Berthas rescue pit, uploaded January 16. The Senate bill cites concerns about the rescue pit as reason to kill Bertha for good.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation
  • Bertha's rescue pit, uploaded January 16. The Senate Repblicans' bill cites concerns about the rescue pit as reason to kill Bertha for good.

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We didn't see this one coming.

According to the Washington State Legislature website, state senators Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) and Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) have filed a bill to kill Bertha. Senate Bill 5646 would end the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project in its current incarnation and use the rest of the money to research alternatives to the deep-bore tunnel.

The bill itself kind of sounds like a joke because it's so forcefully worded and so short. "The legislature finds that the state route number 99 Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project has failed," the bill's opening language reads. "The legislature also finds that the project as it is currently designed cannot be justified financially and is not in the best interest of the public."

And yet the bill is there, listed in the legislature's online portal.

It cites the recent communications between Seattle city agencies and the Washington State Department of Transportation as reason to call it quits. "According to engineer reports and correspondence with the city of Seattle, concerns have arisen about whether continued excavation could lead to'"a significant impact on the structural, geotechnical, and hydraulic adequacy of the shaft structure,'" the bill continues. "Ironically, this activity has caused concerns regarding the sinking of part of the viaduct itself, despite the fact that the questionable structural integrity of the viaduct was one of the main reasons initially given for the need for the project."

Two weeks ago, WSDOT appeared before the Seattle city council and said that the viaduct was not at risk because of the pit. But it seems senators Ericksen and Baumgartner are in part making an argument that the damage has already been done to public trust in government.

"Due to these overwhelming circumstances, the project has created great anxiety and frustration, and has lost the political support of the people of Seattle, its council, as well as the people of the state and its legislature," the bill reads. "The legislature, therefore, finds that the most prudent way forward is to cease all construction related to the state route number Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project and prohibit the continued expenditure of funds on this project."

Read the rest here. We're reaching out to the bill co-sponsors and Seattle officials for comment, and will update when we hear back.

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UPDATE: The bill is set to be introduced tomorrow. Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) says she doesn't anticipate the bill passing the Senate. "I glanced at the bill and found it interesting right away that the two sponsors, Senators Baumgartner and Ericksen, do not represent districts in Seattle or, for that fact, anywhere near Seattle," Senator Kohl-Welles wrote in an e-mail. "I’m not sure how they would respond if Seattle legislators were to introduce legislation to stop large projects in their jurisdictions."

We're reaching out to other Seattle-based legislators for their takes.

UPDATE: The mayor's office doesn't offer much. Nick Harper, director of the city's Office of Intergovernmental Relations, writes that it'll be "interesting" to see what happens to the bill in the legislature, and that the city wants to remain a "good partner" to the state and its tunnel contractor.