Giant tunnel machine shows off before getting down to work

SEATTLE - The public turned out Saturday to celebrate a milestone in replacing the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel, visiting the pit where crews are very close to launching "Bertha," the massive machine that will actually dig its way under the city.

A KOMO News crew joined the public in its tour of the giant tunnel boring machine - and what a party it was.

In the next couple of weeks, Bertha will start boring into the earth for what's described as one of the great engineering projects in the world.

She's not drilling yet - just showing off a little before the real digging starts. Project managers invited the community down for a look at the machine.

For safety reasons, the crowd had to peer from the rim. But KOMO's news crew went five stories down into what's called the launch pit - where Jerry Roberge, a tunnel boring machine operator, will be driving Bertha for 10-hour shifts at a time.

He's responsible for the biggest boring maching on the planet - a $2 billion project resting on his shoulders - with the whole state, including the governor, watching his progress.

But he's not the only one - the project is creating nearly 4,000 jobs.

One of them is Quality Control Inspector Tim Barker, who brought his parents down Saturday to show them around.

"I'm proud of him being on this project first of all. I'm excited to see where it is," says his mother, Nancy Barker.

Workers understand that expectations are high. They know taxpayers are footing the bill.

"Part of my job is making sure we're giving a good product to the city and to the state in the end," says Tim Barker.

If all goes as planned, Bertha will emerge in 14 months, 1.7 miles away on the other side of Seattle, paving the way for traffic to travel underground.

Bertha will operate five days a week for as many as 15 hours over the course of two shifts. She's expected to move forward 36 feet every day.