PHOTOS & VIDEO: Bertha Breakthrough, report #1

11:06 AM: Now that WSDOT says Bertha the tunneling machine is in the final foot before breakthrough, we are going to do what everybody else is doing and put up the live stream. What we’re hearing from those on scene: It’s dusty. Very dusty. More to come. (And if you just want to check back later to see how it all came out, so to speak, Christopher Boffoli is there for WSB and we’ll have pics from him.) If you use Twitter, watching tweets with the hashtag #BerthaBreakthrough is a mix of commentary, observations, humor, and memories (WSDOT notes that today is the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s 64th birthday).

11:28 AM: Christopher sends this view of what it looks like where he and other media are right now.

The site was opened to media about two hours ago. And now as we type this – it just happened:

11:35 AM: Pic from Christopher at the pit:

WSDOT has said it’ll take “weeks” before the machine is in its final position in the pit, to be broken down and hauled away in pieces … which is how it arrived, four years ago, via ship from Japan.

12:07 PM: Just in from Christopher, a new, clear view as the cutterhead continues its slow breakthrough:

And here’s the official news release just sent by WSDOT:

A year ago, SR 99 tunnel crews were about to face their biggest challenge: a trip beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct they were working to replace. Today, with the viaduct and more than 9,270 feet of new tunnel safely behind them, there was nothing left to face but daylight as the SR 99 tunneling machine chewed its way into a pit near Seattle Center.

Bertha’s 1.7-mile drive beneath Seattle came to a successful end Tuesday afternoon, 64 years to the day since the viaduct first opened to traffic. Led by the Washington State Department of Transportation, and designed and built by contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, the tunnel project will move a two-mile section of SR 99 underground when it wraps up in early 2019. Crews will then demolish the viaduct, clearing the way for the city’s new waterfront.

“This is a historic moment in our state’s transportation history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “Innovation and perseverance are the engines that keep Washington in the forefront. There is still more work ahead but this moment is one worth celebrating.”

Crews will spend the next several days removing steel support braces that stand between Bertha and the interior of the 90-foot-deep disassembly pit. When the braces are gone, crews will drive the machine into its final position and begin cutting it into pieces for removal. As owner of the machine, the contractor will determine which pieces could be salvaged for use on other projects or recycled.

“We were always confident that we would successfully complete the tunnel drive,” Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon said. “The dedication and commitment of everyone on the Seattle Tunnel Partners team has been exceptional, and we wouldn’t be at this milestone without the hard work of our crews. We look forward to continuing this outstanding progress through project completion.”

STP still has significant work to complete before the tunnel opens. Crews must finish building the double-deck highway within the circular walls that were built by crews inside the tunneling machine. Mechanical and electrical systems, plumbing and safety features also must be installed.

Even as crews are installing these systems, crews will begin the extensive task of testing and commissioning the tunnel to ensure it’s ready for traffic. Inspectors will individually test more than 8,500 separate components before testing each of the tunnel’s various systems as a whole.

“This truly is a remarkable feat of engineering,” Transportation Secretary Roger Millar said. “There’s still work to be done, but the individuals working on this job should be proud of this accomplishment.”

Over the next several years, the City of Seattle’s Waterfront Seattle project will build new public space and a surface boulevard in the place of the double-deck viaduct, which is scheduled for demolition in 2019.

“Today is a major construction milestone in our plan to reclaim Seattle’s waterfront,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said. “We are one step closer to taking down the viaduct to make way for a reimagined waterfront and surrounding downtown neighborhood. We will build a waterfront for pedestrians, transit and sensible car trips without a freeway wall casting a shadow over our vision of a well-connected 21st century city.”

King County Metro will continue to rely on SR 99 to route buses to Seattle after the tunnel opens, said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“The new tunnel will provide fast, reliable travel for transit and freight past downtown traffic, and reunite the city with its waterfront,” said Constantine. “The breakthrough highlights what we can accomplish when we think big, act boldly, and embrace the ‘can-do’ tradition of our region.”

Port of Seattle Commission Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said the tunnel will work with the new waterfront surface street to accommodate freight traffic.

