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Bertha now won’t dig again for nearly a year: Who pays for this?

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Bertha won’t start digging again until 2015.

SEATTLE — The State Route 99 tunneling machine won’t resume digging until the end of March 2015 the Washington State Department of Transportation said in a release Monday, possibly delaying the tunnel completion.

The major announcement is perhaps the biggest revelation yet in a project that has been riddled with problems since the $80 million machine began work in 2013.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the project’s design-build contractor, will dig a pit in order to access the stalled tunneling machine later this month. The pit is the first in many steps to get the machine moving again. Other repairs outlined in an STP timeline include:

  • Late May: Begin building the access pit’s underground walls.
  • Late July through September: Excavate the pit.
  • October: Remove the machine’s cutterhead and begin repairing damage to the seal system and main bearing.
  • February 2015: Test the machine to ensure it is ready to tunnel beneath downtown.
  • Late March 2015: Resume tunneling.

Officials had previously said the broken tunneling machine would take “months” to fix and set a previous start date of Sept. 1. But the new timeline approaches a year.

Chris Dixon, Seattle Tunnel Partners project manager said the new timeline is indeed disheartening, but they hope to make up time once the project is running again.

“Resuming tunneling will take longer than any of us would have liked, but making these repairs is a significant engineering challenge that must be done safely,” Dixon said.

Despite the delays, officials still hope to meet the tunnel’s original opening date.

The repair schedule will include additional time to accommodate potential improvements to the machine that STP or the machine’s manufacturer, Hitachi Zosen Corp., might choose to make after the cutterhead is removed and crews are able to perform a full inspection, WSDOT said.

The question remains if Seattle tax payers will be held accountable for project cost overruns as the world’s largest tunneling machine sits idle 60 feet underground. WSDOT says there is no indication that taxpayers will be responsible for any cost overruns.  

But STP is not taking full responsibility for costs. They say there may be evidence that could take them off the hook but further analysis is needed.

Bertha began digging on July 30 and is only around 1,000 feet into the dig, about one-eight of the tunnel’s total distance. The beleaguered Twitter handle @BerthaDigsSR99 began tweeting again shortly after the news broke, with distinctly less wit than previous tweets.

Twitter reactions were largely negative after the news broke, with many questioning the city’s choice to build a tunnel in the first place.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.


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  • Big B.

    Hey all you scabs out there better start blaming the unions now….Truth is The suits and ties are getting caught with their pants down. They love to blame the union man when they can…. They Just picked a contractor that is "evil" and greedy . The owner is from Denver and he is a REAL PIECE of @#$%^.They knew this equipment was going to fail . What is Seattle going to do now????Look for another contractor??? No ! ! ! Seattle is stuck with this guy.. I Work on the docks at terminal 46 where "bertha" is and I see ALL THE POCKETS being filled with CASH… These guys have a NO LIMIT BANKROLL and they use it …. Maybe the governess should stop screwing the union man and look at these criminals…

  • King James

    I had a Hitachi once, damn thing never would work right, always burning my burgers and 5hit. I ended up throwing the damn thing away and buying a Weber Grill Master and haven't had one complaint with it yet. I suggest to the Seattle Scam council should do the same… Go to Walmart and get yourself a Grill Master.

  • Jimlogic

    Bertha’s problems

    Same people are complaining that didn’t want the tunnel in the first place. Delays were expected. Even if a driver gets delayed because of Bertha it is better the I-405 project that never has been finished. You can complain about Bertha and vote NO on Prop.1 but expect the worst traffic you have ever seen. Even if King County Metro needs to get its Metro budget right maybe we all need to end driving and having kids.

  • S_Hunter

    Basically what we have here is an OPEN-ENDED check (blank) for political "kickbacks (wink,wink,;) ) and huge "payoffs" for political "buddies". There will be NO "penalties (to speak of), NO "accountability (something politicians are "apparently" exempt from), AND the taxpayers will be "stuck" with the "CRIMINAL ACTS" (said that on purpose – figure it out) in the way of tax "increases (both obvious and indirect – think of – taxing the distributors on oil or fuel- like that won't "trickle down"), MORE tolls AND toll "increrases". WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD ORDER! Hope all enjoy it, because this is what happens when you go with the "Status Quo".

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