Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.
00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2a000000Bertha, the world's biggest tunneling machine, is a five-story-tall monstrosity of drilling tasked with digging out the tunnel for State Route 99 to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It's journey to the center of the earth underneath downtown Seattle began in July 2013, and since then the project has seen its fair share of successes and failures.Follow the progress of the $3 billion megaproject with KUOW.

WATCH: Bertha breaks through

Remember Bertha, and how lots of people thought it would never finish digging the two-mile tunnel beneath Seattle's waterfront?

Well, the machine reached daylight around midday on Tuesday. After nearly four years of digging, the machine is about to reach the finish line on Highway 99 near the Space Needle.

Next, crews will begin slicing it apart for recycling.

I went to see what people think about Bertha now. In many cases, people don't think about Bertha. Take Cassady Sheffler, who works at the Other Coast Café on Ballard Avenue. Whenever she returns to Seattle in the summers, she could always count on there being some kind of trouble with Bertha.

"They're always just working on it," she said.

I surprised her with the news: Almost four years after it started, Bertha is done. “Oh wow, see, I didn’t know that. Well, that’s super cool!”

Watch it on a live cam below: 

I caught Nick Wimberly outside the café, after he'd delivered cardboard boxes of food to the cafe. Wimberly remembers when Bertha got stuck, after it hit a steel pipe and overheated in late 2013. He used to follow the news about the tunnel project.

“It didn’t seem like it was going to get done, ever. It seemed like a lot of money for something that was going nowhere,” he said.

Bertha's contractor spent millions of dollars pulling the cutter head out of the ground and making it stronger. “I heard it was getting fixed," said Wimberly. "But I really didn’t hear anything after that.”

That’s because Bertha hasn’t had any big problems since it dove beneath the viaduct last April.

Contractors still have to complete the toll road inside the tunnel, but the hardest part is over. “I can’t believe it’s actually being finished," Wimberly said.

When the tunnel opens in 2019, Wimberly says he’ll use it a lot, to make deliveries in his truck.

This story was updated, April 3 at 5 p.m.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Seattle’s Space Needle towers above the SR 99 tunneling machine’s disassembly pit in this March 2017 photo. Bertha was about 200 feet from breaking through the circular target in the wall at the time of this photo. ", "fid": "135078", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201704/berthascoming_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Flickr/WSDOT https://flic.kr/p/TcgMhG (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)"}]]