Legislative leaders spare Bertha

A top Republican promises a bill to stop the tunnel work will make no progress.
Crosscut archive image.

Sen. Curtis King

A top Republican promises a bill to stop the tunnel work will make no progress.

A Washington Senate bill to pull the plug on Bertha is dead — pretty much on arrival.

"It's not going to have a hearing. It's not going to pass out of committee," said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Bertha is the trouble-plagued tunnel-boring machine that has been stalled beneath Seattle's waterfront for more than 13 months, the key part in building an underground replacement for Seattle's creaky Alaskan Way Viaduct. Late Monday, Sens. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, introduced a bill to order the Washington State Department of Transportation to stop the project in the most cost-effective way and to come up with plan to fill in the already-bored 1,000 feet of tunnel.

“We need to stop throwing money at a hole in the ground,” Baumgartner said. “I have no confidence that the Department of Transportation can bring this project in on time and under budget. Bertha was sold on a faulty promise of controlled cost and engineering predictability. The project has neither. It’s time to shut it down and move to other alternatives.”

But King said Tuesday that Bertha is scheduled to begin boring again soon, and he has confidence that the project can finish. "We need to give them the opportunity to move forward with it," King said. "I think it is premature to say this is the time to bury it." However, he added, "A year from now, it might be a different story."

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the bill is not part of the GOP negotiating stance on a transportation projects package, and he first learned about it on Monday.

David Postman, spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said, "While we are all frustrated with the pace of the contractor's repairs of the tunnel boring machine, we need to complete a safe new arterial through Seattle." 

House Transportation Committee chairwoman Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said, "It’s clear that this legislation is more about making headlines than making policy. It won’t help grow our economy or reduce gridlock, which means it doesn’t have my support.”

Baumgartner has sometimes introduced bills to make larger points rather than seeking to pass the measures, at least in the immediate future — an approach that is not at all uncommon in politics. Last year, for instance, he wrote a bill to order the Washington Supreme Court to handle more cases at a faster pace, apparently a pointed reference to the court's threatening of sanctions over what the justices regard as the Legislature's slow pace in complying with a 2012 ruling that requires increased spending on education.

Ericksen said the intent behind the Bertha bill is serious, and not a symbolic gesture. He hopes to use the bill to obtain detailed cost figures and projections on the Bertha project.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8