Seattle Tunnel Project: World-Record Drill

Discussion in 'Architecture & Engineering' started by Tiassa, Nov 24, 2012.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Seattle Tunnel Project: World-Record Drill

    One reminder about the volatility of local politics is the project to replace the Alaska Way Vidaduct running alongside Puget Sound in Seattle. The structure was critically damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, and locals needed eight years to figure out what to do about that.

    Nonetheless, they finally figured it out, and the answer is a $4.25 billion tunnel project through problematic ground.

    Key to the tunnel project is this behemoth:

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    Mike Lindblom of The Seattle Times explains:

    Workers in Osaka, Japan, are almost done assembling the world-record, 57.5-foot diameter drill that will churn beneath downtown Seattle next year, to form the Highway 99 tunnel.

    On Nov. 29, the giant cutter head will be hoisted and attached to the front of the cylindrical machine, longer than a football field. The team at Hitachi-Zosen will test the machine before the Washington State Department of Transportation formally accepts it at a ceremony in December.

    Construction of the drill is on schedule, said Chris Dixon, project director for Seattle Tunnel Partners.

    The drill will be dismantled into 41 sections and shipped to Seattle's Terminal 46 in March. Crews here will lower the parts into a huge pit in Sodo. Drilling of the two-mile tunnel is scheduled to start in June.

    The first few months will be the trickiest, as the machine crawls through weak fill soil, then beneath the old Alaskan Way Viaduct and Pioneer Square's brick buildings. Hundreds of concrete pillars are being poured to create buried walls on either side of the machine's path, to reduce vibration risks nearby.

    Breakthrough is scheduled at South Lake Union by October 2014, with traffic to use the four-lane toll tunnel by the start of 2016.

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    Top: The cutting head for the drill that will bore the tunnel.
    Bottom: The rotary joint will spin the cutting head at about 3 RPM.

    Setting aside the political malady this project has been, the Washington State Department of Transportation and its contractors are about to embark on one of the most ridiculously amazing construction projects ever witnessed. And the sad thing is if they manage to pull this off, they won't be doing anything to reduce traffic volume in the downtown grid.

    Still, this will be a feat—or disaster—to behold.


    Lindblom, Mike. "Work nearly complete on assembling Highway 99 tunnel drill". The Seattle Times. November 22, 2012. November 22, 2012.
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  3. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member


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    The red lines on this map indicate the Seattle fault line zone. A cataclysmic earthquake occurred along this fault line 1,100 years ago.

    So they are drilling right where two very distinct earthquake fault lines are lovated, I wonder who dreamed up this disaster that is going to happen one day?
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  5. youreyes amorphous ocean Valued Senior Member

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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    This and That

    No clue. Engineers for a private firm, I would imagine. But it's an interesting quandary; putting the road underground would free up a good amount of real estate in a very valuable location—that was clearly part of the decision.

    • • •​

    Yes, it's worth noting that at least some of the land they're drilling through will be artificial ground, built up out of the sea, to give the harbor a more regular strand.

    This has been a long disaster waiting to happen in Seattle. We'll see whether or not they pull it off, but as they've settled on this plan, we might as well root for success, since the alternative is the physical collapse of Pioneer Square, a district with much vital history in Seattle.

    But the whole process for selecting an alternative to the Alaska Way Viaduct was a political clusterdiddle. At one point, the Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp (D-43), favored a project he apparently had financial interest in—a new elevated highway that ran through a massive, high-rise retail complex.

    Additionally, we have a nasty habit up here of completing transportation projects and, upon opening, finding them five years behind capacity projections. They're obsolete from opening day. This tunnel project will be no different.
  8. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

