As Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project heads toward a planned opening next year, Hitachi, the manufacturer of the 57.5-ft-dia tunnel-boring machine Bertha, has clarified its defense claims in the lawsuit and even shared its feelings about a snub it perceived at the breakthrough ceremony marking the progress of the work.
The $3.2-billion effort to replace the aging structure with a $1.35-billion, 1.7-mile-long bored tunnel under downtown Seattle is scheduled to open in early 2019. The project’s main bore is large enough for a double-decker roadway.
The most intense scrutiny surrounds a 120-ft-long, 8-in.-dia steel well casing pipe hit by Bertha in December 2013. Contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, a joint venture of Tutor Perini and Dragados USA, claims not to have been made aware of the steel pipe by project owner Washington State Dept. of Transportation and that Hitachi Zosen, the Japanese-based maker of Bertha, constructed a machine that couldn’t handle the pipe, leading to a roughly two-year project shutdown and machine fix.
Lawsuits ensued and remain in flux even as the machine was pulled from the ground and repaired and then returned, finishing the tunneling job without any further issues in April 2017.
STP sued its own insurance carriers for $80 million to help cover overruns. It sued WSDOT for $480 million for damages and delay costs associated with the Bertha shutdown and then sued Hitachi Zosen.
Countersuits flooded in, including a claim by WSDOT that it shouldn’t be held accountable because STP “forgot” the size, material and location of a pipe made known to it two years before Bertha hit the pipe. The WSDOT countersuit also says STP was “looking for a way to blame WSDOT for this problem” and “invented” a “theory” about being told the pipe was plastic, not steel, meaning STP must, as the contract stipulates, bear associated costs.
As the lawsuits continue to move through discovery, Hitachi blames STP’s poor running of the machine and differing soil conditions than WSDOT described. WSDOT claims Hitachi underbuilt the original machine.
The bickering spilled into a celebration for Bertha’s completion of tunneling in 2017. Hitachi representatives now claim, via a Seattle Business Magazine article, that they weren’t originally invited to the breakthrough ceremony and subsequently were not allowed on the special viewing platform reserved for dignitaries.
A WSDOT representative says the agency has “no working relationship with Hitachi,” a supplier to STP. Any invites to Hitachi wouldn’t have come from WSDOT.
WSDOT does not comment on ongoing litigation.