Tunnel Machine Set To Dig Under Seattle -- But It's Not Bertha

Apr 30, 2014

A tunnel machine is set to resume digging beneath the streets of Seattle in June. This machine isn't named Bertha.

The ceremony at a construction site next to I-5 had all the usual ingredients. Speeches by elected officials.

A battery of TV cameras. And a christening of the newly refurbished tunnel machine.

Sound Transit celebrated the imminent launch of the machine that will dig a light-rail tunnel nearly four miles, from Northgate down to Husky Stadium on the UW campus. They call this machine Brenda.

None of the speeches mentioned the city's most famous, or infamous, tunnel-boring machine. Bertha remains broken down beneath the Seattle waterfront. It's not expected to resume digging until March of next year.

Sound Transit officials said they don't expect a similar fate to befall Brenda, since it's already proven itself digging from Capitol Hill to downtown.

"I think we've got a real experienced team and an experienced technology," said Paul Roberts, an Everett City Councilman and vice chair of Sound Transit. " We're excited and looking forward to staying on schedule and on budget."

It was a year-and-a-half ago that Washington state officials enjoyed a similar ceremony in Japan. They celebrated the completion of the world's largest tunnel machine. Chris Dixon, the head of the project for Seattle Tunnel Partners spoke with an industry publication called Tunnel Talk.

"Our target completion date on our target schedule is the 21st of July 2014, so almost 14 months of tunneling,” said Dixon.

Bertha hasn't come close to the schedule that Dixon laid out in Japan.

It started a couple months late and lost another month to a longshoreman's strike. Bertha broke down in December, and officials expect it to be on its underground staycation for a total of 16 months.

Seattle Tunnel Partners have asked Washington DOT to pay nearly $190 million in extra costs. State officials say they have rejected 80% of those cost overruns and are reviewing the rest.

So far, Sound Transit's newly christened machine has a better track record than Bertha's: Bertha broke down after just a thousand feet of drilling. The much skinnier Brenda has dug two-miles already under Capitol Hill. Sound Transit officials say it finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

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