    "In this process Miyamoto analyzed only the superstructure and the flexibility of the foundations, (but did not provide details on how this flexibility was modeled). He did not analyze the foundations themselves or the ability of the foundations to carry the imposed loads and deformations. Miyamoto reported on the general configuration of the damping system, but did not provide the engineering properties of the actual dampers used in the computer analysis.
    One significant feature of Miyamoto’s study was that a single viaduct section (three bays, four bents) was analyzed as a stand-alone structure, separate from other adjacent viaduct sections. That is, the interaction between adjacent viaduct sections was not modeled. The gaps between adjacent viaduct sections are approximately two inches wide. Thus, significant ground shaking will cause adjacent sections to pound against one another. This pounding will have a major influence on the behavior of the viaduct during an earthquake. Miyamoto addressed this behavior by proposing to install hydraulic “Shock Transmission Units” between adjacent viaduct sections, to limit or prevent pounding between sections. While the presence of such shock transmission units may limit or eliminate pounding between units, the forces developed by the shock transmission units themselves will have a major influence on the dynamic response of the viaduct. The influence of the shock transmission units on the seismic performance of the viaduct was not analyzed in Miyamoto’s study."

    This was from the PDF you linked to, interesting about what could happen isn't it?
  9. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Droid Army ... Well, Not Quite

    Droid Army ... Well, Not Quite

    There is, in the tunnel project, the question of what sits atop the dig zone:

    The Highway 99 tunnel team is deploying a $20 million army of engineers, gauges, wires and gnome-sized computers to serve as the last line of defense against a catastrophic soil collapse.

    Drilling will begin this summer on the two-mile tube below downtown Seattle, a few weeks delayed from the initial June 3 goal. The dig will start at Pioneer Square in shallow fill soil, gradually dropping to 250 feet below street level by the time it passes beneath the Pike Place Market en route to South Lake Union.

    The first building above the path is 1 Yesler Way, a brick triangle that’s home to Al Boccalino restaurant and Runberg Architecture Group.

    Technicians and electricians stopped by over several weeks to install on the roof an automated survey machine, which employees there call R2-D2, after the little droid in “Star Wars.” To check for motion, the machine continually pivots and bounces invisible laser beams off amber prisms that are mounted on the surrounding buildings.

    “I don’t think this building’s going anywhere, honestly,” said Runberg office manager Anne O’Rourke.


    Other nifty gadgets include around one hundred twenty extensometers, crack gauges, inclinometers, liquid level sensors, tiltmeters, deep survey markers, and satellite interferometric radar.

    A total of 200 buildings along the route will be equipped, and nearly 700 devices placed in the streets and sidewalks.

    But the primary defense will be to measure the soil inside the machine, as it’s being removed by conveyor belt, as well as the earth pressure against the rotating cutter head.

    A few years ago, soil-measuring errors caused a void that nearly swallowed a house above Sound Transit’s Beacon Hill Tunnel. Contractor Obayashi Corp. had to reimburse taxpayers $4 million to locate and fill gaps.

    It all sounds really impressive, but for some reason I'm still thinking it's not enough. Still, we can only hope for success, as the alternative is disastrous.


    Lindblom, Mike. "Gizmos may just keep 200 buildings standing in tunnel dig". The Seattle Times. February 1, 2013. February 2, 2013.
  10. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I know nothing about all this, but wonder if Seattle has heard many cities use "beltways" to avoid excessive traffic thru the city.
  11. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Don't think it would work here

    Doesn't really work with the topography 'round here. One of the things about this area is that you can't see a mile in a straight line before the next hill interrupts your view. And by the time we would have gotten around to the beltway theory, the city was too developed for so drastic a change.

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    I mean, I hear you, but I've no idea where they would have put a beltway. But the black line right by Elliott Bay, where the ferry lines run and you see the word "mud"? That black line is where the tunnel goes.

    And if you note the contours in Seattle proper, as well as to the east of Lake Washington, there really isn't a good place for a beltway. (For the record, I live just north of the map detail. I didn't even think to include that area when I cut the image from the 8.2 MB source.
  12. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

    Wouldn't it be easier to build upwards, making different levels of the existing freeway so they could double or truple what they are using?

    The bestter way to go would to be making another city close by that would be able to grow itself instead of trying to keep making a bad problem worse.
  13. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    (Insert Title Here)

    Well, that's kind of what was just about to fall over. There was a proposal derisively called "The Great Wall of Chopp", but, thankfully, few people other than House Speaker Frank Chopp took it seriously. Or is that former House Speaker, after the coup? Never mind, local distraction.

    There must be something about that suggestion I'm missing. Maybe I just need more coffee.


