For the last two months, the Washington State Department of Transportation has tried to downplay the severity of its tunnel-boring machine being stuck under downtown. At first, they insisted the machine wasn't really stuck at all—or had any internal operation problems. Check out tweet from the their perpetually chipper machine named Bertha last December:
Seeing some reports that I’m stuck. I’m working fine, but have encountered an obstruction. I’ll keep you posted. — Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99) December 9, 2013
She was "working fine." Officials didn't say what was blocking Bertha's path, nor would they estimate how long the machine would be immobilized or the cost of those delays. But then last Friday, they conceded Bertha wasn't obstructed by an object. She was broken. The seals around the central bearing were busted and they didn't know if the bearing itself—a $5 million piece of equipment—was damaged, too.
Replacing the seals is a complicated process and [Seattle Tunneling Partners] is working closely with Hitachi Zosen, the tunneling machine’s manufacturer, to determine the best path forward. They are looking at two ways to access the seal area: through the back of the machine or by drilling an access shaft from the surface in front of the machine. Either way, this process will take months. They expect to make a decision by the end of the week, and once they do, we will share that information with the public.
STP has not yet fully determined the cause of the seal problems and to date, they have not shown any evidence that suggests the state or taxpayers will be responsible for cost overruns associated with these repairs. We have requested and expect detailed plans on how the repairs will be made and how STP can recover lost time on the tunneling project.