FOLLOWUP: Operation complete – Highway 99 tunnel machine’s front end fully lowered into pit

(The webcam view 24 hours ago, when part of the repaired front end was still visible above the pit’s rim)

Just in from WSDOT:

Seattle Tunnel Partners and crane crews from Mammoet have successfully lowered the 2,000-ton front end of the SR 99 tunneling machine to a platform at the bottom of the access pit.

Crews will now use the crane to fine-tune the position of the piece. When that process is complete, they will begin reconnecting the piece to the portion of the machine that remains in the ground.

The effort to return the tunneling machine’s front end to the 120-foot-deep access pit began early Monday morning. Crews started by vertically lifting the piece, which includes the machine’s cutterhead, motors and the new main bearing assembly. The crane then moved horizontally on its rails to the north. When the piece was above the pit, crews rotated it to a semi-vertical position and lowered it partway into the pit before breaking for the evening. Work resumed early Tuesday morning, with the piece reaching the bottom of the pit Tuesday afternoon.

Three pieces of the machine’s shield that remain at the surface will be lowered and reinstalled in the coming days, according to STP’s latest schedule. After the machine has been reassembled, STP and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen will conduct a series of tests will follow reassembly to ensure the machine is ready to resume mining.

STP has said it hopes to do that in November, by which time it will be almost two years since the machine overheated and was stopped – longer than the tunnel-boring itself is supposed to take.

11 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Operation complete - Highway 99 tunnel machine's front end fully lowered into pit"

  • Marty August 25, 2015 (4:11 pm)

    Another over-budget success story! We should start a pool to see who can guess how many million it will be over budget before completion.

  • West Seattle since 1979 August 25, 2015 (5:30 pm)

    Marty, also one to see who can guess the finish date (if ever).

  • Villagreen August 25, 2015 (8:21 pm)

    Also one to see who can whine the loudest.

  • Dbf August 25, 2015 (9:41 pm)

    Also one for the foolish who think this is gonna work.

  • AMD August 25, 2015 (10:47 pm)

    Bertha has already made it onto an episode of “Engineering Disasters” only 10% of the way into the project.

  • David August 25, 2015 (11:49 pm)

    “The sky is falling, the sky is falling”.
    Relax. It will work. It’s just a tunnel, it’s not magic. A machine broke. That sucks. Cars break. Air conditioners break. Water heaters break. I don’t care that it broke, it’s being fixed. We’ll dig the tunnel (like thousands of tunnels before have been dug). It’s not magic, just engineering.
    As for the cost, none of that should be paid for by the tax payers, but ultimately I’m sure they’re negotiate something in between. The city just bid the project. The government didn’t build the tunnel machine. The government didn’t operate it. If the seals broke the tax payers aren’t at fault (despite the claim that one 10 inch wide pipe supposedly took out a 65 foot tall tunnel machine).

    I’m just an engineer, but the endless whining and misunderstanding of how projects of this size work is amazing. Sound Transit has been as lucky as Bertha was unlucky, it’s amazing how well they’re under budget and earlier than schedule and haven’t had any major breakdowns…on “average” our projects city wide are following statistical norms. I wish everything was perfect and nothing ever broke or went wrong, but in life and engineering it does…you just correct and go on.

  • bolo August 26, 2015 (9:02 am)

    I think people are just frustrated, likely for one of these reasons:
    1. It wasn’t the option they preferred;
    2. It’s taking so long.

    Me, I’m annoyed that this is a contractor that has a record of (successfully) suing the municipalities when things go wrong with their projects, and getting away with it.

  • steve August 26, 2015 (9:19 am)

    Geez, I’m so anxious. I can’t wait to drive to work thru that nice dark tunnel. Looking at big blue Elliot bay was sooooo boring. So glad, we’re finally gonna get what we want.

  • kobdvs August 26, 2015 (9:40 am)

    @David … I fear your intelligent post just goes right over the heads of the whiners and haters, who can’t seem to get their heads around the idea that big, complicated projects are often … big … and complicated.
    People don’t seem to know it – local media hasn’t picked up on it yet – but the contractor has been sued in New York (cause that’s where the insurance sits). STP’s own insurers hired an expert who has said that the breakdown happened because the TBM was under-designed. In other words – that the mechanical problems are owned by STP and Hitachi … and not by WSDOT. So it will be worth watching that lawsuit play out.
    The project will get done … we’ll get our tunnel and a revamped waterfront and life will go on … and dare I say … we’ll be better for it.

  • David August 26, 2015 (9:47 am)

    True. But..

    1. There was NO consensus. There wasn’t a single option that had like 70% support. Everyone wanted something else (30% wanted cut & cover, 30% wanted a tunnel 30% wanted a new viaduct, 10% wanted nothing). In that case MOST people will be unhappy no matter what you do. Nothing you can do about that. I agree the old view was nice…but it sucked too. The two off ramps to downtown ALWAYS backup at rush hour and 99 stops working as a “by pass” to downtown and become a parking lot. There are PLENTY of pretty views of the bay in Seattle. I don’t want to spend billions to build a pretty (but useless) parkway in the sky. The tunnel won’t be as “pretty”, but we’re not spending billions to more traffic in a “pretty” way…but more functional (as a bypass…enter south of downtown and NO exists until north of downtown)

    2. It’s taking so long because a machine broke. Sucks. But stuff happens. It’s being fixed, almost done. And we’re try again. If it breaks AGAIN…then we have issues and need to fire the contractor. But the BONUS of doing a tunnel (vs a cut & cover or such) is that the old viaduct stays UP AND RUNNING. So today, you can drive from West Seattle across 99 north through Seattle even though the tunnel is delayed. Minor issue.

    The money issue will be fought over for YEARS. The insurance companies are claiming the original design of the machine wasn’t strong enough (again, not a fault of government but of the private company that built the machine). Taxpayers may end up paying some extra (or not) but it has to go through LAYERS first. First the insurance companies. Then if they don’t pay, the builders of the machine are stuck with the cost. If THEY don’t pay, they may TRY to get the state to pay (why it’s the states fault I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll try). There’s a lot of layers to get through before the public gets “struck” with the repair bills. We won’t know the outcome of that for probably a decade.

  • joel August 26, 2015 (7:46 pm)

    ONLY 90% more of the tunnel to dig…once it gets going again….November 18’….I mean 15′.

    STP and other names they use – they have a history of ending up in court and winning. This is Seattle’s first major tunnel…for STP it’s just another tunnel.

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