Program Spotlight 2013

  • The mood around the office

    He was smiling, but you could tell he was tired. Like many of our tunneling experts, he’d been working long hours lately. Still, tired or not, he was genuinely amused when he dropped into our office to share some news.

    “Did you see the Seattle Times?” he said. “People are voting on what they think stopped Bertha. (Seattle Seahawks cornerback) Richard Sherman is winning.”

    He paused.

    “I’m glad people are having some fun with this,” he … more

  • The beauty of barging

    On Nov. 23, crews started barging soil from the tunnel dig site to a disposal facility near Port Ludlow. Adding barges to the fleet of trucks hauling away soil has greatly improved the speed and efficiency of the tunneling operation.

    The reason for that is simple: Bertha is moving a lot of soil – soil that has to be taken away to make room for more soil. If crews removing it can't keep up with Bertha, the bin where the soil is stored gets full and the machine has to slow down. … more

  • Why bridges (and overpasses) are like butterflies

    Over the weekend, crews closed State Route 99 through downtown Seattle for an important reason: the South Atlantic Street overpass needed space to emerge from its cocoon. Don’t worry, it wasn’t flying anywhere. And it isn’t nearly as colorful as a butterfly. Still, you’ll notice a huge difference the next time you take SR 99 through SODO.

    For nearly a year, hundreds of steel and timber beams, and acres of plywood and foam spanned the highway in roughly the same … more

  • Tunneling in Seattle started long before Bertha

    Seattleites were digging tunnels long before Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, came along. Folks started transforming subterranean Seattle in 1894, with construction of a sewer tunnel not far from the SR 99 tunnel’s north portal construction site. Since then the city has seen – or not seen, as the case may be – construction of more than 40 miles worth of tunnels.

    Last month marked the 109th anniversary of the historic breakthrough on the Great Northern Tunnel, which … more

  • Happy Birthday, Bertha Knight Landes – you were one of a kind

    Saturday, Oct. 19, marks the 145th birthday of Bertha Knight Landes, after whom the SR 99 tunneling machine was named.

    Ms. Landes didn’t dig any tunnels, but there’s no question she broke ground. Elected mayor of Seattle in 1926, she was the first woman to lead a major American city. During her two years in office she battled bootleggers, cleaned up corruption in city government and put the city’s finances in order.

    She was active outside of politics, too, playing … more

  • Bertha breaks 200-foot mark

    Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, has passed the 200-foot mark as she continues her dig toward the north end of downtown Seattle.

    By the end of her shift on Oct. 8, Bertha had traveled a total of 209 feet and the top of her cutterhead was about 20 feet below the surface. She averaged nearly 14 feet of digging per day over the past week.

    Bertha is still making her way through fill soil that crews have injected with grout to provide additional strength. She’ll pass into … more

  • Bertha picking up speed

    It was a good first week back on the job for Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine.

    Bertha dug 64 feet between Sept. 23 and the end of the month, averaging about 11 feet of excavation per work day. Add that to the 24 feet she traveled prior to the monthlong stoppage in mining, and Bertha had traveled a total of 88 feet by the start of October.

    The end of September brought with it an important milestone: installation of the first permanent tunnel ring. Now that Bertha is building rings … more

  • Tunneling will close the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct for one to two weeks, likely in early 2014

    More than 1,000 feet of soil separates Bertha from the spot where she’ll pass beneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct a few months from now. That gives drivers plenty of time to prepare for Bertha’s big crossing, which will require an extended around-the-clock closure of the viaduct.

    Crews will close the viaduct for one to two weeks to allow Bertha to tunnel beneath the structure (pdf 913 kb). The machine could reach the viaduct in early 2014, but a specific date for the … more

  • Remembering Bertha’s roots: two years of SR 99 tunnel construction in the books

    Time-lapse video highlights the hard work that led up to Bertha’s July 30 launch

     

    A lot can happen in two years. Just ask Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine.

