City, business owners prepping for the arrival of 'Big Bertha'

SEATTLE -- Big Bertha, the world's largest tunneling machine, is nearly ready to begin boring through downtown Seattle as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, and business owners in the impact zone are apprehensive about what that means to them.

At Al Boccalino, customers are greeted with a true Italian experience. But the views right now aren't so inviting, and owner Luigi DeNunzio expects it to get worse as Bertha moves through.

"This is going to be a disaster area," DeNunzio said.

The restaurant is located on the corner of Yesler and Alaskan Way in Pioneer Square and is one of about 200 structures along the tunnel route were digging is set to begin in a couple of weeks.

"We agree with the work. We are excited for the city, but we are not excited what's going to happen to us in the meanwhile," DeNunzio said.

Washington State Department of Transportation officials are taking steps to protect structures along the route. They're installing monitoring equipment on almost all of the buildings, and putting 700 instruments under streets and sidewalks to measure any ground changes.

Keira Berges works at Pioneer Square Hotel and said the parking situation and street closures are already impacting business.

"We've definitely seen a lot of negative reviews," she said.

Once the digging begins, Berges expects to feel vibrations in the decades-old building.

"I'm just excited to see the final product, and I think that it will make downtown Seattle a lot more inviting and it will really brighten up the waterfront for the business and people who live here so we can enjoy it," she said.

Bertha will be dedicated on Saturday and will begin work in the next several weeks.