Bertha | KUOW News and Information

Bertha

Stories about Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. Should also be used for tunnel or Alaskan Way Viaduct stories.

KUOW PHOTO/BOND HUBERMAN

Weed is legal, but we're still figuring out how to talk about it around kids. State lawmakers do know this much: A billboard with a cat saying "IM SO HIGH RIGHT MEOW" goes too far.

Bertha has finally finished boring through the muck underneath downtown Seattle. Now comes the hard part: deciding how much drivers should have to pay to drive through a new tunnel.

KUOW PHOTO/BOND HUBERMAN

What a week.

The Seattle Times reports on bombshell allegations that Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused up to three teenaged men in the 1980s -- claims the Mayor strongly denies and plans to fight in court. 

President Trump orders a cruise missile strike on a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed Syrian civilians earlier this week.

A divided Senate does away with the filibuster and confirms Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

And Bertha emerges from a four-year trip underneath downtown Seattle just in time to catch it all.

Members of Bertha's crew pose with the American flag after the SR 99 tunneling machine broke into her disassembly pit on April 4, 2017.
WSDOT

It’s over.

As dozens of people looked on Tuesday, Bertha broke through to daylight after a nearly two mile dig under Seattle that took almost four years. Seattle is one step closer to replacing the aging Alaskan Way viaduct and moving a two mile section of state route 99 underground. 


Updated at 4 p.m. ET

It was the world's biggest tunneling machine when it first chewed into the loose dirt and gravel on Seattle's waterfront in 2013. With a cutting head nearly 60 feet wide, it had been built in Japan and shipped across the Pacific to dig a two-mile-long double-decker highway tunnel under downtown.

The machine was named "Bertha" in honor of a 1920s-era mayor — the prefatory "Big" always implied, never stated.

WSDOT

Remember Bertha, and how lots of people thought it would never finish digging the two-mile tunnel beneath Seattle's waterfront?

Well, the machine reached daylight around midday on Tuesday. After nearly four years of digging, the machine is about to reach the finish line on Highway 99 near the Space Needle.

Deborah Daoust of Seattle Center says when Harrison Street busts through Aurora in 2019, it'll be much easier for people to get from South Lake Union to the Seattle Center. Thomas and John streets will also break through later.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The tunnel boring machine called Bertha is currently about a half mile from the end of its journey. Contractors expect to be pulling it out of the ground by June. But the tunnel through downtown Seattle is only part of the project. 

The neighborhood around the tunnel’s northern entrance is also getting a makeover.


KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

As a general contractor who does small house remodels in Seattle, Chris Spott knows how to get rid of a pickup truck load of dirt. 

Progress at last on the tunnel being built to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Flickr Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Alaskan Way Viaduct is back in operation after a closure that was supposed to last two weeks, but only lasted for a week and a bit.

It’s a surprise, and not the kind we are used to from Bertha, the tunnel borer that could, then couldn’t, and now apparently can. Bertha's bearings and seals were damaged early on, forcing the Seattle Tunnel Partners to haul it to the surface for a massive repair that completed just a few months ago.


Two workers walk through the first rings of the tunnel toward Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine.
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Bertha the tunneling machine will slowly grind its way below the foundations of the viaduct over the next two weeks.

A view to the back end of Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. The steel hooks on both sides of the wall of the tunnel will become part of the foundation that will support the decks and walls of the future roadway, according to the state.
Flickr Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation

Bertha has stopped again, but this time, it’s on purpose.

The tunnel boring machine rests in an underground concrete vault. Workers are putting the tunnel boring machine through complex tests before it pushes under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. 

Republicans listed other problems with transportation in the state since Peterson took the job: Tolling on 520 across Lake Washington, Bertha, the enormous boring tunnel in Seattle that has failed to move forward, and ferries breaking down.
Associated Press Pool Photo/Joshua Trujillo/Seattlepi.com

A coup went down in Olympia this afternoon.

Surprising Democrats, Republican lawmakers called for a confirmation vote for Lynn Peterson, Secretary of Transportation for Washington state. In a party line vote of 25 to 21, they fired her.

Crews working for Seattle Tunnel Partners watch as the SR 99 tunneling machine’s cutterhead rotates during testing on Dec. 16, 2015.
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1SQLVB5

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has issued an emergency order to stop the tunneling work along Seattle's waterfront.

Contractors found a sinkhole 35 feet long and 15 feet deep near the tunneling machine known as Bertha Tuesday night, the latest of several problems facing the project.

In this Dec. 15, 2015 photo, a crew member working for Seattle Tunnel Partners watches a crane lift other crew members out of the pit that STP used to access and repair Bertha.
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1O7O5sO

Bertha is on the move again. 

The tunnel boring machine got stuck a little over two years ago, shortly after it hit a metal pipe. It’s taken until now to get the machine going again.

Chris Dixon of Seattle Tunnel Partners speaks about Bertha's status on Dec. 23, 2015.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bertha the drill is ready to start work again. But first it’ll take a little rest over the holidays.

This July 2015 photo shows the SR 99 tunneling machine’s main bearing encircled by the gear ring that facilitates rotation of the cutterhead.
Washington State Department of Transportation

Bertha, the giant tunnel boring machine stalled in downtown Seattle, remains in pieces at the foot of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The Solar Pioneer protest barge in Elliot Bay with the Shell oil drilling rig in the background.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans, Seattle’s waterfront tunnel, the $15 minimum wage movement – are they all unstoppable? And if Washington state’s drought is unstoppableon the east side of the mountains and we have plenty of water on the west side, should you take as long a shower as you want?

