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Huge tunnel drill makes its way to Seattle waterfront

Seattle fire boat welcomes Bertha, a five story tall drill set to dig a new tunnel under downtown Seattle. (Port of Seattle)

Seattle is welcoming the huge drill that will dig out earth and make way for the city’s new SR 99 tunnel.

The five-story tall tunneling machine, named Bertha, has spent two weeks making its way from Osaka, Japan to Elliott Bay. Seattle Fire Department boats welcomed Bertha to the area with a water show.

A ship, the Jumbo Fairpartner, carried the $80 million machine across the Pacific Ocean. The Washington State Department of Transportation has listed out the perfect vantage points if you’re interested in seeing Bertha’s arrival or watching her unloading.

If you can’t make it down to a view point or the waterfront, the WSDOT is setting up a live webcam pointed at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46. You can also follow Bertha’s journey on Twitter @BerthaDigsSR99.

Bertha posted an update on Twitter at 12:20pm – “Entering Elliott Bay now. The Space Needle looks like a thinner version of my Uncle Ned.” And at 1:10pm – “It’s been a long trip. I’m starving. I don’t suppose those barges to the south of me could spare any dirt. You know, just a little snack.”

WSDOT says it’ll take several weeks to remove all 41 of Bertha’s pieces from the ship. Crews will move them to predetermined storage locations in the work zone.

“Construction crews preparing for this machine’s arrival have accomplished an unbelievable amount of work over the past 18 months,” said state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. “Thanks to their hard work, tunneling will begin on schedule.”

As soon as an 80 foot deep pit is completed, Bertha’s pieces will be lowered underground, reassembled, and tested before tunneling begins. This process is expected to take two or three months.

The new section of Highway 99 replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct will have a diameter of nearly 58 feet.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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