The $80 million, five-story-tall machine is digging a new path for State Route 99, one of the region's primary north-south arterials. But it became stuck Dec. 6, 60 feet below Seattle streets. In the ensuing weeks crews have probed, sifted and speculated in an effort to figure out what was causing the delay.
"We know that the steel is a contributing factor to her needing to stop, but we don't know the full story," said Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson.
After hitting the pipe, Bertha continued drilling another 90 feet and installed 15 more concrete rings before she stopped. The mammoth machine hasn't moved in month.
The steel pipe was put in place in 2002 as part of a well to monitor water flow after the Nisqually earthquake. Peterson says the contractor, STP, was given a map of where obstacles are and it's up to the contractor to remove the obstacles.
"It is referenced in documents that WSDOT provided to everybody who bid on the project in May of 2010" she said. "So we do know the information was there and that in the contract it does specify that things such as these would have to be removed by the contractor."
So how much is it costing and can the project get back on schedule? There's no definitive answer at this point, but the pressure is on for both parties as taxpayers watch.
"The contractor does have incentives to be on time and stay on budget, so we're going to be in constant negotiation through the entire length of this project," Peterson said.
Bertha is another woe added to a growing list for WSDOT. The ferry system faces budget cuts and staffing shortages, which have led to cancelled trips. The 520 bridge is another issue as new construction has dealt with huge overages, design flaws and delays.
"When there is an issue we are very up front with it whether it's the design error on the pontoons or whether Bertha stops. We are going to be extremely upfront with the public about what's going on and what we're going to do next," Peterson said.
There is a $40 million contingency fund set aside in case the boring machine is stalled by obstacles that are in the way. There's an additional $200 million contingency fund for other issues that may arise during the project.