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Bertha starts digging: tunneling underway in Seattle

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Date:  Tuesday, July 30, 2013

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

SR 99 tunneling machine begins 14-month journey beneath downtown

SEATTLE – This time, there were no crowds or fanfare. It was just Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine, finally getting the chance to do what she was built to do: dig.

Bertha got her first taste of tunneling today, officially starting the 2-mile journey beneath downtown. This afternoon, Bertha’s 5-story-tall cutterhead broke through the north wall of her 80-foot-deep launch pit. She’s expected to emerge in about 14 months near the intersection of Sixth Avenue North and Harrison Street.

Crews working with the Washington State Department of Transportation will push forward slowly at first, digging about 6 feet per day. By the time the machine is beneath downtown, she will dig up to 35 feet per day.

The tunnel route is divided into 10 separate zones, each with its own underground landscape. In the first zone, crews strengthened or replaced fill soils dumped there by the city’s early settlers while building protected areas where they can inspect the machine.

“We designed the project so that we would have opportunities to test the machine and make sure she’s functioning properly before we get beneath downtown,” said Linea Laird, WSDOT administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program. “If Bertha was learning to ride a bike, this initial section would be her training wheels.”

Bertha, who has been updating her progress on Twitter since December, said she is ready to go. “About to start tunneling,” @BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted Tuesday. “I should say something profound, something Neil Armstrong-ish. Fortunately, I’m out of characters. Let’s dig.”

The tunnel is scheduled to open to drivers in late 2015. For more information about the SR 99 Tunnel Project, visit http://www.alaskanwayviaduct.org/

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