Officials announce delay for troubled Seattle tunnel dig

AP News
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Posted: Oct 22, 2015 7:08 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Seattle's broken down tunnel boring machine will resume digging a new route through downtown a month later than officials had said the delayed work would restart — another setback to the massive project that would reshape the city's bustling center.

The Washington State Department of Transportation on Thursday posted contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners' latest schedule for the machine, known as Bertha, that says tunneling would proceed again on Dec. 23. The latest delay would push back the opening date for the $3.1 billion downtown tunnel replacement project to April 2018. The four-lane toll tunnel was supposed to open to traffic at the end of 2015.

Bertha broke down in December 2013, and crews have been struggling to repair it ever since.

The tunnel was designed to replace the downtown Alaskan Way Viaduct after it was damaged in a 2001 earthquake.

The news of the latest delay came as a legislative committee on Thursday was holding the first of two work sessions on the project. Officials from the state Department of Transportation and Seattle Tunnel Partners walked members of the Joint Transportation Committee through the history and work on the project and repairs to date, including the new time frame.

Chris Dixon, Seattle Tunnel Partners' project manager, told lawmakers that the reassembly of the boring machine took longer than anticipated when they estimated in July that tunneling would resume in November.

After the hearing, Dixon told reporters that he was confident that the machine would be ready to tunnel no later than Dec. 23, though he said that it's possible that they might not actually start the process until the after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

"That's something that will have to be reevaluated when we get up right near the date," he said. Dixon noted that if the machine is ready earlier, they might tunnel for a week and then stop briefly for the holidays.

Earlier this month, the state sued the contractor building the tunnel. The Department of Transportation said it filed the lawsuit against Seattle Tunnel Partners in King County Superior Court to preserve its legal rights in what are expected to be messy future court battles. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages because of the delays caused by Bertha's breakdown.

The legal action was taken following court filings by Seattle Tunnel Partners and its insurance companies, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Laura Newborn said.

State transportation officials have said they expect to lose $78 million because Bertha broke down. The additional money reflects extra spending on administrators, engineers, consulting firms and office space.

Republican Sen. Curtis King, a co-chairman of the committee, said after the hearing that he's not too concerned about the new delay.

"I wish that it wasn't delayed, but you've got to think about how complex this whole thing is," he said. "I hope they get this thing cranked up and get it going. I think they will."