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December 9, 2013 at 11:13 AM
Nearly three days after an unknown object blocked tunnel-boring machine Bertha, project managers haven’t yet determined the size or how to remove it, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“We don’t know what it is. We don’t know whether it is man made or natural,” DOT spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan said.
Drilling halted Friday night, about 60 feet deep, along the Seattle waterfront between South Jackson Street and South Main Street. In normal conditions, the team might try a “hyperbaric intervention,” meaning that the tunnel machine could retreat 18 inches, and then divers would explore gaps around the cutting face, at high pressure. (Tunnel projects keep specially-trained divers on call, to work in air and soil that exceeds atmospheric pressure – Bertha includes three hatches where drivers can move to the machine face.) But in this case, there is watery sand and weak fill soil immediately above the machine. So if high air pressure were exerted in front of the machine, the air would push or burst through the soil, said Yerkan.
The problem was discovered Friday night, and reported to state DOT Secretary Lynn Peterson, who was updated on Monday.
“STP (Seattle Tunnel Partners) has not made a decision on how they’re going to move forward yet,” Yerkan said. “They’re talking to their experts, we have been talking to ours.” Chris Dixon, STP’s manager, hasn’t yet responded to messages requesting comment.
The cutting face, at 57 feet, 4 inches, is the widest in the world. It’s equipped with steel cutting discs to scour and crack boulders, but apparently can’t defeat the large obstruction. Fragments less than three feet diameter can slip through openings in the cutter head, and be removed out the back of the conveyor system.
The tunnel route was intensively sampled by soil engineers from Shannon & Wilson long before the project started, but apparently their narrow test shafts didn’t strike this object. The soil at 60 feet down is considered clean, glacial sediment, but most of the soil above is unstable fill, including wood debris from industries more than a century ago, and spoils from the Denny Regrade in 1898.
One scenario might be to simply excavate from the surface, and pluck out what’s in the way — since the soil above is useless anyhow. A blue crane was being assembled nearby on Terminal 46 Monday, but it’s unknown whether that’s related to the drilling.
Another response could be to send in crews with pneumatically driven drills, hammers or other tools to break the large object. But that task would be hampered by the loose soil, Yerkan said.
Since its start on July 30, the deep-bore tunnel project has advanced more than 1,000 feet, or close to one-eighth of its total distance from Sodo to South Lake Union.
“The machine is running well, it’s functioning,” Yerkan said. There have been no reports of damage to the drill face, where eroded steel discs were recently replaced during routine maintenance.
By early 2014 the machine is supposed to dive under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, causing a temporary highway closure and potential risks of vibration to old brick buildings nearby.
Seattle Tunnel Partners, led by the US branch of Spanish-based Dragados and by California-based Tutor-Perini, has been paid $730 million as of September, or about half the total $1.44 billion contract value, according to a state chart, released under a public-document request.
Asked why officials waited two days to disclose the problem, Yerkan offered two theories: some project staff were gone during the weekend, so Monday was the logical time to regroup for an update; and the team may have wanted to come up with some progress or strategy to offer, before reporting to the public there was a hitch.
November 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM
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.
October 31, 2013 at 3:24 PM
The giant Highway 99 tunnel drill has paused this week for maintenance and repairs below King Street, after grinding about 430 feet north of the launch pit in Sodo since July 30.
This stop was anticipated in the schedule filed with the state by Seattle Tunnel Partners, under a $1.4 billion contract to build a four-lane tube to South Lake Union by December 2015. The machine will likely restart the week of Nov. 11, said Matt Preedy, deputy Highway 99 administrator for the state Department of Transportation.
About 40 of the 250-plus cutting tools will be replaced at the front of the machine. Though it’s early in the 1.7-mile project, the machine known as Bertha has already churned through two concrete stability walls, fiberglass and grout-infused soil, so some tool erosion is normal, Preedy said. Adjustments are being made to high-pressure water systems and to the conveyor machines that remove soil, says an official update. Wheels are being replaced toward the rear of the drill, after bearing the weight of more than 5,000 arc-shaped concrete segments that form the tunnel tube.
