Get ready, Seattle – Bertha’s on her way

The journey started today with a single ship. It will end about 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 today aboard the Jumbo Fairpartner, the 475-foot-long vessel that will carry it across the Pacific Ocean. If the weather cooperates, the $80 million machine – which is owned by Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), our contractor for the tunnel project – will arrive at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 around April 1.

Built in Osaka by Japanese firm Hitachi Zosen Corporation, Bertha was taken apart into 41 separate pieces, the largest weighing about 900 tons, before being loaded on the Jumbo Fairpartner. Because weather affects sailing times across the Pacific, we won’t know for sure when the ship will arrive in Seattle until about 24 hours ahead of time.

The best way to track Bertha’s journey is to follow her on Twitter, where she’ll be sending out regular updates from the high seas. When she arrives in Elliott Bay, we’ll have you covered.  Our Bertha page will give you everything you need to go Bertha watching, from a live webcam pointed at her arrival point to a map of locations where you can get a look at her in person. Don’t forget we have a 10-foot-long interactive model of the machine on display at Milepost 31, our project information center in Pioneer Square, in addition to photos of the machine and construction in Seattle.  

After Bertha’s ship arrives at Terminal 46, crews will offload her pieces and transport them to storage areas throughout the work zone. The stored pieces will be lowered into Bertha’s launch pit for reassembly after the pit is finished in late April. 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. 

With so much work ahead of her, we’re hoping Bertha takes some time to relax and enjoy her cruise across the Pacific. And we hope you’ll join us in welcoming her to Seattle.