The Highway 99 tunneling machine “Bertha” is on the move again, after a rest stop to undergo adjustments and receive a new set of cutting teeth.
Dark, wet soil tumbled off the tall conveyor belt and plopped onto the deck of Terminal 46, to be trucked or barged away. The moving dirt was visible Thursday morning from the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Bertha had stopped beneath South King Street for about two weeks, after advancing 430 feet since opening day July 30. As planned, two dozen sharp, disc-shaped cutting tools (out of nearly 300 on the 57.3-foot-diameter rotary cutter) eroded after they scoured through a concrete wall and grout-infused soil near the Sodo launch pit.
These were replaced by rectangular teeth, suited to the wet, abrasive glacial soil just ahead.
The machine will now creep along the Elliott Bay shoreline for a couple months before what is arguably the most risky part of the 1.7-mile trip — a passage under the viaduct and past Pioneer Square’s brick buildings. The viaduct will close several days, and the buildings are covered with monitoring devices to detect any soil movements to a fraction of an inch.
In related issues, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) says negotiations are continuing in the labor dispute with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which insists on doing four muck-loading jobs per shift at Terminal 46 — jobs currently allocated to building-trades workers. Two weeks ago, deputy project director Matt Preedy said his goal was to settle the impasse by this week.
Also, the DOT says it’s still working on a legal review and possible solutions, for the failure of contractors to hire enough minority- and female-owned small businesses, such as trucking firms. The Federal Highway Administration’s civil-rights division blasted both Seattle Tunnel Partners and state DOT in a recent investigation, and the feds mentioned they might withhold money for the project if things don’t improve.
KaDeena Yerkan, DOT spokeswoman for the tunnel, said Wednesday that Seattle Tunnel Partners this week solicited a new set of proposals from trucking companies. Those could bring a boost in minority hiring, but Yerkan said details weren’t immediately available.