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Tunnel: Bertha gets her bearings

WSDOT says the contractor digging the tunnel will likely replace the boring machine's entire main bearing
Bertha's cutting head has run into troubles.

Bertha's cutting head has run into troubles. WSDOT

The repairs to Bertha, the Highway 99 Tunnel boring machine, will likely be more extensive than originally planned, a Washington State Department of Transportation official said on Thursday. 

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor digging the underground roadway has told WSDOT "verbally" that they are going to replace the machine's main bearing, according to Todd Trepanier, a program administrator for the department. 

Until now, the contractor has only said that it would replace a set of damaged seals that protect the bearing. For weeks, Seattle Tunnel Partners has not confirmed whether the bearing itself might have been damaged by grit or water when the seals failed.

Manufactured by the German company Rothe Erde, the roughly 88-ton, 33-foot diameter bearing allows Bertha's 57.5-foot wide "cutter-head" to spin and bore through the earth. The machine's entire bearing assembly costs $5.1 million, according to project budget documents. A replacement bearing is in Japan and will be shipped by boat to Seattle along with other parts, Trepanier said. 
 
Some Rothe Erde bearings come equipped with monitoring systems and have measuring devices. WSDOT told Crosscut in early March that neither were installed on Bertha. 

The machine is currently stopped near South Main Street, under Pioneer Square. It has barely moved in the last 117 days. 

Bertha was first idled in early December after encountering increased resistance while digging. Seattle Tunnel Partners detected the bearing seal problems in late January.

The contractor has been working with the machine's manufacturer, Hitachi Zosen Corp., on plans to partially unearth and repair the tunneling rig. That operation will involve excavating an 83-foot diameter, 120-foot deep circular pit in between the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Pier 48, south of South Main Street. Before digging can begin, WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners are awaiting the results of an archeological survey that is required to meet Federal Highway Administration cultural preservation guidelines.
 
An overhead view of the site where Seattle Tunnel Partners will dig a shaft to repair Bertha. Image: WSDOT 
 
Trepanier could not give an updated time frame for the repairs. Seattle Tunnel Partners project manager Chris Dixon had said at the end of February that the machine might be boring again in about six months. He had called that estimate "slightly optimistic."
 
"We expect there will be some fine tuning to that," Trepanier said on Thursday, referring to Dixon's original repair time estimate. But he added, "I'm not seeing anything yet that makes me think it's going to be a big change."
 
Work is still underway at the tunnel site constructing an operations building and roadways at the south and north portals.
 
The tunnel will eventually replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, which could fail in a major earthquake. Bertha is currently about 1,000 feet along the 9,300-foot tunnel path, which begins in Sodo and ends in South Lake Union. When the project began, the tunnel was scheduled to open in December 2015.
 
Under the terms of a contract between Seattle Tunnel Partners and Hitachi Zosen, until Bertha reaches 1,300 feet the contractor will not pay the manufacturer the final 10 percent of the cost for the nearly $90 million machine. As of Dec. 31, 2013, according to WSDOT, the state had paid Seattle Tunnel Partners $832 million. WSDOT has been adamant that the state's "design-build" contract will insulate taxpayers from any costs incurred because of the current delays and repairs.

 

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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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

They have a spare bearing, now they need to start making another one and getting it shipped here for the next breakdown.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

You got that right, Cameron! Only, Berta's next failure will likely take place while it's underneath thousands of tons of concrete and steel, aka- 'buildings'. Good luck digging it out, then! What a fuster-cluck...

beno

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

If a spare bearing, no doubt costing more than the coins in my sofa, is on standby, does that suggest anything to you?

It does to me. And "comes with stuff that didn't get installed"?

Well, seems that is STP's issue on a design-build contract.

But lets just fix 'er, and place blame later.

Geezer

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

"Some Rothe Erde bearings come equipped with monitoring systems and have measuring devices. WSDOT told Crosscut in early March that neither were installed on Bertha."
-looks like WSDOT has been working from Boeing's '787 play-book': cut costs and quality early-on, then pay AGAIN, later, when problems arise from said cost-cutting. How's that 'corporate-thought-process' working-out for ya', WSDOT?

beno

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 5:14 p.m. Inappropriate

It only doesn't work out well for the taxpayers, beno. We're screwed.

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Could someone explain to me why you need an 87 foot wide excavation to replace a 30 foot in diameter bearing? Actually, forget that and just explain why we are not cutting our loses, stopping the entire project and begin working on a practical solution (like a true cloverleaf interchange where the West Seattle bridge/freeway connects with I-5/90?).

Dick Falkenbury

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Because, Dick Falkenbury, the voters have continued to vote in the stupidest people into office possible, for too many years.

And the stupidest people hired the stupidest administrators possible for WSDOT.

As someone with a box of chocolates once said, 'stupid is as stupid does', and in our state, that means 'the taxpayers will pay, don't worry'.

Posted Sat, Apr 5, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

You have to move the complete cutterhead to remove the bearing.

Granger

Posted Tue, Apr 15, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

There are no practical solutions at this point. Bearing replacement and restart is a ruse.
Bertha is being dismantled. That said, Wsdot will never admit abject failure.
A palatable excuse for halting the bore project will be fabricated and presented this summer.

The Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall in the FEIS
is still possible and imminently desirable because:

It makes a SOLID SEAWALL EARTHQUAKE BARRIER.
It displaces least traffic and improves traffic patterns.
It offers better salmonid & spawning habitat restoration.
(this is the short list)

About 300' of the completed bore tunnel can be rebuilt and redirected
to the Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall finished near Pike Street.
This will not be cheap, but it is the only viable tunnel option.

DOT Directors Doug MacDonald, Paula Hammond, Grace Crunican and culpable department heads should face criminal charges of 'rigging studies' before/during/after the 2007 voter referendum, 'reckless endangerment' and 'extortion/theft' of public treasury.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 15, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Because the bore tunnel is at this point below the level of the Cut-Cover Tunnel (about 30-40') it may be possible to locate underground parking above the Cut-Cover Tunnel near Coleman Dock. A tempting morsel of parking garage money could increase support for the Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall instead of the atrocious bore tunnel. With access from Coleman Dock,
it could at least serve employee parking.

Wells

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

10% of the way to the end and we need to be buying a third bearing.
From the Story "The machine's entire bearing assembly costs $5.1 million, according to project budget". That's 15 million in Bearings alone. Now say they double the life of the next bearing, we could still be looking at 45-50 Million in bearings alone to get the hole dug.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Apr 4, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

As long as the darn thing is idled, I'm happy. I am guessing that this new pit they're going to dig will endanger the viaduct further, and since I use it every day I am concerned. But along with my concern I'm still holding onto hope, however small, that whatever happens is so bad that it leads to abandonment of this loony project.

mspat

Posted Sun, Apr 6, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

love how the impact on the seawall project isssssssssss minimized?? wonder way it's not on the graphic..well don't..i mean the machine is at it's nearest to the water..water caused the failure not to mention the biggest challenge to the fix..and the seawall is not an item?..is crosscut receiving the full media tax break or just being lazy?..

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