Safety Officials Oppose Opening Tunnel For Games

Seattle fire and police officials have questioned the wisdom of rushing training and testing to allow opening of Metro's downtown Seattle bus tunnel in time for the Goodwill Games July 20-Aug. 6.

Mayor Norm Rice and City Council members Paul Kraabel and George Benson have urged Metro to consider the early opening to accommodate crowds expected for the games and to show it off to Seattle's visitors.

The 1.3-mile tunnel is scheduled to open for regular passenger service Sept. 15. Metro Transit is expected to start testing the tunnel's safety and operating systems and to begin training personnel as early as next month.

Chief Bobby Lee Hansen, the city's fire marshal, said it might be possible to complete testing for an early opening if there are no problems. But, he added, it is likely there will be startup troubles with computer-operated fire protection systems.

Rushing training of firefighters would cause backups in other jobs the department must complete, Hansen told the Metro Council's downtown transit project subcommittee last week.

``Can you have adequate training before the Goodwill Games? I doubt it,'' he said.

Rushing into early operation also could create ``an above-average risk for something to go wrong in the tunnel just because there will be more people,'' Hansen said.

Seattle police Lt. Jim Pryor said an early opening would require the concentration of ``a great deal of law enforcement'' activity in the tunnel while law-enforcement agencies should be getting ready for the Goodwill Games.

Not only does the department need to train its officers in emergency response to tunnel problems, but it also must teach Metro employees how to react, Pryor said.

Not using the tunnel for the games and waiting until Sept. 15 would mean ``we will miss it by a couple of weeks,'' said Kraabel, a member of the downtown transit subcommittee. ``That's a damn shame.

``The spirit of the letter asked if there isn't some way we can utilize this asset when it will be very much needed,'' he said. ``It would provide a good test run from which we could learn.

``But maybe it can't be done.''

The subcommittee also was told that structural cracks have appeared in several of the Italian-built buses being delivered here for tunnel use.

Mike Voris, manager of bus procurement, said the cracks first were noticed in four buses damaged while being transported across country on rail cars. Inspectors have found similar cracks in some other coaches that were not damaged, although Metro is investigating whether the bouncing of rail transport might have caused the problem on those buses.

The cracks would not pose a safety hazard for riders, said Dan Williams, a Metro spokesman.

Voris said Breda, the bus manufacturer, has supplied reinforcing caps that will be welded over the cracks, which have occurred at junctions of steel roof and wall framing members.

Only 50 of 236 buses have been delivered. The builder is increasing the size of a roof beam in buses still in the Italian factory to strengthen the framing, Voris said.