Patrick Robinson
That's Bertha, the world's largest ever, tunnel boring machine in the 80 foot deep launch pit. A pre-bore ceremony was held July 20 to officially set the digging process in motion.

SLIDESHOW: Pre-Bore dedication event for 'Bertha' digging the SR 99 tunnel sets the tunnel in motion

Bertha, the world’s largest tunnel boring machine, will be set in motion by the end of July on a 14-month voyage through the earth of downtown Seattle’s waterfront, creating a 57-foot diameter tunnel for an underground SR 99 that will replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

A public pre-bore dedication ceremony for the engineering marvel set the project in motion officially with speeches by Gov. Jay Inslee, transportation, city and port officials on Saturday July 20.

The atmosphere was festive as members of the public were allowed to peer down from catwalks over the 80 foot deep launch pit that Bertha occupies. Some 14 months from now the primary tunneling is expected to be complete as Bertha travels two miles underground and a series of conveyor belts churn the dirt out and onto a barge. The $80 million machine is expected to move 36 feet a day.

Governor Inslee estimated the project has and will create 3900 jobs, adding "When I look down into this pit I see innovation, determination, I see teamwork, I see the symbol of a community that worked together to move us forward.

"Of 171 contracts, 135 or so are Washington State businesses putting people back to work,” he added, noting the project means something for the entire state, not just Seattle. "The 14,500 segments that line this tunnel are made in Pierce County. If you are an apple grower and want to get your apples to the port, if you make carbon fiber and you want to get your products to the port from Moses Lake, if you want to move wheat across the Cascades having a transportation system in this port is important to you.”

The SR 99 Tunnel has an expected completion date of late 2015, and shortly therafter the remaining portion of the existing Viaduct will be torn down and construction of a new Seattle waterfront will begin.

“Personally, I’m thrilled by this project as well because I look forward when one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the world is freed from the shadow of this viaduct, and I look forward to the day when we can enjoy our Ivar’s … clam chowder in the peace and quiet of the sunshine rather than the shadow of the viaduct,” Inslee said.

He also thanked and was joined by former Governor Christine Gregoire in releasing three oversized champagne bottles suspended over Bertha to christen the machine, just as they do with ships before their maiden voyage.

Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson, charged with guiding the tunnel project, said, “When I was in seventh grade, 12 years old, I made the decision to go into civil engineering and I made that decision because I wanted to build communities. Bertha is a great big massive tool in putting the Seattle citizens back in touch with their waterfront, so that you can understand the working ways of the port, the working ways of the salmon, and how everything interacts.”

“Best of luck to Bertha, drill well, drill at the right pace, and we’ll see you in 14 months,” Seattle City Council President Sally Clark said before the christening.

Bertha facts:
Height: 57.5 feet
Weight: 7,000 tons
Length: 326 feet
Namesake: Bertha is named after Seattle’s first female mayor Bertha Knight Landes, who served from 1926 to 1928. The machine’s name was chosen by students at Poulsbo Elementary, who were honored at the ceremony.

You can learn more about the project here:

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