Bertha

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

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.

Photo IAM District 751

Washington Governor Jay Inslee pushed for a higher minimum wage and increased education funding during his State of the State Address this week. The state legislature kicked off its 2014 session. Also, Boeing Machinists Union President Tom Wroblewski announced his retirement.

We review these stories and more with news analyst Joni Balter, Crosscut's Knute Berger and The Stranger's Eli Sanders. Plus, we hear from Live Wire host Luke Burbank.

KUOW Photo/John Ryan

To get Bertha moving again, state officials announced Wednesday that they are sending in human reinforcements – in a giant, pressurized bubble.

Anything But Boring: Bertha Updates

Jan 9, 2014
Two workers walk through the first rings of the tunnel toward Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine.
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds gets an update from WSDOT Highway 99 Program Administrator Matt Preedy on how and when Bertha will move forward, and who is going to pay for it.

WSDOT Photo

An 8-inch-wide steel pipe.

That’s what is likely blocking Bertha, the boring machine creating a tunnel through downtown Seattle to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

SDOT Projects Depend Upon Bertha's Advance

Jan 3, 2014
Flickr Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation

Marcie Sillman talks with Jon Layzer, director of major projects for the Seattle Department of Transportation, about how city capital projects are intricately connected to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program.

Is An Ice Age Boulder Blocking Bertha?

Dec 23, 2013
Flickr Photo/WSDOT

Jeannie Yandel talks with University of Washington geology professor Terry Swanson about glacial erratics and how one might be blocking the tunneling machine named Bertha.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The people of Seattle are puzzled by a mystery unfolding underground: the world's biggest tunneling machine is stuck about 75 feet under street level where it's digging a nearly two-mile-long highway right under downtown Seattle. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, engineers say it'll take until January to figure out what is causing the block.

Flickr Photo/Washington State Department of Transportation

The most plausible theory about what stopped Bertha, the tunneling machine digging its way through downtown until last Saturday, is also the most boring.

Flickr Photo/Tender Young Pony of Insomnia

Marcie Sillman talks with Jennifer Ott of HistoryLink.org about one possible cause of the SR 99 tunneling machine’s blockage: leftovers from Seattle's historical waterfront development.

For other, more humorous, theories check out our What's Blocking Bertha? compilation.

Godzilla is back in the news and there's word that a massive boring machine appears to have hit something it can't get through under Seattle.

Hmmm.

But before we get carried away about creatures beneath our cities or hidden chambers holding eggs that will hatch monsters, let's focus on what we know about what's happening in the Northwest.

What's In Bertha's Way?

Dec 10, 2013
Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom about what may have halted Bertha, the huge tunneling machine in charge of digging the new SR 99 tunnel.

Flickr Photo/WSDOT

A new tolling proposal would ask drivers to pay as little as $1.00 for taking the Highway 99 tunnel under downtown Seattle. During morning and evening commutes, rates would jump to $1.25. A state advisory committee is hoping the proposal will strike a balance between tolling revenues and potential traffic diversion.

Two years ago, when the tunnel plan was approved by voters, the proposed tolling rates were as high as $3.00 during peak hours. Under that plan, traffic planners were concerned that high tolling rates would divert too many cars onto downtown streets. Maud Daudon is co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Tolling and Traffic Management. She's also president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She talked with Ross Reynolds.

"Big Bertha" should soon get back to work digging a nearly two mile tunnel to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Bryan Runbert
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

The world’s largest tunneling machine started grinding into the soil beneath downtown Seattle Tuesday afternoon. The machine known as Bertha is digging a 58-foot-wide tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

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