The moment Seattle residents had been waiting for nearly a decade came in February with the opening of the new SR 99 tunnel under downtown. The tunnel was fully opened to traffic overnight from Feb. 3-4, allowing the next phase of the project, the demolition of the viaduct, to take place.
The February issue of TBM offered a photo retrospective of this landmark project courtesy of Catherine Bassetti, photographer for contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP). Here, she has created a three-part collage of some of the spectacular stills and videos captured over the course of the project.
To view part I, II and III of the video, click here: https://www.bassettiphotography.com/news
We asked Bassetti to share her background and her experience with the project.
Brief personal background and how you got involved in photography.
Raised in the hillsides east of Seattle, I come from a family of creative professionals and diverse heritage; Italian, Norwegian and Scottish. My interest in photography began with 8mm film. I joined the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey circus at age 19, traveling on a silver train for three years. I spent a lot of time on the vestibule between cars, filming passing towns as well as the show. Later I lived in Madrid, Spain, for 19 years, where I began my career in photojournalism and advertising.
What was your experience with construction prior to landing the job with STP? What were your initial thoughts on the project?
I had done architectural photography, also work for Sound Transit, and Beacon Hill light rail, but nothing previous compares to the scope of the tunnel site. Initially I had only vague knowledge of the project, but from the first day I arrived to work everything was fascinating, grandiose and endlessly curious. I was struck by the many trades involved. I arrived just after Bertha had come to a halt underground, an interesting time in that over the next several months the project became an unprecedented engineering assignment for all involved.
Looking back, what was your experience like? What was most challenging? What was most enjoyable?
Some years ago I realized that photojournalism was my favorite type of assignment. The tunnel involved moving between at least six work zones, each dedicated to something different than the other, so in a way it was pure photojournalism. I was the only contracted photographer, aside from the WSDOT personnel, so it became clear early on that I had to be familiar with all operations, and crews, stay safe and shoot both the big picture and details.
It was all challenging, safety was key and I eventually learned the ropes enough to walk freely. The best achievement was gaining the trust of crew members, who in turn allowed me access and guidance. It was hard work at times, but genuinely fulfilling.
What was your favorite photo(s) and why?
Some of my favorite shots are not the most iconic, of things I chanced upon just being there. At ground level of the South Operations building I looked down and saw two screws and a piece of bent wire that made a perfect smiling face. On the empty viaduct alone, I found one column where “Rose was here” was written in chalk. Or a closeup of the master electrician’s big hands working on a tiny urgent component. But if I had to choose one shot it would be one of the mouth of the full diameter tunnel launch zone, with an engineer walking out. It happened in an instant, the light and all aspects of composition came together at once and I happened to be there.
How do you think the completed project will shape Seattle in the future?
Frankly I will miss the Viaduct, but it was a hazard. I’m attached to the tunnel because it was a tremendous experience on several levels and I think of Bertha as a personality. I think we’ll get used to the tunnel in time and it’s a smooth, fast ride. However, the tunnel is not completely practical for lack of good city access and the plans for waterfront are not as I had imagined. I understand there will be lanes of straight traffic instead of expansive landscaped walking space. Hopefully the waterfront will maintain it’s original character.
For more information or to purchase photos, contact Bassetti Photography at www.bassettiphotography.com.
For our February print version, click here: https://tunnelingonline.com/retracing-bertha-journey/
While most of the images are taken with Bassetti on the other side of the lens, here are a few of Bassetti on the jobsite.