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Wednesday, November 14, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rick Anderson

Bus Tunnel Users Find No Refuge From Soggy Seattle

Among the more interesting exhibits in the new, art-filled downtown Metro transit tunnel is the smiling woman who pushes around a big water vacuum and tells people not to sit on the underground benches because they will get the seat of their pants wet.

The Water Lady has become a permanent fixture in the tunnel - along with drip buckets, rain dams, wet-floor markers and maintenance workers chasing after leaks with caulking guns.

You'd think that, after paying $459 million for something, it at least shouldn't leak.

But leak, seep, drip, trickle and, now and then, gush the big new Metro tunnel does.

Those who descend two levels to the tunnel stations are finding themselves stepping over rain buckets, walking around wet-floor warning cones and dodging the busy Water Lady, who must vacuum up spreading puddles three times a day.

As she happily told me: ``You'd think they would have planned better on there being water down here. After all, this is Seattle.''

Metro says it did plan on the water being there. It just didn't know where, exactly.

``All tunnels leak,'' said spokesman Dan Williams.

``The contractor is working on the problem. But when you plug up water in one place, it has a tendency to move to another, and you end up chasing them around.''

Is the water any threat to the tunnel structure itself?

``No, no threat at all,'' said Williams. ``We think everything is safe.''

Metro's biggest worry, he said, is not the underground seepage most evident in the main roadway, but the many overhead drips that fall on people's heads.

``I guess that's a real inconvenience to someone who goes down there to get out of the weather,'' Williams said.

From my view, a more serious problem appears to be seepage in the tunnel walls.

In some areas, the water is now coming through the seams of the tunnel's decorative pressed tiles. It collects almost unnoticed on the dark stone benches where the unsuspecting sit - and quickly stand, wiping off their pants.

The water also leaks out onto the granite walkways, leaving slippery puddles and, in many areas, stains.

Williams said he thought the Pioneer Square station in particular had problems because it is below the water table.

On Monday, a day without rain, the station walkways showed about a dozen continuing drips and seeps, and buckets and cones were set up in two different places.

Actually, the University Street station was worse, with curbside buckets in the loading area catching drips falling steadily from the 40-foot ceiling.

On the mezzanine, more buckets were set out and the granite floor was spotted with water.

``You should have seen it Friday,'' said a police officer. ``We had all that wind blowing the rain. It was like being outdoors.''

But it is at Westlake, with its new art treasures gracing the walls, where the problem seems most acute.

The artwork does not appear directly threatened by any leaks or seepage. But, taking a kind of sidewalk superintendent's tour, I did find:

-- Three buckets and several wet-floor cones directly in the middle of the walkway as you rise up the escalator to The Bon Marche mezzanine entry.

-- Drips falling from the street above, possibly due in part to the troublesome decorative Pine Street brickwork at Westlake Center.

-- Dozens of rain dams - small, rag tubes - soaking up seepage along the bottom edge of the south wall of the passenger-loading area.

-- Eight buckets catching drips falling from the upper edge of the south wall.

-- Water puddling up on four of the five ornate stone riders' benches fitted into the south wall.

-- Steady seepage through the grouting of the decorative wall tiles in a 10-foot area.

-- Fifteen-foot-long dirt streaks where water had spilled out of a crack and down the wall.

-- Water in several light fixtures.

Said a bus-driver union representative who called me about the leaks:

``People are always asking us about this. They see actual bubbles coming up from the floor, and they wonder what the hell is going on.''

Metro's Williams reiterates: It's not life-threatening. Don't worry, be happy - like the Water Lady.''

But then, she probably has a job for life.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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