Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Boondoggles

Washington DOT Chief: Seattle’s Big Highway Tunnel Might Not Get Built

11:18 AM EDT on April 30, 2014

"Bertha," the digging machine that was to help build a buried highway in Seattle is broken down and might never get running. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation
"Bertha," the tunneling machine that's supposed to clear the way for an underground highway in Seattle, might never get up and running again. Photo: Washington State DOT
false

Nearly five months after coming to a halt beneath the city of Seattle, Bertha -- the largest tunnel boring machine in the world -- is still immobilized. It had barely begun to clear space for the underground highway meant to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct when it broke down late last year.

Construction crews are furiously digging a second hole in the ground to access Bertha and fix it. What happens when they reach the machine is still uncertain. Even the state's top transportation official admits theres a "small possibility" that the highway tunnel might never be completed, reports Erica C. Barnett at SeattleMet :

On conservative host Dori Monson's show on KIRO radio earlier today, state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson sounded this wakeup call: She acknowledged, surprisingly candidly, that there is a "small possibility" that the deep-bore tunnel will never get built. The only scenario in which that might happen, she added, is if the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, and WSDOT discover that "the machine is not going to actually be fixable."

"I would say it's a small possibility, but we want to make sure that everyone understands that it's a possibility."

The tunnel-boring machine, known as Bertha, has been stuck underground since last December, when it started to overheat due to damage to seals that protect the bearing that helps turn the machine's massive cutterhead, and possibly to the bearing itself. STP is digging a concrete-piling-lined pit in front of the machine, which will eventually tunnel its way through the pilings, giving workers at the surface access to the cutterhead. STP will then remove the cutterhead and repair whatever needs to be repaired. (Since they don't currently have access to the machine, which is underground, they don't know the extent of the damage.)

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure says BART's expansion plans into the far suburbs of the Bay Area are anything but transit-oriented development. Free Public Transit explains why eliminating transit fares might actually save cities big money. Transit Miami reports on a local campaign to make housing more affordable by eliminating parking requirements for small urban buildings. And Tim Kovach says Cleveland's planned highway extension -- the "Opportunity Corridor" -- is an "environmental justice disaster waiting to happen."

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Understanding Car Culture ‘Denialism’ Can Help Safety Advocates Respond

Opponents of change sow confusion with fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations (moving goalposts), conspiracy theories, and selectivity (cherry picking). We can fight back.

March 4, 2024

PROWAG Can Make Cities More Accessible — So Here’s What You Need to Know

America has waited more than 12 years for the Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines to be implemented. Here's why they matter.

March 4, 2024

Monday’s Headlines Don’t Throw Money at Roads

States are flush with cash from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but they've opted to spend most of it on roads and bridges, and very little on transit.

March 4, 2024

Experts Urge Feds To Get Impaired Driving Tech Right — And They Need Your Help

A new vehicle safety tech requirement could save 10,000+ lives a year, a new working group says – but only if we implement it in a thoughtful way that wins public acceptance.

March 4, 2024

NYC Debuts Public E-Bike Charging for Delivery Workers

Finally, they’re taking charge! The city’s first public e-bike charging station opened in Cooper Square on Thursday — the start of an overdue six-month pilot that is part of a “Charge Safe Ride Safe Action Plan” for delivery workers that Mayor Adams announced last year.

March 1, 2024
See all posts