Downtown Seattle safe from Bertha, ‘assuming contractor abides by its commitment’

Mar 15, 2016, 10:40 AM | Updated: 4:35 pm
Gov. Jay Inslee says there’s no reason to worry about Bertha causing more sinkholes if safety...
Gov. Jay Inslee says there's no reason to worry about Bertha causing more sinkholes if safety protocols are followed. (WSDOT)

There’s no reason for people living and working in downtown Seattle to worry when Bertha tunnels underneath them, as long as the contractor stays committed to safety, Gov. Jay Inslee says.

“Yes, assuming this contractor continues to abide by its commitment to the people of the State of Washington (they should be safe),” Inslee told Seattle’s Morning News.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor for the Bertha tunneling machine, is a private entity, but Inslee says it needs to deliver on its promises.

“They owe us a tunnel,” he said. “They’ve gotta give us a tunnel safely.”

The realities of a tunnel under Seattle have increased recently. Bertha bored about 300 feet in the past three weeks, reaching Safe Haven 3. The maintenance stop precedes movement under the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Related: Inslee astounded by Seattle tunnel contractor’s decisions to stop quality control

The move under the viaduct will be one watched closely by the state. Inslee stopped the project because of a sinkhole that developed behind the boring machine in January. The project was allowed to resume after Inslee said changes &#8212 that included “very substantial” safety protocols &#8212 were made.

Some safety protocols didn’t seem to exist much, if at all when the sinkhole developed. In January, Inslee told Seattle’s Morning News that the contractor stopped doing quality control work. Essentially, the contractor was not “adequately measuring the dirt” it was removing, Inslee said.

In addition, to the safety protocols reportedly set in place, and fixes to Bertha, Inslee said Tuesday that some “personnel” were replaced. Jamie Smith with the governor’s office confirmed there were “leadership changes.”

“The leadership changes were specifically around tunneling and quality control,” Laura Newborn, spokesperson for the viaduct replacement program, wrote to KIRO Radio. “Chris Dixon remains the Project Manager for STP. We generally do not give out STP staff names.”

Inslee said it is imperative to have a safe system that goes under the viaduct and downtown. With new people and protocols in place, he said he’s now more confident in the project moving forward.


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Downtown Seattle safe from Bertha, ‘assuming contractor abides by its commitment’