Seattle Tunnel Partners will resume digging at the Bertha rescue pit tonight.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Seattle Tunnel Partners will resume digging at the Bertha rescue pit tonight.

During a blizzard of bad news and "we don't know" answers about the tunnel project last week, the Washington State Department of Transportation took one small action. It told Seattle Tunnel Partners (which has the contract to build the underground tunnel meant to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct) to stop digging at the pit where they're hoping to access and fix Bertha, the tunnel-boring machine that's been stuck underground for over a year.

The digging itself wasn't causing the sinking everyone's worried about, WSDOT told city council members yesterday. Rather, the sinking is likely due to dewatering (the process of pumping water out from around the pit in order to making the pit-digging possible). But WSDOT had ordered Seattle Tunnel Partners stop digging because it wanted to hear the group's plans for what they'll do if they have to stop dewatering. (Stopping dewatering suddenly can cause its own issues—the pit can fill with water or, due to pressure changes, mud can burst through the bottom of the pit.)

Now, WSDOT says it's seen the plan to stop dewatering if need be, and is confident that the recent sinking has stabilized. As a result, it'll allow Seattle Tunnel Partners to start digging again tonight. (I've asked WSDOT for the plan and will update this post if I get it.)

For those who want the project to continue, this is good news. The sooner they can get the pit dug, the sooner they can get to Bertha. (And stop dewatering, and hopefully keep our city from sinking away forever.) But should the project continue? Former Stranger associate editor and psychic Dominic Holden says if the city can't get answers to these seven questions, the answer is definitely no.