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No one should be shocked Bertha is behind schedule on tunnel

John Curley doesn't think people should be so hard on Bertha. She is after all undertaking the biggest tunneling project ever. (Image courtesy WSDOT)

The world’s largest tunneling machine has only drilled 24 feet in a month to create a new route for Highway 99 under downtown Seattle. While some might be outraged with the fact that the project is already two weeks behind schedule, KIRO Radio’s John Curley thinks no one should be surprised.

“These projects are huge,” said Curley. “Here is what we know […] it’s going to be behind schedule, and there’s going to be cost overruns, and we’re going to find that some things fail, and nobody should be shocked by this sort of thing.”

Before drilling began, state officials estimated Bertha would progress at 6 feet per day to start, and eventually accelerate to 35 feet per day in good soil under downtown.

The Seattle Times reports the early delay can be blamed on fiberglass strands that got stuck near Bertha’s cutting face. There’s also a labor dispute at the tunnel site.

Not only that, but Bertha’s first two weeks on the job were spent drilling through solid concrete.

Curley said while she’s a little behind, Bertha’s task is the biggest tunneling project ever undertaken, and people should put the task into perspective.

“It’s amazing to me how impatient people are as this thing is burrowing under the ground, and it is the biggest in the world and people are like, ‘Oh that thing sucks,'” said Curley. “The hole it is digging is 57 feet in diameter.”

A note producer Bryan Buckalew left Curley about the project is a perfect example of how people are being unfairly critical.

“Bertha tunneling beneath Seattle as we speak, but not going very fast,” Buckalew wrote, “has traveled 24 feet since the drilling began a month ago (that’s about two weeks behind schedule). Only 9,249 feet to go!”

“I was just pointing out we have a ways to go,” Buckalew said, defending his notation.

But Curley said we should back off.

“If we’re constantly snarking on them, what happens is then they start to hold back information for fear what the press will do with it,” said Curley. “I’m pro-technology on this. I am excited to see what they learn and give them credit for being pioneers on it.”

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