Over two dozen AKCHO members gathered at MilePost 31 in late May to take in the award-winning exhibit that provides an inside look at the SR 99 Tunnel Project that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. While Highway 99 initially extended through Washington, Oregon, and California, portions of the road have been decommissioned. The exhibit name derives from the exhibit’s location along SR 99 as currently configured – MilePost 0 is in Fife, the Pioneer Square-based exhibit is located 31 miles north of that marker.
King County Historic Preservation Program officer Julie Koler gave introductory remarks, noting that she wanted to draw attention to this award-winning exhibit because her office is charged with monitoring the effects of public works projects on cultural resources, and this type of mitigation project represents a new approach to making information available to the public.
Washington Department of Transportation cultural resources specialist Steve Archer explained how this project involved input from many sources, including the HPP, Historic Seattle, HistoryLink, 4Culture, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, four local tribes, and more.
He conceded that when MP31 first opened, public perception was skeptical and WashDOT was bombarded with reporters asking why, when their business is to build roads, they were building a museum instead.
Here’s why: the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106 states that projects having an impact on cultural resources are required to include mitigation measures. In the past, that often has meant writing up a technical report that gets filed away.
This new project is an attempt to disseminate more information to a wider audience. Archer said MP31 strives to provide both historic information and project information, and serve as an additional attraction in the neighborhood to help keep Pioneer Square viable during the disruption of construction.
The exhibit chronicles both geological history and human history in the Puget Sound region. Interactive displays showcase fault zones, the effects of glaciation, soil samples and other geotechnical data. Other areas share Native American stories and the recollections of early white pioneers to the area. The exhibit gives an historical overview of tunnel construction methods, and there is a 10-foot-long, motorized replica of Big Bertha, the massive boring machine that will dig the tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. The floors are paved with aerial photographs of Seattle and Elliott Bay so that visitors can gain some idea of how dramatically the shoreline and topography of the area have been modified over the last century and a half.
MP31, located at 211 First Avenue S in Seattle, will keep its doors open for at least two years. The AKCHO members who attended this meeting would tell you it is definitely worth a visit. Admission is free.