They’re separated by a continent, yet somehow a rivalry of sorts has developed between Washington, DC, and Seattle, Washington.

One is the capital of the Free World; the other a capital of computing, music, and microbrewed beer.  One has an NFL team quarterbacked by RG3Robert Griffin III; the other has an NFL team quarterbacked by RW3Russell Wilson, who wears jersey #3.

And now, both have tunnel boring machines with a splash of personality.

Last week, my colleague Tim Newcomb introduced you to Bertha, the giant TBM brought in to dig the 1.7-mile tunnel that will replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Now meet Lady Bird, recruited by DC Water to dig the 4-mile long, 23-foot diameter Blue Plains Tunnel, part of the agency’s $2.6 billion Clean River project.

blog post photo

"Lady Bird" was built by Herrenknecht AB in Schwanau, Germany. (Photo courtesy DC Water.)

At 400 feet long and 1,300 tons, Lady Bird is far more petite than her supersized Northwest counterpart. But her role is no less important. The Blue Plains Tunnel is a key element in significantly reduce the amount of raw sewage that flows from the District’s 19th Century-era combined sewers into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.

When Lady Bird gets to work later this spring, she’ll burrow from two deep shafts at the Blue Plains Pollution Control Plant 100 feet beneath the Potomac River, then under the Anacostia River to DC Water’s Main Sewer Pumping Station near Nationals Park.

(Rivalry fact: DC and Seattle are home to the only two current Major League Baseball Franchises yet to appear in the World Series.)

The Blue Plains Tunnel will ultimately become part of a 12.8-mile network of storage and conveyance tunnels, shafts, diversion chambers, overflow facilities, and pump stations scheduled for completion in 2025. Once complete, DC Water says the system will reduce combined sewer overflows by 96% overall, and by 98% in the Anacostia River alone.

Appropriately, Lady Bird was christened to honor another environmental advocate, Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, wife of the 36th President. Her efforts helped draw attention to the decline of the nation’s waterways, leading to passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

And though the Lady Bird TBM has mechanical parts instead of feathers, it does know how to Tweet. Using its Twitter handle of  @LadyBirdTBM, Lady Bird will keep the world abreast of her progress, and getting in the occasional dig at Bertha (@BerthaDigsSR99).  

Trash-talking TBMs.  Who’d have thought it?