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Sound Transit's boring machine reaches Downtown Seattle

SEATTLE -- Crews now say they are past the halfway mark in construction of Sound Transit's Link Light Rail that will run underground from the University District to Downtown Seattle.

"Brenda," the so-called 300-ton tunnel boring machine has traveled from Capitol Hill to Downtown Seattle, reaching a point 80 feet below the Paramount Theatre on Pine Street. The development is a milestone in the nearly $2 billion project.

"Mining in an urban area, we went under numerous residences and businesses and a number of city streets," said Joe Gildner of Sound Transit. "And as I mentioned, we had to go under Interstate 5 twice."

Digging below the interstate was one of sound transit's biggest risks. The top of the giant drill was only 15 feet below the freeway. Drivers who happened to be stopped n traffic when it passed by likely felt the road rumble.

And the machine had to make two carefully-monitored passes.

"(We had to consider) Earth movement, loss of ground, movement of the freeway," said Charles Santamaria of Sound Transit. "Once they got through that first one, it was a breeze."

Crews also kept watch on a 90-year-old building on Capitol Hill. As the tunnel boring machine passed underneath, there were fears the brick building could crumble.Sound Transit says so far, the building is doing just fine.

"The building did not settle adversely. There was some displacement, but it was within what we expected," said Gildner.

In addition to the southbound tunnel Brenda cleared, there is also a completed twin tunnel for the northbound train to the University District. Combined, that's 6 miles of an underground passage for the light rail extension.

The University Link is on track to open in 2016. It will make stops in Downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University of Washington.

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