“This Alaskan Way route is essential to a strong port and linking our industrial lands between SODO and Ballard,” Gregoire said. “Strong, vibrant transportation connections are essential to keep our economy growing and creating middle-class jobs.”

Background on tunneling machine repairs

Manufactured in Japan by Hitachi Zosen Corp., Bertha arrived in Seattle in April 2013. The machine was launched from a pit near the stadiums in July of that year. In December 2013, STP stopped mining after measuring increased temperatures in the machine.

After an investigation, STP discovered damage to the machine’s main bearing. Crews completed repairs and resumed mining in December 2015. The cause of damage to the tunneling machine is in dispute and is currently in litigation. Neither WSDOT nor STP is able to comment further on ongoing legal issues.

1:37 PM: Just in case you were wondering, the machine’s movement is done for the day, by the way, Christopher and other media at the scene were told.

4:08 PM: Pending our “what’s next” second wrapup later today, here’s Christopher’s video of highlights from the breakthrough and the comments afterward, including the governor, mayor, county executive, and others:

More later. WSDOT, meantime, says the livestream camera will be up until 9 tomorrow morning.

27 Replies to "PHOTOS & VIDEO: Bertha Breakthrough, report #1"

  • WSB April 4, 2017 (11:21 am)

    Sorry we don’t have an aerial feed; still waiting for someone to buy us a helicopter. Then again, we have about 100 higher (so to speak) priorities. But in this case, it would be handy.

    • WSB April 4, 2017 (11:23 am)

      Update: The dust is clearing a bit on the stream. What they need is the giant Fire Department tunnel-ventilating fan truck.

    • Alan April 4, 2017 (11:33 am)

      You probably saw that I was leaving a comment about KOMO having their helicopter up for a view. Just as I was posting that, they went back to the same camera feed so I deleted my comment. The helicopter was only an advantage while the whole view was dust.

      I see that someone is also flying a drone over the pit. Hopefully, it is someone from WSDOT.

      • Gatewooder April 4, 2017 (6:54 pm)

        It was a drone from WSDOT, the video can be found here:

        • WSB April 4, 2017 (6:57 pm)

          Thanks for the link. I am writing our second report and will include it – hadn’t yet seen an updated media advisory from WSDOT with the URL.

  • clark5080 April 4, 2017 (11:32 am)

    Christopher should use his Drone!

  • Alan April 4, 2017 (11:42 am)

    Hopefully, most of that particulate is water spray to keep down the dust, since I don’t see anyone wearing face masks.

  • Christopher Boffoli April 4, 2017 (12:05 pm)

    STP reps tell us that what is in the air is not dust but a combination of polymer, water vapor and steam. It smells faintly of burning plastic. Really clearing out now.

  • dsa April 4, 2017 (12:43 pm)

    Sorry STP, but polymer suspended in the air especially if you could smell it would be dust.  Dust does not have to be dirt etc.  Think flour dust.

    • Christopher Boffoli April 4, 2017 (4:38 pm)

      DSA:  I think you’re correct.  All of that “non-dust” was all over my clothing and gear when I left the site.  And my lungs aren’t happy this afternoon.

  • AT April 4, 2017 (12:43 pm)

    Wow, can’t believe Bertha actually made it through!  

  • AmandaK(H) April 4, 2017 (1:16 pm)

    Seems like there might be a misunderstanding? 

    Dow says: “The new tunnel will provide fast, reliable travel for transit and freight past downtown traffic, and reunite the city with its waterfront,” said Constantine.

    Port of Seattle Commission Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said the tunnel will work with the new waterfront surface street to accommodate freight traffic.

    • Michael April 4, 2017 (3:19 pm)

      Where’s the misunderstanding?  The tunnel bypasses downtown traffic, freight traffic can use it or the surface street as needed.

  • Sarge April 4, 2017 (1:57 pm)

     500 million dollars over budget and two years behind schedule with 2 years to go.

    Replacing a 2 lane tunnel with 2 lane toll tunnel doesn’t solve the bottleneck through downtown Seattle.

    Still planning on charging us the $1.25 toll they promised? Fat chance. 

     I predict $7 for every car by the time they finally get it up and running in 2021.

