Seat­tle’s Big Bertha is back in busi­ness. Can she tun­nel all the way?

Af­ter an ex­pen­sive res­cue, the gi­ant drill is go­ing back to work “Do we know we won’t have this prob­lem 1,000 feet from now?”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - Contents - −Karen Weise

About 750 days af­ter she first broke down, Bertha, the mas­sive drill long stuck un­der Seat­tle’s wa­ter­front, is back on the job. Five sto­ries tall and the big­gest of her kind, Bertha over­heated in De­cem­ber 2013, about a ninth of the way into dig­ging a tun­nel for an un­der­ground ex­press­way. The con­trac­tor on the dig staged a painstak­ing res­cue, and Bertha is slowly drilling again.

Bertha’s trou­bles are yet an­other twist in Wash­ing­ton’s ef­fort to re­place an el­e­vated high­way that was dam­aged in the 2001 Nisqually earth­quake. Five years ago the state awarded a $1.35 bil­lion con­tract to a joint ven­ture named Seat­tle Tun­nel Part­ners. Af­ter the drill over­heated, STP de­cided it couldn’t re­pair Bertha un­der­ground, so it dug a res­cue pit 120 feet deep. Over sev­eral days last March, work­ers used a 240-foot crane to haul out Bertha’s cut­ter face and drive mech­a­nisms, which weigh 2,000 tons.

Since then, Hi­tachi Zosen, the Ja­panese com­pany that man­u­fac­tured Bertha, has re­designed, re­placed, or re­paired much of the drill, in­clud­ing her outer and in­ner seals, bear­ing, cen­ter pipe, and gears. It also added 86 tons of steel as re­in­force­ment. STP low­ered the re­paired pieces into the pit, where it took sev­eral months to re­con­nect them to the ma­chine and en­sure ev­ery­thing was aligned. In De­cem­ber, STP be­gan slowly re­fill­ing the res­cue

pit with sand. Right be­fore Christ­mas, Bertha drilled 8 feet in a test.

Why Bertha broke down isn’t a mat­ter of pub­lic record yet, prob­a­bly be­cause the in­for­ma­tion is cru­cial to de­ter­mine who foots the bill for re­pairs and de­lays. STP in the spring filed pa­per­work ask­ing the state to re­im­burse it $125 mil­lion for the cost of dig­ging the res­cue pit and sub­se­quent re­pairs, which the state con­tests. The fi­nal tab will likely be much higher. Al­ready there are law­suits aplenty: In June, STP sued its in­sur­ers, which two months later turned around and sued STP. The state sued STP in the fall.

In early De­cem­ber, the Seat­tle City Coun­cil asked STP’s project man­ager, Chris Dixon, why lo­cal au­thor­i­ties should be con­fi­dent about re­pairs when they don’t know what went wrong. “How do we know we won’t have this prob­lem 1,000 feet from now?” said coun­cil mem­ber Tim Burgess. Dixon’s re­sponse: “When some­one tells you what they think caused the dam­age, you are only hear­ing one of six or seven cau­sa­tion the­o­ries that are out there.” He said STP has its own the­o­ries, but he couldn’t di­vulge them. “We be­lieve we have ad­dressed ev­ery­thing that we think might have caused the prob­lem.”

If Bertha stalls again, a sec­ond res­cue may be more dif­fi­cult. When the drill broke, the con­trac­tors were able to dig the res­cue pit with­out se­ri­ously dis­turb­ing city traf­fic. Once Bertha dives un­der the core of down­town, reach­ing her from above would be far more dis­rup­tive. In the mean­time, Seat­tle driv­ers will con­tinue to tra­verse the ex­ist­ing el­e­vated high­way, which ac­cord­ing to the state scores a 9 out of 100 on a fed­eral safety scale.

STP says that if all goes well, Bertha will be done drilling in Jan­uary 2017, with the full tun­nel open­ing in spring 2018—more than two years later than ini­tially pre­dicted. On Red­dit’s Seat­tle board, peo­ple are bet­ting on how far Bertha will make it. The user Neoit­val­u­oc­sol guessed she’ll go only 1 foot, and Dou­ble-dog-doc­tor fig­ured Bertha will dig out 9,268 of her 9,270foot mis­sion, say­ing, “She’ll make it most of the way, but that last two feet is go­ing to be a bitch.”

The bot­tom line The state of Wash­ing­ton, con­trac­tors, and in­sur­ers are su­ing one an­other over who will pay for the cost of re­pair­ing Bertha.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.