Bill Radke debates the week’s news with LiveWire’s Luke Burbank, Republican Chris Vance and political blogger Erica C. Barnett.

The hole built to rescue Bertha, the deep boring machine.
WSDOT webcam

Engineers have removed the cutter head from the enormous tunneling machine nicknamed Bertha. The malfunctioning part had been stuck for more than a year in a highway project under Seattle's downtown.

One section of Bertha's front body now sits on the ground near the rescue pit.
AP Photo/Ted Warren

A 270-ton section of Bertha’s front body now lies on the ground in downtown Seattle, ready for workers to add steel reinforcing. The Seattle Tunnel Partners hopes to lay the tunnel borer's cutter head nearby in a couple of weeks. 

They’ll be repaired so workers can complete the tunnel that’s replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. KUOW’s Joshua McNichols went to Pioneer Square to see how people are feeling about Bertha these days.

Workers stand on the reddish-gray surface of Bertha.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bertha the drill should be back at work on the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct by August. There’s still some unstable soil left to drill through.

Officials will be watching Pioneer Square for patches of settling. After that, the ground becomes more firm, and project managers predict smooth drilling at the maximum rate of 65 feet per day.

 Crews chip away a circle on the southern wall of the pit that was built to access and repair Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine. Eventually it helped Bertha break through/
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Is this week the re-birth of Bertha? What’s the right punishment for a florist who won’t do gay weddings? And a Bellevue man is on the short list to go to Mars and never return. You’ll meet him, along with Q13 FOX’s C.R. Douglas, Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times and the Seattle Channel's Joni Balter.

Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, emerges from more than a year of captivity. The machine's turbines can be seen beneath the plume of dust.
Washington State Department of Transportation

The tunnel machine that’s been stuck underground for more than a year reached daylight Thursday.

Now Bertha is slowly inching into position for repair work to begin. 

The cutterhead on Seattle's troubled tunnel boring machine broke through the wall of a rescue pit at midday Thursday.

Four workers were injured in an accident at the north end of the 99 tunnel project near Seattle Center on Thursday afternoon.

Three of those workers walked out on their own; firefighters had to walk in half a mile to free a fourth worker who had been trapped 25 feet down from where he fell. 

According to Seattle Fire spokesman Kyle Moore, the men were working on a wall project when it broke beneath them, sending them hurtling 25 feet to the ground below. The men were 23, 29, 31 and 36.

KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Bertha, the deep boring machine stuck underneath Seattle, will slide on greased metal rails after crashing into a pit.

That’s the plan, anyway, to free the machine from its den, where it has lived for more than a year. Matt Preedy of the Washington Department of Transportation revealed that new nugget of information during an informal chat in Pioneer Square.

What Happened This Week? Thanks For Asking

Jan 16, 2015
Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch watches the closing moments of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 21, 2014.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

An engineer said “catastrophic failure” in the same breath as “Bertha” – what does that mean? Washington state has America's most regressive tax system, is that about to change? Should Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch have to talk to the media if he doesn’t want to? And if you weren’t born in the Pacific Northwest, can you ever truly fit in?

Progress at last on the tunnel being built to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Flickr Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Marcie Sillman talks to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray about the Highway 99 tunnel project and the city's plan to study the safety of the viaduct.

KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

They were not reassuring words.

Engineers hired to rescue Bertha, the deep boring machine stalled under downtown Seattle, wrote to state officials: “If we continue the current ‘repair as we go’ method of excavation, we significantly increase the risk of a catastrophic failure.”

A transport vehicle carries the new front end of the bearing block for Bertha. First though, the machine has to be dug out from beneath Pioneer Square.
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

They were not reassuring words.

Engineers hired to rescue Bertha, the deep boring machine stalled under downtown Seattle, wrote to state officials: “If we continue the current ‘repair as we go’ method of excavation, we significantly increase the risk of a catastrophic failure.”

The 'Week in Review' panel broadcasts in front of a live audience at Little London Plane in Pioneer Square on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015.
KUOW Photo/Caroline Dodge

What's the Seattle connection to this week's attack on a French satirical magazine? Is it time to start thinking about a Plan B for Bertha, the slumbering tunnel machine? And should we open an Ivar's fish and chips bar inside the aging Kalakala ferry instead of cutting it apart with a blowtorch?

Bill Radke reviews the week's news along with news analyst Joni Balter, Crosscut's Knute Berger, former Seattle mayor Charles Royer and special guest  chef Matt Dillon in front of a live audience at The Little London Plane in Pioneer Square.

See more photos from the event on KUOW's Facebook page

Flickr Photo/WSDOT

She loves dirt and hates sunlight. Seattle Magazine named her one of 2013’s most influential people, except she’s not really a person. She’s Bertha, the world’s biggest tunnel boring machine, charged with digging out the replacement path for the Alaskan Way Viaduct under Seattle.

Her profile on the Washington State Department of Transportation site lists her occupation as a tunneling specialist, but right now she’s stuck and has been since December 6. In light of her current predicament, the decision to name the machine, and thus humanize it, could be a shrewd move.

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