October 15, 2013 at 6:08 PM
The Highway 99 tunnel project is reaching a milestone, or maybe a 1/20th milestone.
An empty barge could be seen Tuesday morning, moored alongside Terminal 46 for the first time. That makes tunnel watchers wonder whether boring machine Bertha has already advanced far enough to reach clean soil, which can be ferried from Seattle to the Mats Mats quarry near Port Ludlow.
The barge is just hanging around for a couple days, so that an overhead loading spout — nicknamed the elephant trunk – and the barge positions can be calibrated, says spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan of the state Department of Transportation.
So far, Bertha has traveled about 250 feet, after an 18-foot push on Monday. That’s close to what engineers expect for the early, difficult waterfront phase of the tunnel from Sodo to South Lake Union. But for now, the machine is still churning through shallow fill dirt that’s been reinforced with concrete grout. Trucks are taking this unclean soil to processing sites, until the drilling operation reaches better soil. It’s going to take another 250 feet, and at least a couple weeks, to reach clean soil, Yerkan said.
By early 2014, Bertha should pass under the Alaskan Way Viaduct and achieve speeds of 35 feet a day through downtown, taking most of the year to complete the 1.7-mile dig.
“Things are continuing to progress well,” Yerkan said Tuesday afternoon.
The recent advance follows a four-week delay caused by a clogged conveyor screw and a labor dispute, shortly after the drilling began July 30. Union dockworkers have ceased picketing T-46, but there’s still no long-term agreement to resolve the demand from the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Local 19 that they should perform the four muck-loading jobs that are currently being done by building-trades workers.
September 23, 2013 at 8:41 AM
The Associated Press
The world’s largest tunnel boring machine has resumed digging its way under downtown Seattle.
Worked resumed at 4:48 a.m. Monday, after being shut down since Aug. 20 by a labor dispute, said Transportation Department spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan. The Longshore union had put up a picket line in a dispute with another union over four jobs moving excavated dirt.
Yerkan says operators have some options for making up the lost time.
The tunnel project is part of the state’s overall $3.1 billion plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the double deck highway along the downtown Seattle waterfront.
The $80 million machine known as Bertha began digging July 30 on a nearly 2-mile tunnel project expected to take 14 months. The 58-foot diameter tunnel is scheduled to open in late 2015.
September 21, 2013 at 10:33 AM
Weather: Mid-60s today. And rain is coming later today, with lots more predicted for Sunday. Starting to be the kind of weather when watching football on the couch sounds pretty good. The forecast.
Traffic alert for South Seattle and West Seattle: The northbound I-5 offramp to the West Seattle Bridge and lower Spokane Street/Sixth Avenue South are closed until 5 a.m. Monday, as is the northbound I-5 offramp to Columbian Way.
Bertha remains stalled: Although officials said the Highway 99 tunnel machine would start moving by week’s end (after longshore workers agreed to take down their pickets and an earlier delay due to a clog) — it’s not moving. On Friday, word came that material has hardened inside the machine named Bertha and she won’t start until next week. This was not mentioned as a possibility earlier this week. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
Kids get in free to the fair: This is the last weekend for the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. No admission charge for kids 18 and under. Check out this weekend’s schedule.
Mercer — a little less messy now: In the South Lake Union area, Ninth Avenue North and Broad Street re-opened Friday. For awhile, that might add to the confusion as drivers deal with the latest configuration, but traffic flow should be helped. Here are the details.
Husky football: University of Washington plays at home today against Idaho State. Noon, on the Pac 12 Network and on the radio at 950 AM.
Cougs: Washington State plays Idaho at Martin Stadium, 7 p.m., Pac 12 Network and on the radio at 770 AM.
