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Bertha Is Still Stuck But 'Everything's Good,' Official Says

Although the tunnel boring machine known as “Bertha” is at a standstill, work is still underway to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.

That was the message during a press tour of the beleaguered transportation project Thursday, as KUOW’s Ann Dornfeld reports.


“Bertha” the tunnel boring machine, or TBM, has been stuck beneath the streets of Seattle for nine months awaiting repairs.

But contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners invited reporters to the site to see that construction continues on the tunnel.

Project Manager Chris Dixon: “Although the TBM’s stopped, there’s a lot of other work going on in the project continuing to advance. We’ve started a variety of activities that we would not have started had the tunnel boring operation been going.”

Activities like lining the interior that’s been drilled so far with concrete.

And building the two levels on which traffic will travel in each direction.

Dixon says frontloading as much of that work as possible will mean less to do once the boring is complete.

Reporters were able to get halfway inside the 6-story-long boring machine, a tangle of pipes and wires.

The workers who venture any farther into the machine need to spend an hour and a half decompressing like deep-sea divers.

Time-consuming, dangerous work like that contributes to the cost of the delay – estimated at $125 million.

This week the U.S. Public Interest Research Group named Seattle’s tunnel project as one of the nation’s top 11 highway boondoggles.

But Dixon says he’s not concerned.

“Everything’s good, we’ve got a plan in replace to repair the TBM, complete the tunneling, and we have no doubts that the project’s going to get completed successfully. Maybe a little later than planned, but it’s going to get done.”

Dixon says he expects Bertha the TBM to be digging again in March.

He sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

Year started with KUOW: 2008