Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t getting any closer. At least not for now.

Seattle is in the midst of a huge project in which they will be removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct that has aged greatly. Discussion of its removal has been going on for years. In the viaduct’s place will be a brand new 1.7 mile long tunnel that will be part of Highway 99.

For now that project is stalled due to a problem with the tunnel drilling machine named Bertha. Bertha had dug just about 10 percent of the tunnel before shutting down and has been out of operation for two months. Over the weekend, the problem was finally discovered.

A protective seal around one of Bertha’s parts had been damaged causing a leak of silt and water to get inside the machine. The head of the machine was clogged from the damages done b y the leak.

The seal will need to be replaced and there is the possibility that the main bearing of the machine to need a replacement as well. Seattle will not be able to continue with the tunnel project until Bertha has been completely repaired and there is no timetable as to when that will occur.

However, the repairs should be made soon as there are other projects involving the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct that are underway that will be delayed as well if the tunnel project cannot continue.

Another bump in the road for the project is that one of the subcontractors has recently been accused of fraud. Washington State has a program in which they assign large projects to companies that are owned by women or minorities. OMA Construction is a trucking company that was given a $14 million contract to work on the viaduct project as one of the woman or minority owned businesses.

OMA Construction is now facing removal from the program for fraudulent business practices which is really just a small problem in a much bigger picture. It is required by state and federal law for at least 8 percent of the work to be assigned to the women or minority owned businesses and if OMA no longer qualifies, the project will be in violation of that rule.

If the project does not qualify the rule, then Washington State risks losing funding for future projects involving highways and construction.

The removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been in process for several years but with the several problems such as damage to the equipment and possible loss of funds, we shouldn’t be expecting to see the tunnel done anytime soon.