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Officials break ground on Seattle's deep-bore tunnel

The long goodbye to Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct has begun.

With some ceremonial scoops of dirt, officials today began digging a pit for the giant machine that will chew up the earth under Seattle like a massive termite creating the deep-bore tunnel.

With an enormous yellow excavator behind her, Governor Chris Gregoire said it’s time to get to work and move past the controversy that’s made the tunnel project a lightning rod for years.

"We have debated, we have processed, we have voted, we have revoted, but today's the day we're going to get this job done, open up that tunnel and see traffic going and open up this amazing waterfront to the people of this community," Gregoire said.

Gregoire said replacing the viaduct is long overdue because it won’t withstand a big earthquake. She says the city needs the deep-bore tunnel to speed up traffic, move freight more easily and make downtown more beautiful.

"Imagine strolling the shores of Elliott Bay, green grass and trees," she said. "Imagine no noise except the cry of a seagull or hearing a wave."

Gregoire operated the excavator to scoop out the first shovelful of dirt for a hole that will eventually be 80 feet deep. The hole is where the Japanese company Hitachi Zosen will assemble the world’s largest-diameter tunnel-boring machine next year. The machine will start digging the tunnel next summer.

Gregoire said even though she won’t be governor when the tunnel’s finished, she’ll be there for the ribbon cutting at the end of 2015.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.