For Lease: Tunnel. One of a kind. Never used.

If Bertha can't be fixed, some ideas about what to do with that very large hole in the ground.
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The hole that Bertha built.

If Bertha can't be fixed, some ideas about what to do with that very large hole in the ground.

Okay, Bertha is busted; and not in a good way. If it turns out she can’t be fixed, what are we going to do with that worm hole she managed to dig before sputtering to a stop in early December. We really need a Plan B, one in which Bertha’s tube becomes, not an ignominious icon of failed engineering, but a civic cash cow.

You have to admit it’s a unique venue. Five stories high, more than three city blocks long! Hey Portland, you think you’re quirky? 

Think of the storage potential: You could tuck the Space Needle inside. Sort of like what people used to do with their fur coats in summertime. Throw in some cedar chips to keep the moths away and close the door. The 605-foot-high Needle would slide in with room to spare. Except for the saucer. We’d have to crimp that a bit.

Remember when everybody thought Bertha had bumped into some ancient buried train or ship hull? I can’t be the only one disappointed upon learning she hit a pipe. Seriously? A pipe? No romance in that.

Maybe we could shoehorn an old ship hull or a train into our new subterranean cylinder. A massive ship-in-a-bottle display would pay tribute to those early theories about what stalled Bertha. Tourists would pay top dollar to take selfies next to it.

Even better, let’s put the Columbia Center in there. With a little nipping and tucking, the tube is a perfect place to hide that horribly dated ‘80s relic. I shudder to think that in 25 more years it could actually qualify as a historic landmark. Let’s quietly get rid of it now.

Maybe we could lease the tunnel out for special events, like tailgating before Seahawks’ games. Picture 250 RV’s side-by-side with barbeques and beer and folding tables full of buns and condiments. Under the ground. The all-day drinking and 12th Man chanting would disturb no one. 

We could use it to cellar wine — lots of wine — or turn it into the world’s longest brew pub. Imagine one very looooong table of foam-topped schooners. Any sloshing beer would flow, via gravity, to the low end where it could then be captured and recycled.

Or. We could use the tube to satisfy a longstanding Pioneer Square desire for public toilets. Think 600 pay stalls just a few short paces from First Avenue, but entirely out of sight. And smell.

We could save a bunch of money and put a new basketball arena in there. Of course, we’d have to petition the NBA to change its official court dimensions. But, hey, it’s worth a try. They’re a cooperative bunch. And companies from Oscar Meyer to Trojan would be lining up for the naming rights.

Wait, wait. Amazon’s always looking for new space. How about a new fulfillment center? Or drone factory! Neither needs windows, and delivery drones could just fly out the open end. Or we could just give the tunnel to Montlake. The neighborhood’s been begging for a tunnel to replace the 520 Bridge. Turns out we have one to spare. It’s just a matter of logistics.

Frankly, I’m surprised Boeing hasn’t stepped forward with a plan to commandeer the tunnel for fuselage construction. It’s just about the right diameter.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Can’t we just fill the hole with dirt and pretend it never happened? Like the state did when it discovered that the $75 million pontoon construction yard it excavated in Port Angeles was on the site of a Native burial ground. That never happened.

As for me, I’m in the pretend-it-never-happened camp. Let’s just fill Bertha's tunnel with pieces of the viaduct, seal it up and walk away.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Mark Hinshaw

Mark Hinshaw

Mark Hinshaw, FAIA, is an architect and urban planner. He was an architecture critic for The Seattle Times and is the author of many articles and books, including Citistate Seattle (1999).