Highway 99 program Administrator Todd Trepanier doesnt say the word patience, but thats the theme of an e-mail he sent Thursday to state lawmakers and the Transportation Commission, about the push to get tunnel machine Bertha moving again.
The giant drill has been stranded 60 feet underground since Dec. 6, shortly after hitting a steel pipe. Trepanier mentions and then downplays a project-team members remark that it could take one month to resume drilling, without offering his own conjecture. Megaprojects are inherently uncertain enough that this sort of time estimate should be treated as an educated guess anyhow, rather than a fact.
Trepanier raises two other points that are more subtle, and more meaningful:
He calls the wayward 8-inch diameter steel pipe in front of the machine a contributing factor, which raises the ominous question of whether more problems lurk in the soil or in the machinery. The overall cause wont be known until our investigation is completed, he said.
Second, he notes that if the blockage cant be removed through the vertical shafts, which are being drilled this week, the shafts would be filled to build a deep concrete wall, to create a safe environment for workers. Such a wall would restrain loose soil and groundwater that would otherwise collapse into the cutting face during work there. In December, Chris Dixon, director of the Seattle Tunnel Partners contracting team, said such a barrier would take several weeks to build, even before sending a team in.
For the time being, the delay hasnt busted the budget but taxpayers could potentially take a hit if these delays drag on. The projects $2 billion plan includes a $40 million reserve for so-called extraordinary interventions, in which tunnel-trained divers remove surprise blockages or make emergency repairs to the cutter.