The on-again-off-again (but mainly off-again) project to build a tunnel for Highway 99 under downtown Seattle is preparing to enter its next action phase now that repairs have been completed on the massive drill bit, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal:
“Crews are filling in the 120-foot-deep repair pit above the Seattle tunnel boring machine Bertha as Seattle Tunnel Partners prepares to resume tunneling in time for Christmas.
“Dec. 23 is the current target for Bertha to resume the northward chew. If contractors manage to hit that date, it will be two years and 17 days after the machine ground to a halt having completed just 11 percent of its 1.7-mile journey.”
A successful re-start for Bertha’s would be a much-needed Christmas present for the bureaucrats at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). After an autumn filled with negative stories about the I-405 tolling project, WSDOT desperately needs a win. The assumption that Bertha initially broke down two years ago after hitting a pipe which WSDOT knew was in the way – and in fact had placed there – is just part of the embarrassment that has plagued the tunnel project.
A completed tunnel is by no means certain. As the PSBJ notes, “The next step will be a “load test,” which is running the machine with the full load of sand and dirt above it.
“If testing is successful, then actual tunneling will resume, and the machine will dig through the 10-foot-thick concrete walls of the pit. This is the restart targeted for Dec. 23.”
For now, the contractors in charge of Bertha are putting on a happy face. “ ‘We’ve had a lot of talented and experienced people working on this repair effort,’ said Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon, in a recent video. ‘I’m looking forward to getting through this phase, resuming tunneling and successfully completing the tunnel drive.’ ”
And keeping his fingers crossed, one can assume.