Bertha didn’t get back to work for long.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has put the brakes on the massive tunnel boring machine once again after a sinkhole formed.
According to King 5, Inslee announced on Thursday that the machine boring the tunnel for the new State Route 99 in Seattle had to be halted over safety concerns. A 35-foot-long, 20-foot-wide and 15-foot-deep sink hole developed two days prior just north of the access pit where Bertha was repaired following a break down two years ago and just started boring again Dec. 22 of last year. That’s less than a month of work after two years of no progress.
“I have great concerns regarding public safety if the contractor were to move forward without addressing the root causes of this sinkhole. We must continue to protect the public safety,” Inslee said.
Inslee ordered the contractor, the Seattle Tunnel Partners, to stop drilling while the safety of the tunnel and the surrounding areas are assessed.
The Washington State Department of Transportation said they told STP the stoppage was a “suspension for cause” as laid out in the contract.
“I share the Governor’s concern for public safety and we want to ensure that the contractor has the right protocols in place to proceed with their work safely,” Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said. “We are asking that the contractor complete root cause analysis and take the appropriate steps to ensure that incidents, such as the sinkhole near the repair pit, do not occur again. STP will not be allowed to resume tunneling until their analysis and work plans meet the satisfaction of our experts.”
Investigators haven’t yet determined what caused the sinkhole to form, but there don’t appear to be any other holes forming in the area. STP project manager Chris Dixon said that this section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunneling is supposed to be considered a testing phase anyway.
Not all government officials think it was necessary to completely halt Bertha’s drilling, however. Sen. Curtis Kink (R-Yakima) said that that the timing of the announcement was “a strange coincidence,” considering the stop work order came just after a press conference in which state Republican representatives questioned a state investigation into state inmates being mistakenly released.