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January 27, 2014 at 12:50 PM

UPDATE: Bertha to start digging again this week, state says

UPDATE, 7:58 p.m. | The Highway 99 tunneling machine Bertha is expected to restart this week after being idle for nearly eight weeks, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced today.

Crews will finish inspecting the excavation chamber and cutterhead by Tuesday morning, marking the completion of current hyperbaric intervention work. The next step will be to advance Bertha by 2 feet and build the next tunnel ring, which was in progress before Dec. 6.

The next milestone will be arriving at the third and final “safe haven” used for maintenance work. The area is 500 feet ahead of Bertha’s current location.

UPDATE, 5:53 p.m. | A barge has pulled up alongside Terminal 46 near the tunnel excavation site, a sign that perhaps drilling may resume in a few days, after a nearly eight-week stoppage.  A conveyor system inside tunnel machine Bertha extends to the waterfront, so soil can be exported across Puget Sound to a quarry near Port Ludlow. The state DOT says only that it will post further information tonight or early Tuesday.

ORIGINAL POST | The seven-week stoppage of tunnel-boring machine Bertha has inspired countless members of the public to ask: “Why don’t we just cancel the deep-bore tunnel?”

One answer is that the state Department of Transportation has already paid $774 million to the construction team Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), or just over half of the $1.44 billion total contract, as of November.

tunnel chart

Click image to enlarge


Abandoning the tunnel now would waste all that money and likely devour millions in shutdown costs and any possible litigation.

Although only 1,019 feet of the 1.7-mile Highway 99 tunnel has been drilled, STP  has collected payments since February 2011 for many features of the project, including final engineering and design and the launch pit in Sodo. Construction continues at the north portal near Seattle Center, as well as the double-decked south portal roadway and the tunnel operations building in Sodo.

The actual payments vary by month, and the DOT isn’t delaying or canceling payments due to the stoppage.

December’s payment is scheduled next week — but will be about $10 million less than the $29 million November payment, because STP only mined five days in December, and spent less money on materials, said Brian Nielsen, contract administrator for DOT. It’s normal for such progress payments to vary by month, he said.

A payments chart, released under a Seattle Times public-records request, is linked here and excerpted at right. Along with the $774 million paid to STP, another $40 million is held as “retainage” until the project is done, while $20 million goes as sales tax into the state’s general fund for education, social services or other uses.

Meanwhile, the state DOT says that STP continued to inspect Monday for damage or objects around the rotary cutting face, which operators shut down Dec. 6. State officials have also said they are concerned about how the $80 million Hitachi boring machine has been operated. The DOT either doesn’t know or will not discuss what the delay is costing per day.

Comments | Topics: Bertha; Highway 99 tunnel


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