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Transportation Officials: To Fix Bertha, Cutter Head Needs To Be Removed

Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)
Bertha's face, seen here before starting the state Route 99 tunnel, will need to be removed for repairs.

Bertha needs a face lift.

Washington State Department of Transportation officials told the Seattle City Council Monday afternoon that the face of the state Route 99 tunnel machine has to come off in order to repair its damaged machinery.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the project’s contractors, plan to dig a pit about as deep as a twelve-story building in front of Bertha to remove its face, or cutter head.

At Bertha's current location near Pioneer Square, contractors will be able to lift the face out of the pit and lay it on its side. "It's almost the perfect place. If you had to pick a place somewhere along the alignment that you had to do this sort of thing – take the cutter head off – this is the best place to do that," said Matt Preedy of WSDOT.

That face is about five stories tall and weighs seven hundred tons. For comparison, that's about a third of the size, but five times the weight, of the giant Ferris wheel on the Seattle waterfront.

City Council members sought assurances that the tunnel machine wouldn't break down again once it's under the heart of downtown Seattle. Transportation officials said they expect to get an answer to that question from the Seattle Tunnel Partners firm this week.

They also expect to hear how many months Bertha's face lift and major surgery will take. Delayed completion of the tunnel could cost Seattle Tunnel Partners up to $150,000 a day.

Year started with KUOW: 2009