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Seattle tunnel machine gets name, identity and Twitter handle

Crews in Japan have just installed the cutterhead on the massive new SR 99 tunnel boring machine. The machine will be shipped to Seattle next Spring, with work on the new tunnel starting next Summer. (WSDOT image)

If you’re going to be the biggest tunnel digging machine in the world, you deserve a beefy name to back it up. That’s the thinking of the Washington State Department of Transportation, which announced Monday the massive machine that will dig the new tunnel beneath downtown Seattle is now officially named “Bertha”.

The name was chosen as part of a contest for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. It had to be female and have significance to Washington state heritage, life, nature, transportation or engineering. The name, picked by a panel of judges that included Gov. Chris Gregoire and Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, honors Bertha Knight Landes. She was elected mayor of Seattle in 1926, the first woman to lead a major American city.

“This project is about breaking new ground,” said Charley Royer, former mayor of Seattle and a contest judge. “Like the SR 99 tunneling machine, Bertha Knight Landes was one of a kind. It’s only fitting that the machine bears her name.”

Follow the SR 99 tunnel project

WSDOT says crews in Japan just finishing the one-of-a-kind machine featuring a 57.5-foot-diameter cutterhead. She’ll be taken apart and loaded onto a ship that will arrive in Seattle next spring. She’ll start tunneling from the west of Seattle’s stadiums next summer.

Along with her name, Bertha is also getting her own identity and even a Twitter account.

“So nice to finally have an identity,” @BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted Monday. “Maybe now the folks at the passport agency will take my application.”

“The next generation of engineers is in our classrooms right now,” Hammond said. “Letting students name the machine and providing an opportunity to follow Bertha on Twitter is a great way to engage them in this historic project, which is an engineering marvel.”

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