The Tunnel Machine Is Seriously Fucked
State Admits a Fix Could Take Till Summer
The Washington State Department of Transportation is finally admitting that fixing the broken tunnel-boring machine known as Bertha could take until summer. That presents a major setback for replacing the dangerously decrepit Alaskan Way Viaduct and reignites controversy that the $4.2 billion megaproject will run behind schedule and over budget.
After Bertha had been stuck for two months, WSDOT explained in an announcement on February 10 that it must replace broken seals on the machine's cutter head in a "complicated process... that will take months." Officials may have to dig a shaft more than six stories deep to access the machine or dismantle key components from the inside out.
As of press time, WSDOT still, despite repeated requests from The Stranger, refused to explain exactly how far behind schedule they are or whether it will affect the budget. (Tunneling was also delayed for a month in 2013 during a labor dispute.)
The machine came to a halt in early December. At first, a tweet from Bertha's official account insisted the machine wasn't stuck—nor malfunctioning—at all, declaring, "I'm working fine, but have encountered an obstruction."
Then last Friday, officials conceded that Bertha was not obstructed, but damaged. The seals around the central bearing were busted, and they didn't know if the $5 million bearing itself was damaged, too.
Maybe this will all be sorted out quickly at minimal cost, but thus far, the state's track record is obfuscation, growing delays, and financing shortfalls—so a speedy, affordable fix would be a dramatic aberration.