Off-Hill: One year later, Bertha might be more stuck than ever

One year ago, Seattle stood by as the giant boring machine drilling the state’s new waterfront Highway 99 tunnel got stuck behind some sort of “mystery object” some 60 feet below the surface. At the time, we noted the “extraordinarily lucky” dig to complete twin tunnels beneath Capitol Hill for the U-Link light rail extension.

Now, after a year of waiting and digging to unstuck Bertha, word comes that the process to rescue the boring machine might be making an even bigger mess:

Settling of ground beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct poses no danger to those driving on or walking underneath the 1950′s-vintage freeway, earthquakes aside, the state Department of Transportation assured Seattle City Council members on Monday.

What is unsettled, however, is when the giant, 7,000-ton digging machine called Bertha can be repaired, and tunneling resumed on the $2 billion project to replace the Viaduct. Bertha stopped a year ago.

“March is not looking like when we restart,” DOT’s Tim Moore told council members, referring to a restart date that was still in the state agency’s web site a week ago.

Not looking like a restart is one not so great thing, in a mealy mouthed kind of way. Settling buildings in Pioneer Square are another:

About 30 buildings in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood will be inspected both inside and out for damage after the soil deep below slumped an inch from Highway 99 tunnel work.

The $2 billion project was planned to create a 2-mille tunnel as part of a replacement for the more than 62-year-old Alaska Way Viaduct. The WSDOT project was planned to open in late 2016.

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10 thoughts on “Off-Hill: One year later, Bertha might be more stuck than ever

  1. What a cluster$%#& this has been. And an epic waste of money. The tunnel should have never been approved, its really a shame.

    The money would have been better spent on a new surface street and mass transit options.

    • It’s disheartening that the process has been so stalled, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. The viaduct was a mistake when it was first built, and it would be an even bigger mistake to re-build it. When it’s gone, our waterfront will take on a new life, and it will be amazing!

      • I agree the viaduct is horrible and I would never want to see it rebuilt. SF’s embarcadero is much much nicer place now that it’s viaduct is gone. The surface street may not whisk people through the city like a tunnel but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. We should have taken SF’s lead on this.

        Now if we already had amazing mass transit and our existing surface streets and bridges were in great shape then the tunnel wouldn’t be a big deal. But they’re not. Our city is crumbling around us and yet we’re allocating the lions share of funds to a a tunnel that is not a critical option.

      • I believe when the viaduct replacement was being debated there was indeed a surface road with beefed up mass transit option that was pushed by local advocates, but rejected by Olympia (including members of our legislative delegation which includes our current mayor). That proposal was spearheaded by someone. I think his name was Mike McGinn. But he was rude to somebody at some point, so who cares.

      • Timmy, I appreciate your calm comments about this issue…kind of rare around these parts!

        It was never an option to just remove the viaduct….if the tunnel was not built, then the viaduct would have been re-built. Also, as far as spending lots of money for the tunnel, the lion’s share is coming from WSDOT….so that doesn’t impact the need to repair Seattle’s streets, which is financed by the City.

      • I should have typed “cities”, understanding that this isn’t a city-funded project. WSDOT has a number of other roads and highways that impact our states cites that are in horrible, horrible shape. We recently had a chunk of 1-5 pop up causing damage which thankfully was not worse. So my point was we’re bandaid’ing the rest of our infrastructure while building a fancy tunnel.

        But yes, if we fast forward 10 years it will be nice and all will be forgotten.

  2. according to a friend of mine who works on tunneling projects for the city, the real reason that this has been shut down is not the ‘mystery object’, but that Bertha was under-designed from the get go (due to the fast moving pace of the project), and that this whole debacle is a way for the contractors to ‘beef up’ the machine while they still have access to it. Either way, this is another complete f’-up by our lovely DOT

  3. We need to stop this project. Trust me on this. Bad in so many ways. Our underground won’t support it. Sinking land jeopardizes our buildings. Shut it down. NOW.

  4. Order a second TBM. MrBirtha. ASAP start it drilling from the south lake Union end. Just cut Bertha up for scrap and take her out of the hole.