For nearly two weeks now, the Washington State Department of Transportation has been struggling to explain why their $4.2 billion megaproject is at standstill. After several awkward, matter-of-fact updates that didn't shed light why the tunnel-boring machine got stuck in early December or when it will get moving again, today they issued this update:
When you're sick, you go to the doctor. Based on your symptoms, the doctor checks for obvious clues about what might be ailing you. If his initial search doesn't yield the answer, he takes additional steps. He might run more thorough tests or send you to a specialist who has the tools and knowledge to give you an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
When crews operating Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, experienced increasing resistance at the front of the machine, they stopped tunneling. They started looking for obvious things that could have slowed the machine's progress. As the weeks went on, the search intensified. They found clues, including part of an 8-inch-diameter steel pipe inside the machine's excavation chamber.
But obvious things, it turns out, aren't necessarily at the root of this issue. It's time to see the specialist. Or, to use tunneling lingo, it's time to go hyperbaric.
This is obviously a terrible analogy if for no other reason than sometimes patients with mystery illnesses drop dead. Let's hope that doesn't happen here. Read the whole cutesy thing about "going hyperbaric"—it involves sending divers into a pressurized bubble in front of the machine for more exploration—which only underscores the fact they still have no idea what the problem is.