Bertha Hopes to Be Pounding Sand Again ... By Next March

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, Bertha, the world’s largest – and most temperamental – tunnel boring machine will resume her dirty diet of glacial silt by the end of March 2015. You mean, the end of March – of next year!? Yes, you heard correctly.

The project’s design-build contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners announced today that Bertha’s breakdown will result in delays of up to 16 months, but is still hopeful it can recover as much as four months of schedule to meet WSDOT’s original tunnel opening date of November 2016. STP has proposed opening the 1.7 mile waterfront tunnel in late 2015.

Bertha went bust in December and hasn’t chewed even an inch of soil since. Late next month, construction will begin on getting down to the machine. The summer months will be consumed excavating the pit, and in October, removing Bertha’s cutterhead in order to start fixing the problems that have plagued its seal system and main bearing.

“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,” Chris Dixon, Seattle Tunnel Partners project manager said in a statement today. “We are committed to this project, and to taking the necessary steps to recover time and open the tunnel to drivers by WSDOT’s original target date.”

“We are disappointed by this delay, but we believe the new schedule is moving in the right direction,” said Todd Trepanier, WSDOT’s Alaskan Way Viaduct program administrator. “We’ll continue to work with STP in their efforts to resume tunneling. We’re also focused on the rest of the program, which includes more than $750 million worth of work at the tunnel portals and elsewhere along the SR 99 corridor. That construction is not affected by the tunneling stoppage and continues full speed ahead.”

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