The latest news on Bertha the tunnel digging machine is we won’t know the latest news on Bertha until the end of the month. That’s when a spokesman for Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) said Bertha’s builder, Hitachi Zosen, expects to have its inspection of the machine completed.
So Bertha sits idle in a pit in the shadow of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and some are saying it may be time to take another look at the shadow caster.
The viaduct is still carrying a major load of Seattle’s north/south traffic and is expected to until the tunnel is complete. With all the delays in the tunnel project, we asked Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials if we can depend on the viaduct to hold up that long.
“The viaduct is safe for everyday traffic under normal loads,” said WSDOT Deputy Project Administrator Matt Preedy, who went on to say it doesn’t make sense to close the viaduct to perform major and very expensive upgrades.
Preedy said the main concern with the viaduct is another earthquake, but unless than happens it can carry the load until Bertha gets moving again.
STP spokespeople said they cannot estimate when Bertha will resume digging, but did say they are preparing to dig a pit that will allow workers to change damaged seals and other possible problems from the front end of the stuck machine.
Bertha apparently damaged seals when it began running too hot due to heavy accumulations of silt and debris on the cutter head. A STP spokesman said Hitachi is considering changing Bertha’s cutting tools to reduce those accumulations.