    Two years ago this week, Bertha existed only on paper and her launch-pit site was little more than a field of dirt where the south end of the viaduct once stood. Our contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, had just received the go-ahead to complete final design and begin building the SR 99 tunnel.

    Then this … more

  • Desperately seeking soil: As we expected, Bertha is off to a slow (but good) start

    After slogging through 15 feet of concrete, Bertha gets a taste of the good stuff – but why did it take so long?

    Engineers depend on math. It is the thing that, more than any building material, gives shape to their designs. Want proof that what you’re building matches the design? Check the plans, do the math.

    But when it comes to tracking the progress of Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, you can’t rely on an equation. Yes, we told you that Bertha would average 6 … more

  • Bertha begins: digging officially underway in Seattle

    This time, there were no crowds or fanfare. It was just Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine, finally getting the chance to do what she was built to do: dig.

    Bertha got her first taste of tunneling on July 30, officially starting the 2-mile journey beneath downtown. Early Tuesday afternoon, Bertha’s 5-story-tall cutterhead broke through the north wall of her 80-foot-deep launch pit. She’s expected to emerge in about 14 months near the intersection of Sixth … more

  • Bon voyage party for Bertha draws 5,000 people to SR 99 tunnel site

    Start with some sun, soil and celebration. Then add Bertha, the massive machine that will dig the SR 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle, and 5,000 of her closest friends. The result is a party big enough for the biggest tunnel-builder the world has ever seen.

    Thousands of people descended on the SR 99 tunnel launch pit on Saturday for a chance to see Bertha up-close before she starts tunneling later this month. Guests talked to project staff, learned about the project and walked around … more

  • Join Gov. Inslee for a public celebration at launch site July 20

    The power is on, the cutterhead is hooked up and two miles of Seattle soil await the teeth of Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine. Aside from running final tests, there’s only one thing left to do before the massive machine’s launch later this month: say goodbye.

    On July 20, Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Transportation will host a public celebration at Bertha’s launch site, west of CenturyLink Field, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. … more

  • New overpass set to open by the end of the year

    At the start of the year, it wasn’t much more than a few dozen steel beams and some columns sticking out of the ground. As the calendar turns to July 2013, the new South Atlantic Street overpass is taking shape at the southern edge of the State Route 99 tunnel construction site near the stadiums.

    The overpass will address a bottleneck near the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46, where trains crossing South Atlantic Street frequently block traffic. When it … more

  • Where will all that dirt go? Here’s the scoop

    Crews removed more than 86,000 cubic yards of soil during construction of the recently completed SR 99 tunnel launch pit. That may seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared with the 850,000 cubic yards of soil that will be removed by Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, as she digs her way beneath Seattle.

    How much is 850,000 cubic yards of soil? Put it this way: If, just for fun, you decided to pile it all on top of the turf at nearby CenturyLink Field, your pile would be … more

  • A big goodbye to Bertha’s big red crane

    By now, drivers on State Route 99 near the stadiums are used to seeing large cranes and machinery near the spot where Bertha will start tunneling this summer. A crane is a crane is a crane, right?

    Except when the crane in question is the Barnhart Modular Lift Tower, better known to most as the giant red crane that lowered many of Bertha’s 41 pieces into the pit where she’s getting ready to dig. Aside from having an impressively technical name, the modular lift tower, like … more

  • Face time with Bertha: last day above ground for massive tunneling cutterhead

    Suspended from a towering crane at the south end of downtown Seattle, the five-story-tall face of Bertha, the world’s largest tunneling machine, spent its last day above ground looking squarely at the old viaduct it was built to replace. Next stop: the 80-foot-deep launch pit where tunneling will start this summer.

    Crews working with the Washington State Department of Transportation lowered Bertha’s 838-ton cutterhead into the launch pit today, ending eight weeks of heavy … more

  • Launch pit complete, ready for Bertha

    Last spring, a field of unturned dirt marked the spot where Bertha will begin digging the two-mile State Route 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. One year and 86,000 cubic yards of soil later, it’s a pit fit for the world’s largest tunneling machine.

