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Monday, February 10, 2014

State Admits Fixing Tunnel Machine "Will Take Months"

Posted by on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 11:25 PM

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:

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.

Tonight, WSDOT posted an announcement on it website about just how difficult and time-consuming this will be:

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.

If only we could have foreseen this problem and picked a better alternative.


Comments (31) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Cut and run! Please just put that bitch Bertha out of her misery.
Posted by deign_to_say on February 10, 2014 at 11:37 PM · Report this
STP doesn't know what they're doing and don't have the wherewithal to fix this or themselves.


but, everything i've seen suggests this is ALL on STP. this tunnel will bankrupt them. not that will matter 'cause once they're bankrupt the ball is back in the taxpayers court. . .
Posted by nonion on February 10, 2014 at 11:59 PM · Report this
We had a better alternative, the cut and cover tunnel. Somehow people thought that was worse.
Posted by ChefJoe on February 11, 2014 at 12:23 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Going to have to cancel a lot of Eastern Washington highway projects to pay for it.

Unless they decide to #ReturnBertha for a refund.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 11, 2014 at 12:46 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 5
With @3, I don't know the political maneuvers that took cut and cover off the table, but the Stranger was in Lala land thinking the surface street was a good idea.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on February 11, 2014 at 12:48 AM · Report this
@5 the surface street solution is what we will have even when the tunnel is complete.

All of the old viaduct traffic that either started or stopped downtown will be on surface streets since the tunnel has no downtown on-ramps or off-ramps.

All of the old viaduct traffic that either started or stopped at Interbay, the south half of Queen Anne (including Seattle Center), or Magnolia since the tunnel won't have an on-ramp or an off-ramp like the one for the viaduct at Blanchard.

Half of the old viaduct traffic by people who don't want to pay the toll. The other half will be clogging I-5.

I hope tunnel proponents liked the surface street solution, because that's what they're gonna get.
Posted by Charlie Mas on February 11, 2014 at 5:10 AM · Report this
Surface street was hardly a lala land proposal, too bad half the population of Seattle can't get beyond the 60's era Cars! Highways! mentality.
Posted by sanotehu on February 11, 2014 at 5:48 AM · Report this
NotSean 8
Now, I truly do worry for the viaduct users . The Bettha boondoggle will suck resources away from any other solution - the viaduct will continue to be used until the collapse.

Posted by NotSean on February 11, 2014 at 5:51 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 9
Good thing Nickles passive-aggressively slit the throat of the monorail. We wouldn't want a high capacity, grade separated transit line downtown which might make surface-transit work, when we could funnel ten times as much money into the maw of the construction industry. Woo hoo, grift and graft, baby!$!$!$!
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on February 11, 2014 at 6:30 AM · Report this
Aaron 10
Even a year late and with diminished capacity, it will still be far better to have this tunnel than a rebuilt viaduct. Fantasies aside, that is the choice we were faced with. Eliminating the State Highway was never on the table, never would have been, and never will be.
Posted by Aaron on February 11, 2014 at 6:36 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 11
I continue to maintain that they will fix this and that the thing will eventually be completed. Too many egos and civic pride on the line. And a mechanism will be found to pay for it aside from the citizens of Seattle. There's too many wealthy people and too much prime real estate involved for that to happen.

In the meantime, why not have a go at MY original idea: Just tear the viaduct down, and don't replace it? Yes, it will be The End Of The World for about three weeks, but then the traffic patterns will settle down, and we'll be free of the damn thing.

Of course, this will mean beefing up transit to and from West Seattle and Ballard, and creating an interbay - West Seattle ferry, but why not?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on February 11, 2014 at 6:52 AM · Report this
@11: Typical "I got mine, so fuck you" mentality.
Posted by Well fuck you right back on February 11, 2014 at 7:21 AM · Report this
OK politicians, if you want to keep digging this tunnel, it is time to agree on who will pay for cost overruns. The present situation is that the state says Seattle will pay, while Seattle says the state will pay. This is childishly irresponsible.
Posted by spock on February 11, 2014 at 7:25 AM · Report this
TLjr 14
They let the bad news drop on a Friday. Classic.
Posted by TLjr on February 11, 2014 at 7:33 AM · Report this
fletc3her 15
I'm just happy the story makes sense now.
Posted by fletc3her on February 11, 2014 at 7:42 AM · Report this
Andrew_Taylor 16
"STP has not yet fully determined the cause of the seal problems ".