    • Michael April 4, 2017 (3:21 pm)

      Did they ever settle on a plan for the surface street?  If it is two or more lanes that would add up to more capacity than the existing viaduct with better flow because there is no exiting or merging traffic in the tunnel.

    • Meyer April 4, 2017 (5:37 pm)

      Do you have a link for the 500 million figure? Last I saw was 149 million cited from q13 yesterday

      Also do you have a source for the 2021 date? Last I read was early 2019.

    • Dale April 4, 2017 (5:41 pm)

      $500 million over budget? I’ve never seen that figure last summer it was estimated at $223 million and the current figure is $149 million which contractually STP partners is on the hook for. Yes, they want to be reimbursed for it and have filed suit against a soil testing firm alleging the metal pipe they hit was supposed to be PVC. The two other suits heard against the State have been thrown out. Yes, they have regrouped and there will be more challenges presented. I just have never seen that $500 million figure in print or any public documents. Where did you find it? I’m curious. 

  • Rick April 4, 2017 (2:15 pm)

    Do we get a multi million dollar champagne back slapping party to celebrate this one?

  • Brad April 4, 2017 (4:31 pm)

    So Seattle Tunnel Partners is suing the city of Seattle for cost over runs because the machine they bought and operated broke down. In what world does this make any sense. I guess if the guy that mows my lawn has a mower break down I should have to pay him for the job even if he did not finish. Yeah, that’s how things are supposed to work. We the tax payers are going to get shafted with this bill. 

  • Heather April 4, 2017 (4:44 pm)

    Well. I, for one, found it pretty dang exciting. How cool was that!?!?

  • wetone April 4, 2017 (6:44 pm)

     What  I really want to know is how all the traffic commuting from WS to SODO area, downtown and Georgetown area will get back into WS ?  New tunnel has few options for accessibility, will have tolls (usage tax) that many don’t have budgets allowing using 2x day or more for work or kids activities.  These issues will push much more traffic onto surface streets and I-5 than today.  WSfwy has multiple lanes to exit off WSfwy eastbound before  I-5 and those are 1st and 4th ave exits and current 99 viaduct. How is all that traffic going to get back to WS with just a 1 lane access  (1st ave) to WSfwy leading  west bound from same areas ?  Low bridge if T-5 is built will be complete cluster with all the truck and rail traffic then add bridge openings. I see huge traffic problems for WS once tunnel opens. Saw Christine Gregoire on tv saying how great this will be for tourism and waterfront…………   what about the people/family’s needing to get around this city and the ones that will be paying the cost overruns :(

  • Sho'nuff April 4, 2017 (8:56 pm)

    Whether you are for or against the tunnel, you have to admit that you are never going to have the unique view of the city, Elliot Bay, and the surrounding mountains that the viaduct has provided once it is gone.  I will miss driving on the top level toward the city with the Olympics to my left, and I’ll miss driving south toward home with Mt. Rainier up ahead or the lit up Ferris wheel at night.  Almost every defining feature of Seattle (the waterfront, ferries, Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Elliot Bay, and the mountains) can be taken in during this short little drive up high above it all.  

    When people are jammed down in a dark tunnel paying $5 tolls each way to drive past the city (with no downtown exits), maybe they will take a moment to reminisce about that beautiful view that they once had and will never experience again.

  • anonymous April 4, 2017 (9:07 pm)

    Totally agree with you, wetone.

    I see the upside for the waterfront, but all that money spent and we’re not adding capacity for vehicles.

    If we’re spending this kind of money on infrastructure, I’d rather see I-5 expanded through the downtown core, to four lanes each way. Would require some serious demo, but how many hours would be saved if I-5 didn’t get compressed down to two lanes thru downtown?

    • Knowitsome April 5, 2017 (8:51 am)

      I-5 is actually constricted down to one and a half lanes through downtown, as one of the lanes is merging..

      but, you’re right- expanding I-5 to four lanes would be far more effective solution, because it’s not just used by commuters going from south Seattle to North Seattle, it’s used by everyone going from anywhere south OF seattle (Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Olympia), to anywhere north OF Seattle (Everett, San Juan’s, Vancouver).

  • KBear April 4, 2017 (10:09 pm)

    I’m totally fine with the loss of view from the highway. Maybe drivers can pay more attention to the road now. 

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