A Pierce County plant fabricating a critical component for the new state Route 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle has resumed production after a 10-day work suspension.
The FPS-EnCon plant at Frederickson produces reinforced concrete liners for the new tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Those semi-circular liners will be installed by the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine as it cuts its way through the earth just east of the downtown Seattle waterfront.
Steve Harding, business development manager for Spanish tunnel-construction firm Dragados, said that the plant is now producing up to 60 liners per day. The liners are fit together to form a complete circle to support the roadways in the tunnel and to keep the tunnel from collapsing.
The tunnel boring machines places the pre-made liners in the tunnel and uses those liners as a base from which it advances.
Production was initially shut down at the liner-fabrication plant at Frederickson because of a disagreement between the tunnel liner construction partners. FPS is owned by Dragados. EnCon is a Denver-based company that had made prefabricated freeway walls at the Frederickson site.
When the two companies disagreed over financial issues and other matters, EnCon laid off some 85 workers who were employed at the plant making the liners.
The plant also was experiencing startup issues producing the liners with a collection of new equipment from suppliers around the world.
The companies used the fabrication shutdown period to repair minor flaws in some of the 1,000 or so liners it had already built so they could pass inspection for use in the tunnel. The liners are equipped with gaskets to form a watertight seal to keep groundwater from leaking into the tunnel.
Harding said EnCon is providing the site and hiring the workers while FPS is supervising the construction of the liners.
The plant has begun shipping liners to the site near Safeco Field in Seattle where the tunneling machine, built in Japan, soon will begin working.
Workers at the plant had voted to unionize shortly before they were laid off. Officials at EnCon said the union vote was not connected with the decision to lay off workers. The rehired workers’ next step is to negotiate a contract with the tunnel-liner manufacturer. For now, the workers are represented by the union, but they have no contract specifying wages and working conditions.
On average, the manual laborers at the factory are paid about $10.50 an hour. Welders who fabricate the reinforcing “cages” around which the concrete is poured make more.
Harding said the plant shutdown isn’t expected to cause a delay in the tunnel project.
“We’ve already got more than 1,000 liners that we’ve produced,” he said.
The liner plant has been singled out by county officials as an example of local efforts to bring new jobs to the community.John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org