Gov. Jay Inslee wants answers about the sinkhole near Bertha before the tunneling machine resumes digging.
Governor Jay Inslee wants answers about the sinkhole near Bertha before the tunneling machine resumes digging. Washington State Department of Transportation

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Yesterday brought the news that a sinkhole had opened up just 12 yards from the rescue pit for Bertha, the $80 million tunnel boring machine on a long-delayed mission to dig a new highway tunnel under downtown Seattle.

Today, Governor Jay Inslee told reporters in Olympia he'd ordered a stop to any more tunneling until the sinkhole is figured out.

From the Seattle Times:

“In consulting with the Department of Transportation, it’s been decided that the contractor will be notified that they should suspend tunneling work at this time,” Inslee said in a Thursday news conference that dealt with a variety of topics.

“I am seriously disappointed that we have another issue with the tunneling project in Seattle,” he said.

What led to the sinkhole is under investigation.

“The contractor must identify the root-cause analysis and complete the analysis of the issues that have occurred since the contractor has resumed tunneling,” Inslee said.

Inslee said that with the work order, “the contractor will not resume tunneling until they demonstrate that they can proceed in safety and proceed with their work and have plans in place to prevent this type of incident in the future.”

State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson released a statement saying in part:

I share the Governor’s concern for public safety and we want to ensure that the contractor has the right protocols in place to proceed with their work safely.

We are asking that the contractor complete root cause analysis and take the appropriate steps to ensure that incidents, such as the sinkhole near the repair pit, do not occur again. STP will not be allowed to resume tunneling until their analysis and work plans meet the satisfaction of our experts.

Discovery of the sinkhole came just two hours after crews resumed digging following another hiccup earlier this week involving a dirt spill into Elliott Bay from a barge carrying soil from the project.