So, if something unexplained goes wrong with your car (or your body), do you immediately go ahead and fix the symptoms, or do you figure out the underlying cause before throwing good money after bad?
Posted by Andrew_Taylor on February 11, 2014 at 7:48 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 17
@9 Come on, now. We all know the monorail was going to get "built" the same way the tunnel is being "built". It was a multi-stage hustle, with the first part being a real estate scam. Fortunately, it got scuttled before the second part, the $10B concrete scam could start. The chances of it actually moving large amounts of people in our working lifetimes was nil.
The tunnel project is following the same pattern. Since there isn't the same amount of real estate fraud potential, the first part of the hustle is coming from Hitachi and STP. There will still be a $10B concrete scam, to be sure, and the end result will be a transportation gimmick that actually prevents a real solution.
Posted by Sir Vic on February 11, 2014 at 7:49 AM · Report this
fletc3her 18
@6 The tunnel will end at the Seattle Center so traffic to or from there should be able to use it. From Magnolia or Ballard people are going to need to decide if it's worth going into the tunnel, using the waterfront, or heading over to I-5.

A significant amount of traffic will use the tunnel as a bypass for Seattle as they do the viaduct today.
Posted by fletc3her on February 11, 2014 at 8:09 AM · Report this
Is it really a possibility that the plug can be pulled on the project? Is that why they are so hesitant to give any information that can be interpreted as negative? It would take strong political leadership to push for killing it and I just don't see anyone out there with the clout.

I really don't care if it's a tunnel, surface streets, a bridge, or what ever as long as something replaces the viaduct, at least in part, so we can get rid of the damn thing. I see that the real issue is that we have a project being mismanaged. I strongly suspect that same mismanagement would translate to any project they tried to build.

It is not really the project itself that is f****d up. It is this monster called WSDOT that we continue to feed without any reform.
Posted by kmq1 on February 11, 2014 at 8:21 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 20

This whole escapade sounds fishy.

Originally the problem was some leftover pipe that a previous boring operation left behind right?

Then, just at exactly the same time, their O-rings fail?

Was one related to the other? Or was the O-rings the real reason it stopped?

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 11, 2014 at 8:42 AM · Report this
The Stranger: living in the past while pretending it is the future, since 1992.
Posted by hmmmmm on February 11, 2014 at 8:52 AM · Report this
Banna 22
Remember when the Monorail was an expensive boondoggle at $2B?
Posted by Banna on February 11, 2014 at 8:57 AM · Report this
theophrastus 23
@3 it may surprise people that the seattle city council was pulling for a 'cut and cover' solution. (they were overridden by Olympia) it would've saved us this particular sorry situation.. of having the Slog-folk go on and on about how they foresaw it all.
Posted by theophrastus on February 11, 2014 at 8:58 AM · Report this
@19 Unbelievably naive. The management is horrendous, but the project itself is fucked. A tunnel that few will use because the tolls are too high and doesn't have downtown exits.

We should have gone with the surface option and put all this money into building out a real, useful, multi-line lightrail system that will actually benefit the city and a large percentage of its citizens.
Posted by deign_to_say on February 11, 2014 at 9:32 AM · Report this
Max Solomon 25
keep you eyes on the prize, Seattle: freight mobility is what drove this solution.

just imagine the day that a container from china will be loaded on a tractor-trailer, cruise up through the new tunnel, across the ship canal, past the zoo, and get to a string of stop lights that goes all the way to the Canadian border.

it will be so much better that the Port Commissioners will need another raise.
Posted by Max Solomon on February 11, 2014 at 9:38 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 26

Check out the new Mumbai Monorail:…

Looks very ALWEG-y

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 11, 2014 at 10:22 AM · Report this
Aaron 27
@26 What's pretty obviously missing from that monorail are the safety considerations demanded in a US city, like emergency egress when it breaks down. Remember this?…
Posted by Aaron on February 11, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 28
All the Tunnel pushers have to sell is Fear of Traffic.

We already have the traffic.

Pull the plug and demand a refund when we #ReturnBertha ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 11, 2014 at 12:03 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 29
@25 more likely loading coal, oil and LNG for China
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 11, 2014 at 12:10 PM · Report this
@23 Not to disagree, but for context the design that the City Council supported included incorporating seawall replacement into the cut/cover design, going underneath the railroad tracks up at Broad Street, and 'redesigning' the integration with Mercer & Hwy 99 north of Seattle Center - all on the State's dime. In response to that & opposition from waterfront businesses, WSDOT ginned up some budgetary constraints that eventually made the cut and cover design a monster. That included a 'requirement' to reuse the existing Battery St. tunnel, and construction of a viaduct over the rail tracks at Broad to accomplish. That design was going to suck, suck, suck. Just another example of how Nickels & Crunican failed to persuade and influence not only this project but the 520 mess.
Posted by Action Slacks on February 11, 2014 at 12:28 PM · Report this
@23 Anyone with a brain and the ability to read about previous similar projects foresaw this coming.
Posted by deign_to_say on February 11, 2014 at 1:24 PM · Report this

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