At left, the SR99 Tunnel Boring Machine Bertha's cutterhead is installed in Japan for testing before being shipped to Seattle. She was named after Seattle Mayor Bertha Knight Landes (right), elected to a single term in 1926. In the inset, Landes is shown breaking ground for the Civic Auditorium (which later became the Seattle Opera House) during her tenure.

Meet Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel boring machine set to transform Seattle's waterfront

Kids across Puget Sound entered 150 different possible names for the SR 99 Tunnel boring machine in a recent contest, and the winning entry is Bertha, named after Seattle’s 1926 Mayor Bertha Knight Landes – the first woman to lead a major American city.

Just like Landes, the boring machine will be another first for Seattle … and the world. Bertha is currently being put together in Japan to ensure she’s in working order before sailing to Seattle in 40 different pieces, the largest of which weighs 900 tons. She’ll be the biggest Bertha ever at 57.5 feet in diameter, 326 feet long and weighing 6700 tons (about the same as 558 38-foot, 84-passenger buses).

The Washington State Department of Transportation revealed Bertha’s name on Dec. 10 in advance of her goal: a $2 billion project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel under downtown Seattle’s waterfront (Corrected on Dec. 12. Originally listed at a $3 billion project, the actual tunnel project runs $2 million with an additional billion for other related projects - more info here). Going underground, according to WSDOT, will be a safer alternative to the viaduct in the event of an earthquake, and also opens up prime real estate for business and city infrastructure along the Sound. Construction is expected to begin next summer.

To read more on the project, please check out the Herald’s prior coverage or visit WSDOT’s project page at

There were two winners who named Bertha after Seattle’s early 20th century mayor: fifth grader Darryl Elves at Poulsbo Elementary and second grader Elijah Beerbower at Lincoln Elementary in Hoquiam. The winners will be invited to Bertha’s dedication ceremony next summer, and get to see the name they chose painted along the behemoth’s side before she starts digging.

Personification is also in effect as Bertha opened her very own Twitter account on Dec. 10. She can be found @BerthaDigsSR99 and her first tweet reads, “So nice to finally have an identity. Maybe now the passport agency will take my application.”

Bertha's namesake
According to, Bertha Knight Landes was elected as Seattle’s mayor in 1926 and held a single term. She was elected on a platform of “municipal housekeeping” and set to cleaning up city government corruption, asked citizens to blow the whistle on alcohol bootleggers, offered $1 a year to those who reported reckless drivers, and told her police force to focus on enforcing regulations at dance halls and cabarets.

A sign of the times, Landes’ husband Henry was quoted as stating during her campaign, “It’s simply the natural enlargement of her sphere. Keeping house and raising a family are a woman’s logical tasks, and in principle, there’s no difference between running one home and a hundred thousand.”

Landes lost her reelection bid to Frank Edwards in 1928 (she said his large campaign budget and “sex prejudice” played a role), but remained a civic leader throughout her life.

Just as modern day Bertha will be known for her engineering marvels in transforming downtown Seattle’s waterfront, her namesake was known for breaking ground on the Civic Auditorium, renovated to become the Seattle Opera House for the 1962 World’s Fair, according to HistoryLink.

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