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Washington Secretary of Transportation not willing to call ‘fail’ on Bertha yet

Washington Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson tells Dori Monson they're not at a point where they'd be making a decision to abandon the tunnel project. (WSDOT Image)

After two months of delays and word it will likely be several months more before tunnel-boring machine Bertha will get moving again, some were calling for officials to cut our losses and move on to another viaduct replacement alternative.

“It’s time to pull the plug on this project. It’s time for a public official to be responsible of our tax dollars and say this is ending up costing us too much,” said KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

In an appearance on The Dori Monson Show Tuesday, Washington Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson acknowledged while their main role is to oversee the stewardship of taxpayer dollars, they’re not at a point where they’d consider abandoning the project.

“I don’t think we’re at that decision point yet,” said Peterson. “It’s obviously at the top of our list to make sure the contractor and the manufacturer get the fix done, get it done as quickly as possible in a safe environment. We will be pushing for that.

“If we get to that point where they come back and they have different information than what they had anticipated, we will have to have a conversation with the community.”

Peterson painted that as a “worst case scenario.” She said this week the tunnel contractor will be meeting with the boring machine manufacturer to determine the best ways to make repairs to the broken seals surrounding the main bearing of the boring machine.

“We will be getting an update on Friday of exactly how they plan to work on the pieces of the machine that need to be replaced and maintained,” said Peterson.

There are a few options on how they’ll approach the fix. She said they may go in from a hole above the machine or they may move in through the tunnel on the backside of the machine.

While the machine is currently in a good position to do repairs from the top – there’s nothing above her, said Peterson – Monson asked what happens when Bertha finally makes her way further under the city.

“What happens if it goes another couple thousand feet and it’s directly underneath buildings or skyscrapers and now you don’t have that topside access, then what?”

“I think that before we even get to that scenario, we would be playing our strong oversight role and making sure that we believe everything has been done to insure that the machine doesn’t stop underneath the city of Seattle,” said Peterson.

“But presumably, you guys did that before you started as well, and it only went 1,000 feet,” said Monson.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be worked out between the contractor and Hitachi [boring machine manufacturer] on what exactly caused those five seals to fail between operation of the machine and the design of the machine itself, so getting that worked out right now is extremely important,” said Peterson.

As to who will cover the costs, Peterson said: “All of the evidence that we have to date is pointing to the fact that this is on the contractor and the manufacturer.”

All the workers involved in the excavation are still busy, even though Bertha isn’t digging, Peterson said.

“There’s a lot of work going on within the tunnel and at each end there are hundreds of folks that are employed by this project and they all have work to do in the meantime,” said Peterson.

“That’s hard for me to imagine,” said Monson. “Is it busy work or is it necessary work?”

“It’s all very necessary work. In fact, the work that’s going to be conducted just to make sure that they can get to her and start working on her, will be part of what they do.”

In the meantime, Peterson asked for the public’s patience. “I am as frustrated as any other citizen of Washington that wants to see this thing moving and completed.”

She said they’re doing their best to make sure the decision that was made by a vote of the public gets carried out in the most diligent way possible.

“We just need to be very aware that every tunneling project has its difficulties and we’re experiencing one right now. We’re actually experiencing it in the best spot it could have happened and that we are doing everything we can to get it fixed and moving as quickly as possible,” said Peterson.

State to hold contractor accountable on tunnel
Dori Monson: Bury Bertha, build a bridge
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