Most-read stories on seattletimes.com:
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- Scammers right at home in sizzling rental market
- Seahawks’ Breno Giacomini knows the penalty game
- M’s savior Yamauchi gone: Team’s fate now up in the air
- Russell Okung out at least eight games; Chris Clemons, Brandon Browner to play Sunday
September 18, 2013 at 5:18 PM
Despite a halt to the longshore union’s picketing Tuesday, tunnel-boring machine Bertha needs a few days before it can restart.
One might expect drilling to begin immediately, given that Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) had four weeks of delay to prepare. But it’s not that simple, contractor and state officials say:
- Workers need a couple days to finish adjustments that were under way on large mixing arms that stir the excavated muck, right after it passes through Bertha’s rotary cutting face, said Chris Dixon, project manager for STP. This work was going to happen later anyway, when Bertha stops in a so-called refuge area between Sodo and the Alaskan Way Viaduct this fall. Dixon is now hoping to skip the refuge and keep drilling northward.
- Conveyor parts need to be fixed, where muck will be sometimes lifted from a temporary stockpile on Terminal 46, and moved to barges, said KaDeena Yerkan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation (DOT). The work couldn’t be done earlier without crossing an International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) picket line, so it’s happening this week, she said.
- Workers have to be rescheduled from other jobs onsite, said Yerkan.
Complicating matters, STP began the week hunkering down for another two or three weeks delay, and sent some workers to build an alternate muck-handling bin that would let trucks remove soil via Alaskan Way South, bypassing the docks. The green light to drill caught managers by surprise, Dixon said Tuesday. “The whole landscape changed,” he said. “We’re very happy with the news. It’s very positive. It’s uplifting the spirits of the people on the project.”
Rumors and tips abound regarding the supposed real reason Bertha is idle — anything from electrical flaws, to an inability to chew through concrete grout in the soil. All of these, the project officials vehemently deny. But if Bertha does have mechanical flaws, those will be manifested, before too long.
When restart is imminent, Yerkan said, the DOT will announce it online, through e-mail, or through Bertha’s Twitter feed.
August 20, 2013 at 3:39 PM
The longshoremen’s union began what may be the first of many days of picketing outside the Highway 99 tunneling site near Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 today.
The group of about 30 International Longshore and Warehouse Union members who showed up at 6 a.m. says they’ll keep coming back to picket all day until the Seattle Tunnel Partners contracting team negotiates with them again over four tunnel-work positions they want back. Picketers with signs reading ” STP lied to the ILWU” say a contract with the tunneling project managers initially seemed to dedicate those jobs to its union workers.
“We’ve been negotiating with them since 2011 and now we’ve got this contract,” said Chuck Cepeda, a labor relations spokesman for the union. “We’ll stop when they finally honor the contract.”
Back in April, the union and the tunneling project managers signed a contract saying that longshoremen would be employed to help load dirt excavated from the tunnel onto barges. But in July, an arbitrator ruled that the jobs are covered by the tunnel’s broader project labor agreement.
That means the work has gone to building-trade workers instead, a move tunnel project managers say will save them millions during boring machine Bertha’s 14-month dig beneath downtown Seattle.
The union picketing zone, marked with its own stop signs, prompted a few trucks to use another entrance to the terminal, but members aren’t doing anything else to obstruct tunnel work and don’t plan to, Cepada said. He also said that right now, there’s no talk of suing the tunneling project management team either.
“We plan to stay here until they come back to the table to negotiate,” Cepada said.
July 20, 2013 at 3:26 PM
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.
April 6, 2013 at 11:13 AM
Bertha, the $80 million boring machine for the Highway 99 tunnel, came into port this morning after waiting in Elliott Bay since Tuesday. Some of its smaller pieces should make it onto dry land later today at the Port of Seattle, according to a Twitter account associated with the Japanese-made machine, which is the largest of its kind. Unloading the 900 tons of machine parts could take two weeks or longer.
The Washington State Department of Transportation had planned for Bertha to dock Wednesday but said Friday that bringing it into port had been delayed because “arrangements are still being made to unload the ship.”
Once the parts are unloaded, they will be taken about a quarter mile away from the waterfront to a pit where Bertha will be fully assembled this spring.
About The Today File
The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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