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    Bertha's latest problem? She broke the seal

    The contractor on Seattle's deep bore tunnel says they've found another issue with the boring machine, which has been nearly-idle for 2-months. Cost? Time delay? Who can say?
    Looking into the Highway 99 tunnel from the "launch pit."

    Looking into the Highway 99 tunnel from the "launch pit." Bill Lucia

    Bertha’s got a busted bearing seal, Washington State Department of Transportation officials said on Tuesday. The massive boring machine digging the Highway 99 tunnel has now been at a near-standstill under downtown Seattle for two months.

    The seal protects the machine’s main bearing, which allows its 57.5-foot wide “cutter-head” to turn. Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor digging the tunnel, idled the machine on Dec. 7 after it encountered unusual resistance and heat-sensors showed high readings. During the investigation that followed the stoppage, workers discovered that Bertha’s cutter-head “spokes” were clogged with soil. The contractor moved the machine forward about 4-feet last week and sensors again indicated it was running hot. In the days that followed, workers discovered the damaged seal.

    WSDOT could not offer specifics on the amount of money or time that would be required to fix the seal, or whether the machine’s main bearing might have been damaged by grit. Program Administrator, Todd Trepanier, did say that it was possible to replace the seal either with the machine in place, or by digging it up. Based on the terms of the project’s “design-build” contract, that decision, he said, is up to the contractor.

    “The investigation associated with the main bearing is still ongoing,” Trepanier said.

    The main bearing assembly for the one-of-a-kind boring machine cost $5,178,397, according to project budget documents.

    There are a variety of factors that could explain why the machine’s cutter-head spokes were jammed with dirt, Trepanier said, including soil-type, additives injected into the mined soil and the machine’s speed. “These are constantly changed and modified,” Trepanier said. "It’s a very sophisticated issue.”

    The nearly $90 million machine, still technically belongs to its manufacturer, Hitachi Zosen Corp. The project contract was structured so that the company would maintain ownership of Bertha until 200 six-and-a-half foot concrete tunnel liner rings were in place. At that point, ownership would be transferred to Seattle Tunnel Partners, which is a joint venture between Dragados-USA and Tutor Perini.

    After the machine moved forward last week, crews installed the 149th ring. Hitachi Zosen Corp. representatives, Trepanier said, are onsite, working with Seattle Tunnel Partners.

    The machine currently sits 60-feet below South Main Street, about 1,000-feet along the roughly 9,000-foot planned tunnel path. Bertha is scheduled to emerge in South Lake Union in late 2014. A four-lane highway inside the tunnel is set to open by the end of 2015. In a conference call with reporters today, Trepanier said Seattle Tunnel Partners had not yet given any indication that the roadway would not be completed on time.

    Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.

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    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    Well if the main seal allowed water to get to the bearings they can start a corrosion process that can damage the main bearing. Big problem, without adequate lubrication the water will etch the rollers and in severe instances start spalling the races that the rollers in the bearing rolls on. Good luck fixing that.


    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 8:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    Who designed Bertha and approved the plans? WSDOT?

    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 11:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    Instead of all this mind-numbing minutiae reproduced from company news releases, why not just relax with a cup of coffee and write us a casual review of just how we got here? Remind us again the names of the visionaries and legal eagles and forward thinking movers and shakers, and concerned stake holders, and PR flacks and blue ribbon committees and past, present and future politicians who promoted this enormously expensive, sub-optimized joke being played on tax paying commuters.

    Don’t leave out the recent recycling of ex-lobbying consultants who will “provide comprehensive strategies employing coordinated messaging, advocacy and tactical partnerships to achieve client objectives” whatever that is. More like, “a taxi cab pulled up and another monkey stepped out.”


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 7:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is no joke. It's example of Washington State DOTs barging full speed ahead on another goddamn highway project despite extremely high risk and better options (the 'stacked' Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall or a surface/transit/fix I-5). Wsdot & Sdot thugs would rather commit mass murder than build optimal transport and transit systems.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    Just leave it where it is, it is in a FLOOD ZONE. Better off moving Seattle.


    Posted Sat, Feb 8, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Move it, milk it, or fence it.

    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    The main bearing assembly for the one-of-a-kind boring machine cost $5,178,397, according to project budget documents.
    wow a $5 MILLION bearing. probably bought acheap off the shelf seal.


    Posted Mon, Feb 10, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Now is the time to stop.

    Right now.

    Cut our losses.

    Rebuild the viaduct and lid it (a la the Brooklyn Promenade which is hugely popular). And you can build a much stronger seawall because of it.

    I cannot imagine continuing this folly that so many of us opposed and had warned about just this kind of problem.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 12:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    Are you all in fantasy land? "Cutting our losses" would in fact almost certainly cost more in the long run.

    Whether or not it was fiscally responsible to replace the viaduct with a tunnel it would be significantly more irresponsible to abandon the project.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 6:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    thank you acbytesla for being the only voice of reason in the comments section.

    it would be extremely foolhardy to abandon this project. Clearly those in favor of this option do not know all the consequences.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    You're welcome jeffro. So many of the comments in the sections of all kinds of articles today reflect the ideology that "all government spending" is bad and wasteful. I see it as part of the tea party culture which is frankly unfair to many of their members.

    Never the less, the ones that comment seem unable to separate individual projects and spending and actually see those times where government spending makes sense. The mistakes with the SR520 in their minds prove that the same problems exist with SR99. It confirms their religion.

    With the SR99 tunnel project there seems to be an alliance between right wing conservatives who think that government shouldn't spend a dime on anything except maybe "farm subsidies" and granola eating 99 percenters who see this as something only for the rich.

    While I wasn't a huge proponent of any of the replacement options. (I simply didn't care) I can certainly see the benefits to the entire city getting rid of that monstrosity that makes our waterfront so uninviting. It is loud, dirty and smelly. Yes, it will make those high rise apartments and offices even more appealing. The rich will enjoy it. So will the tourists, and so will anyone who'll take a stroll or a bike ride along the waterfront. My question is what is wrong with that? It will help make downtown more inviting. It will increase urban density, it will increase property values tourism and jobs, which will mean more tax revenue.

    Yes the damn tunnel is expensive. Yes there are risks. But the city will be much better off.

    Just finish the damn tunnel.


    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    jeffro and abc seem unwilling to even consider discovering the costs to cancel out the Bertha Bore Billions and Billions Bungled Boondoggle.

    Why is that? Never say never. Costs have always been out of control for this project, and everyone knows that.

    No wonder the anger towards elected leaders, appointed leaders and most especially WSDOT is building.

    We cannot "move forward and build the damn thing" until we have a firm handle on viability and cost containment.

    Posted Mon, Feb 17, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    We do know how much it is going to cost. We have signed contracts with a large construction company for a fixed amount. And that contractor has not said word one that they cannot deliver the project for dollar one more than they bid.

    One of the nagging realities about underground work is that contractors "bid" much higher prices for it because of the x factor. They build a cushion of profit in that phase of the work. If everything goes perfectly, they get a windfall. If the unexpected happens, the extra money pays for it.


    Posted Fri, Feb 14, 11:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Common1sense, what did you not understand about "design/build contract"?

    Westello is right.


    Posted Sun, Feb 16, 6:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    Dear, it was a rhetorical question.

    And you're correct. Westello is right on this one. It's time to stop this stupid tunnel and go back to building a new viaduct, or even the cut & cover (which I do not like).

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