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Earplugs, Triple-Pane Glass Offered To Ease Construction Noise

May 10, 1986

SEATTLE (AP) _ Construction of a 1.3-mile bus tunnel through the heart of downtown is going to be hard to hide over the next four years, but Seattle is doing its best.

The city has offered to provide earplugs, install triple-pane glass and board up windows to reduce noise during the project.

″We hope people won’t even know we’re there,″ says Metro Transit spokesman Jack Kent. But he acknowledges the work will mean enormous disruption.

The project requires cutting through streets to build five underground stations. Between the stations, the tunnel will be bored.

Earlier this year, Metro Transit received permission to exceed county noise standards in the residential areas at both ends of the tunnel - the foot of Capitol Hill and the Asian-American International District.

In between, the tunnel will run beneath Pine Street and Third Avenue, a commercially zoned district of stores, offices, the city’s main shelter for the homeless and several hundred units of low-income housing.

About 200 people sleep each night at the Downtown Emergency Service Center, on a portion of Third Avenue that will be ripped open for a bus station. Director Ken Cole scoffed at the city’s offers of noise remedies, saying boarded windows would make the rooms dungeonlike and earplugs would make work impossible for the staff. Unless acoustical engineers are sent in with better ideas, he says, the shelter will be forced to move.

Once completed, the tunnel will help get more than 500 buses through downtown during rush hours in less than half the 25 minutes now required. Buses will operate on diesel power above ground and on electricity underground.

The five stations will be covered with temporary decks to allow traffic to pass while work goes on below.

Work to prepare for the $415 million tunnel is expected to start in June or July, when jackhammers rip open streets so underground utilities can be moved. Construction outside the shelter starts in 1987.

But Cole said workers already dug to find water mains, making so much noise that people inside the shelter couldn’t stand three feet apart and hold a conversation.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation agreed to release funds to cover about half the cost of the project, members of the state’s congressional delegation said. Still, Congress must appropriate the funds every year.

Metro Transit must decide by Dec. 31 whether to promise to finish the project regardless of whether federal money pays for any more of it. But David Kalberer, the project supervisor, says he has no plans other than preparation for the start of actual construction of the tunnel in January.

Metro agreed to offer temporary window covers for night use, install air conditioners and even move people out of their dwellings for a few years if health hazards can be proved, said Kalberer.

Metro also has hired three people to troubleshoot problems for businesses, Kent said.

While Metro promised to cut back work considerably during the Christmas shopping season, the Downtown Seattle Association estimates major downtown businesses will lose at least 20 percent of their retail sales while the city could lose $1.5 million annually in sales taxes.

Ken Saunderson of the association says the group will step up its marketing efforts with free shopping and numerous promotions, possibly even a construction parade with heavy machinery and ″armloads of attorneys marching in formation.″

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