    Crews finished building Bertha’s 80-foot-deep launch pit on Sunday after nearly a year spent building its underground walls, removing soil and building the infrastructure needed to support the nearly 7,000-ton machine. Its … more

  • Bertha's trailing gear first into the pit

    Last week, crews used a massive red crane to begin lowering the first large pieces of Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, into the 80-foot-deep pit (pdf 485 kb) where she’ll start tunneling this summer. First up: the trailing gear, which will serve as Bertha's support system during tunneling by providing her with all of the equipment and materials she'll need to tunnel beneath downtown. The trailing gear accounts for much of the 326-foot-long machine's total … more

  • Into the pit: assembly of Bertha set to begin

    This week, crews will use a massive red crane to lower the first piece of Bertha, the SR 99 tunneling machine, into the 80-foot-deep pit (pdf 485 kb) where she’ll start tunneling this summer. Reassembling Bertha’s 41 pieces and testing the completed machine will take two to three months.

    Crews from Hitachi Zosen, Bertha’s manufacturer, will assist throughout the process. Bertha won’t officially become the property of Seattle Tunnel Partners, WSDOT’s … more

  • Bertha arrived in Seattle on April 2

    Sixty years ago this week, Seattleites welcomed the State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct to the city’s downtown waterfront. On Tuesday, April 2, the waterfront again welcomed a hulking guest: Bertha, the five-story-tall tunneling machine that will clear the way to the viaduct’s removal in 2016.

    The ship carrying the machine that will dig the SR 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle entered Elliott Bay on Tuesday, April 2, after a two-week journey from the manufacturing plant in … more

  • Get ready, Seattle – Bertha’s on her way

    The journey started today with a single ship. It will end about two weeks and 5,000 miles later in the waters of Elliott Bay, with the much-anticipated arrival of Bertha, the massive machine that will dig the SR 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle.

    The five-story-tall machine left Osaka, Japan today aboard the Jumbo Fairpartner, the 475-foot-long vessel that will carry it across the Pacific Ocean. If the weather cooperates, the $80 million machine – which is owned by Seattle Tunnel … more

  • The unusual (but successful) path to replacing the viaduct’s southern mile

    At first glance, the curvy temporary stretch of State Route 99 that opened last fall to the west of Seattle’s stadiums seems like an unusual path for a highway to take. Certainly it’s not the straightest line between two points. But viewed in a broader context – keeping the highway open during SR 99 tunnel construction – it’s most certainly the right path. It saves everyone in the long run by maintaining a vital route to and through downtown Seattle as we … more

  • SR 99 tunneling machine problem nearly fixed

    Last month we reported that Bertha, the machine that will dig the SR 99 tunnel, was in the midst of an extensive testing program at the manufacturing plant in Japan. During testing crews discovered a problem with Bertha’s main-drive unit, which rotates the cutterhead at the front of the machine. She has since been partially disassembled so engineers could take a closer look at the issue.

    The diagnosis? Bertha’s going to be just fine.

    In fact, further examination of her … more

  • Uncover the launch pit's past Thursday at Milepost 31

    Before Bertha's launch pit was a launch pit, it was home to the south-end of the viaduct. And before that? Well, more than a century ago it was a neighborhood. Our team of archaeologists  uncovered a lot of cool stuff there in spring 2010 as we prepared to replace the viaduct's southern mile.

    Sometime around 1905, the neighborhood was abandoned, filled with dirt and turned into a rail yard. Fortunately, archaeologists knew that pieces of the area's history remained, … more

  • Testing of the SR 99 tunneling machine continues in Japan

    Before a professional athlete joins a new team, he has to pass a physical.

    Same goes for Bertha, the world’s largest-diameter tunneling machine. She doesn’t play a sport, of course, but digging a two-mile-long tunnel beneath downtown Seattle requires just the right combination of speed, skill and body control – all hallmarks of a world-class athlete. Which is why Bertha’s manufacturer, Japanese firm Hitachi Zosen Corporation, is putting her through the wringer as … more