthquake. 

And construction projects – particularly ones that involve a lot of underground work – can encounter delays.

Jessica Murphy, manager of the seawall project, said it would be completed on time in 2016. But stabilizing the soils behind the seawall – a critical part of the reconstruction – lagged because of unexpected obstacles such as utility boxes and underground wires.

When that happens, workers “have to figure out whose it is, is it live, what do we do with it, where does it go, whose lights go off if it gets disconnected?” Murphy said.

So the project is taking longer, and the wide-open trench in front of waterfront businesses runs from Ivar’s Acres of Clams to the Crab Pot.

On two recent walks through the construction zone, people paused to play pingpong or to toss bean bags.

Tourist Kevin Blanks sat on a yellow plastic armchair facing away from Elliott Bay and the construction trench, watching cars whizz by on the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“I think it’s great,” he said of the waterfront and its projects. “We’re visiting from Florida and it’s very relaxing up here.”

The seawall replacement stabilizes soils that also run beneath the viaduct – for the time that it remains standing. The project to replace the viaduct has been famously delayed because of the failure of the giant tunnel-boring machine Bertha, but it is expected to resume soon.  

“You’ve got to have progress, you’ve got to have construction,” Blanks said.

“Slow progress, I guess,” said Jena Robinson, visiting from Spokane. “Everything takes time I suppose. Last time I came through, one of my friends just pulled over, picked me up and went off on her way. But you really have to maneuver yourself around here now.”

Work resumes in front of the restaurants and shops this October. This time the city says businesses will be allowed to stay open.