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SR 99 tunneling machine sets sail for Seattle

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Date:  Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Contact: KaDeena Yerkan, Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, 206-805-2846, (cell) 206-795-1876 (Seattle)

Bertha leaves Japan by ship, will arrive at Terminal 46 around April 1

SEATTLE – The journey starts today, March 19, with a single ship. It will end approximately two weeks and 5,000 miles later in the waters of Elliott Bay, with the much-anticipated arrival of Bertha, the massive machine that will dig the SR 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle.

The five-story-tall machine left Osaka, Japan, aboard the Jumbo Fairpartner, the 475-foot-long vessel that will carry it across the Pacific Ocean. If weather cooperates, the $80 million machine will arrive at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 around April 1. Bertha is owned by Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the Washington State Department of Transportation’s contractor for the project.

“The arrival of this amazing machine will be exciting, but we know our most important work is still to come,” said Linea Laird, WSDOT’s administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “Our crews have made great progress and we’re excited to start tunneling this summer.”

Built in Osaka by Japanese firm Hitachi Zosen Corporation, Bertha was taken apart into 41 pieces, the largest weighing about 900 tons, before being loaded on the Jumbo Fairpartner. Because weather affects sailing times across the Pacific, STP will not be able to confirm the ship’s arrival date in Seattle until about 24 hours in advance.

WSDOT will have a live webcam pointed at Bertha’s arrival point, and will post a map of locations where the public can view the machine’s arrival and unloading on a new Web page devoted to tracking Bertha’s journey. The most frequent updates will come via a Twitter account WSDOT launched on Bertha’s behalf in December. Initially, it seems, Bertha was still finding her sea legs.

“I'm in 41 pieces packed tightly on a ship,” @BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted as she left Osaka Bay. “It's 54 degrees. Not what I had in mind when they told me I was taking a cruise, but I’m on my way.”

When Bertha arrives at Terminal 46, crews will offload her pieces and transport them to storage areas throughout the work zone. Once the launch pit is finished, in late April, the stored pieces will be lowered into the launch pit. Reassembly and testing of the machine will take about two months.

As Bertha’s owner, STP is responsible for ensuring she functions properly at all times. Accordingly, she went through a succession of rigorous tests in Japan, one of which revealed a problem with the machine’s main drive unit that has since been repaired. Bertha passed all of her tests and will officially become the property of STP once she’s tunneled approximately 1,000 feet without any issues.

“This machine was built specifically for the soils beneath Seattle,” said Chris Dixon, Seattle Tunnel Partners project manager. “We are on track to start tunneling this summer and to open the tunnel to traffic in late 2015.”

Crews in Seattle are about 80 percent finished with the pit where Bertha will start her journey. In addition to building the launch pit, crews are preparing the surrounding area for tunneling. That work includes strengthening the soil and building protected areas along the initial section of the tunnel route so crews can perform scheduled inspections of the machine before it begins tunneling beneath the city. Work is also under way near the north end of the Battery Street Tunnel to prepare the area where Bertha will emerge at the end of tunneling.

A 10-foot-long interactive model of the machine is on display at Milepost 31, the project’s information center in Pioneer Square, and photos of the machine and construction in Seattle are also available.

For more information about the SR 99 Tunnel Project, visit www.alaskanwayviaduct.org/.

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