Seattle’s Big Bertha needed a little help to move on Sept. 23, but the massive tunnel machine working the Highway 99 job crept along 3 ft. It was the first advancement in weeks, and came after muck was removed from foam injector nozzles, some minor tweaks were made and a protest was put on pause.
“At this point, we’ve been pleased with the builders’ attention to getting Bertha moving again and starting tunneling,” said Todd Trepanier, who works for the Washington State Department of Transportation and is the program administrator for the Highway 99 project.
The work dispute coming from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) could be a constant disrupter of Bertha’s daily progress. The group is upset over how the dirt coming from the tunnel project is being handled. The jobs at Terminal 46 were assigned to building trades workers, and the ILWU was picketing the site until Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee intervened and convinced the group to step off the protest. The ILWU hopes Inslee can come up with a solution, or it will picket again.
Big Bertha started its tunnel-boring job on July 30 and due to the delays is only halfway out of the pit. Contractors still hope to complete the drilling by November 2014, but any more clashes with the schedule could put that goal in jeopardy. Right now, workers are moving in 20-hour shifts on weekdays, but that could change to a 24-hour, seven-day pace. Chris Dixon, project manager for the Seattle Tunnel Partners construction team, said the state could cover the millions of dollars in delays costs. He later said both the joint venture and WSDOT would have to work together and look over the contract to come up with the best possible solution.