4 Transportation Megaprojects to Watch in 2018

Although ongoing transportation megaprojects have hit plenty of obstacles, several are on the books for 2018. Here are a few notable ones to watch: 

Alaskan Way Viaduct

A $3 billion project, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct is not especially costly as transportation megaprojects go, but it is big in other ways. The viaduct is a 1.7-mile, 57-foot diameter tunnel under Seattle’s downtown, intended for vehicle traffic. It was dug by Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel boring machine.

Unfortunately, the viaduct may also hold the record for longest and most troublesome tunnel project delay. In 2013, after just 1,000 feet of tunnel had been dug, Bertha ground to a halt for reasons that are still disputed. It took two years and the digging of a 120-foot pit to complete onsite repairs so Bertha could restart boring in 2015. Finally, in April 2017, Bertha broke through into a demolition pit and the world’s largest-diameter tunnel was complete.

Now begins the work of building a double-deck highway within the tunnel, along with lighting, ventilation, and fire detection systems. If all goes well, the new viaduct will open for traffic sometime in 2019. At that point, the old Seattle Viaduct — the major, and majorly congested, route into and through Seattle — will be demolished.

alaskan way viaduct
Image Credit: Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

Bayonne Bridge

New Jersey's Bayonne Bridge "Raise the Roadway" project experienced mixed success in 2017. After years of delay, the bridge's new span opened in mid-2017. In December, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that an additional $350 million to $400 million had been approved to complete construction, raising total costs from $1.3 billion to nearly $1.7 billion.

In fairness, this is a hugely ambitious project, the first of its kind in the United States. The goal was to raise the bridge deck 64 feet to accommodate the newer and bigger Panamax cargo vessels made possible by Panama Canal renovations. The work was to be done without substantial bridge closures — traffic continued to flow on the original bridge deck while the new deck was built above it.

The 2017 opening of the new span allowed the original deck to be demolished, and the first Panamax vessel passed under the bridge in June 2017. But only two lanes are currently open on the raised deck, severely limiting traffic. By 2019, officials say four lanes will be open, with possible accommodation of light rail as well. Cost and schedule overruns have been hugely controversial, and it didn't help that concrete chunks from new construction smashed into cars in June 2017.

Nevertheless, the raising of the bridge was a big milestone, and if the new traffic lanes are completed on schedule and within budget, the project will likely be judged a success.

bayonne bridge
Bayonne Bridge, Collins Park 

LaGuardia Airport Reconstruction

LaGuardia is only New York’s third largest airport, and numerous customer surveys have ranked it the worst in the United States due to its outdated facilities. While in office, Vice President Joe Biden once compared it to a third world country.

That may change as the $4 billion La Guardia Reconstruction Project progresses. Construction began in 2015 and is slated for completion in 2022. Many airport functions will be consolidated into a massive new terminal featuring a people mover, retail space, expanded parking facilities and a new hotel. A new roadway network and more mass transit connections are also planned. In late 2017, six major airlines temporarily changed terminals to accommodate construction.

The airport reconstruction is not without controversy; some critics claim it will do little to increase capacity or reduce travel times to and from the airport. Still, it’s a major airport project, one of relatively few in the United States, and 2018 progress will be watched closely.

laguardia airport birdseye view
Image Credit: Port Authority of New York & New Jersey

California High-Speed Rail

A bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles is a beguiling vision. But will it come to be?

It’s easy to assume that the $70 billion California High-Speed Rail Project (CAHSR), set in motion by a ballot proposition in 2008, is stalled or even hypothetical, given the lawsuits filed, delayed environmental impact reviews (from 2018 to 2020),  and even Elon Musk’s proposal of a vacuum-tube Hyperloop that he says could cover the same route for just $6 billion.

But construction of the project’s first leg, from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley, is underway, with completion expected in 2025.

Many questions remain, however, and the CAHSR may be the country’s most embattled transportation megaproject. Let’s hope the bullet train, if it’s ever completed, moves a lot faster than the project has.


Top Image Credit: Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr