As Bertha—the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine currently at a standstill and under repair beneath downtown Seattle—inches closer toward a restart on its tunneling project, we get both an update on the repair progress and an additional lawsuit in what is now classified in legal documents as a $78 million delay to taxpayers.
While the cost to Seattle Tunnel Partners, the joint venture running well over two years behind schedule on the project—the tunnel was slated to open to traffic by the end of 2015 and is now scheduled for sometime in 2018—isn’t known, court documents show that the state expects it will spend an additional $78 million on experts, staff, office space and more during the additional time. The state also expects to recoup that money through insurance payments.
And while the state wants to finish the project with Seattle Tunnel Partners, it filed a lawsuit against the contractors in King County Superior Court in Washington to counter filings by Seattle Tunnel Partners and insurance companies.
“Filing this lawsuit ensures WSDOT will have a right to make legal claims in the future,” the state says in a statement. “This lawsuit does not prevent STP from pursuing claims under the terms of the design-build contract.”
The statement goes on to add that taking action was a necessary step, but that the state has requested that all lawsuits are delayed until after the project is complete.
Getting the project complete may get back on track in November, as Chris Dixon, project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners, says in a recent update that as work continues inside the 120-ft-deep pit where Bertha sits. Final preparations before tunneling can resume has crews welding pieces of the machine together, reconnecting hundreds of wires and hoses and preparing this “monumental effort” for final testing.
Once the machine is fully back together, crews will measure the machine to make sure everything is in place and then perform a no-load test before backfilling the tunnel shaft and performing a test under load.
Once tunneling does resume—the most recent estimates had that happening in November, but no update has been given recently—plans call for Bertha to move forward 430 feet before a scheduled stop.
Of course, it is the unscheduled stops that have everyone concerned.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He writes for Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.