Hundreds of people signed liability waivers and walked through a dirt yard in Sodo, to take a close look Saturday at tunnel machine “Bertha” before it disappears under Seattle for 14 months.
Even as Gov. Jay Inslee and other officials speechified next to the launch pit, crews at the world’s widest drill already were bolting together the first of several temporary concrete rings, where 56 hydraulic thrusters will give the machine an initial push north, breaking through the pit into soft soil. As Bertha proceeds, permanent concrete rings will form the four-lane tunnel.
Many well-wishers signed ring pieces, while others waited in line to stroll a catwalk that spans the pit.
A bottle of Washington state white wine, a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine, and a bottle of sake, were broken against the steel machine, built by Hitachi-Zosen in Osaka, Japan and operated by Spain-based Dragados.
“I’ve gotta say I am a big fan of a big jobs program for the state of Washington, which is big Bertha…” said Inslee. “When I look down into this pit, I don’t just see a big machine, I see determination, I see innovation, I see teamwork, I see a symbol of a community that worked together to move us forward.” He mentioned that 135 of 171 contracts for the Highway 99 program, and the bulk of skilled construction jobs, went to Washington firms and workers.
On the downside, government leaders have yet to figure out a tolling program that will keep motorists from diverting onto and clogging downtown streets. They also haven’t determined how to keep more than 24,000 bus riders moving — passengers who now reach downtown via the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s midtown exit.
Spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan said more than 5,000 people showed up. Attendance was boosted by Sounders FC fans who dropped by before the team’s 1 p.m. match.
The $2 billion tunnel, to open in late 2015, is the biggest part of a $3.1 billion replacement for the old viaduct.