    Wikipedia. "Alaskan Way Viaduct". January 12, 2013. February 6, 2013.

    Barnett, Erica C. "Frank Chopp's Great Wall". The Stranger. November 27, 2008. February 6, 2013.
  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I was in Seattle for two days and three on small island in the Sound. My daughter worked for Delta Airlines and I got one free trip per year. The Baltimore/ Seattle flight had good movie and diner and I knew I should take a long trip to get full worth out of the ticket. I got on a ferry not knowing where it was going, just for a ride on the Sound. After only 30 minutes or so it briefly stopped at small dock of small island and blew its horn. I was told that was so any camper on the uninhibited island could get back on the boat. None did.

    On spur of the moment impulse, I got off. I had only my small back pack (with sturdy knife and some matches)*. For three day I lived on clams, black berries and boiled grass I recognized ("planton" of something like that it is called) until the ferry returned. - I almost got a snake to eat too, but it escaped. (I cooked in cans some camper had left and boiled Sound or tiny pond water to drink when 2 liters I had ran out. - I don´t remember which now.) I enjoyed "roughing it" all alone and knew that if I had too I could build a fire and hail some boat, but the Ferry did return, as I was told it would.

    * It was very well setup for light weight living from it - I had bummed around most of Europe a month at a time several years with it but I did use cheap hotels / hostiles when it looked like rain. (Wife & daughters spent most of summers with her mother in Oslo, so they are fluent in Norwegian too.)

    The thing I best remember about Seattle is the Aquarium. Hope it still exists. It had a circular spiral around it with water flowing down into the Sound. They dripped a few drops per minute of a unique chemical with strong smell into that flowing water and a few salmon they had raised to fingerlings size years earlier were now returning. Every 20 minutes or so one was jumping into the spiral from the sound and swimming up it to be easily taken and given to local hospitals, etc. They squeezed eggs from some of the females and sperm from some of the males into pans on the top floor to raise and then later released the fingerlings that would return 4 or 5 years later as full grown fish.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 6, 2013
  15. Buddha12 Valued Senior Member

    Instead of trying to bring more traffic into town and increase the road size or make new ones I was thinking to just start developing new office spaces somewhere else nearby so that another community could start growing there. That way some of the businesses could relocate to the new town to have a easier way to get to work by not having to go through all the traffic mess Seattle has. I just don't know if developing a new business center would work or not since I don't live there but think it would be a good idea if feasible. Say somewhere within 20 miles of Seattle.
  16. kwhilborn Banned Banned

    Whats wrong with picks and shovels. The dang thing would have been half dug by now and a few American people might have even been employed in the process.

    I know one concern was they were concerned about ground stability above this hole. Apparently they were digging 250 feet under some of the highrises. Is this safe? Is it 250 feet under the basements of these buildings which sometimes are dug down 100 feet for stability anyways. I think the Empire State building in New York had a basement 20-30M deep, and likely below sea level.

    I think that one the tunnel is built and reinforced there will be no problem, but this seems like a project doomed to either cause a catastrophe or run out of funding.

    What if they get another Earthquake during the dig?

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    If I was living in Seattle, or even an American I'd be upset about farming this project to Japan. Maybe the Seattle city Councillors all have sweet little condos in Japan now, nudge, wink. Likely not, but somebody should be explaining this.
  17. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    She's Alive! She's Alive!

    Bertha Lives!

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    The responses are hilarious:

    • You are alive! yea! (@CSBaileySeattle)

    • I dig that you dug, Bertha. (@rmr1581)

    • Still nice to stretch and shake your bons bons [sic] once in a while. (@swhobbit)

    • Au contraire, I think 36 inches of successful digging is something to celebrate when it comes to you, Bertha. (@lshin)

    • Does digging backwards really count? (@safesler)

    And so on.

    Okay, I suppose I should clarify: This is hilarious if you're from the Seattle area.

    And it's hilarious because our alternative is burning local officials at the stake.

    In 2010, Dominic Holden of The Stranger warned, "You're about to get fucked, Seattle."

    In July, 2013, our world record-setting drill, christened "Bertha", began her long penetration beneath Seattle.

    In December, 2013, Bertha stopped. Something apparently blocked her path. By the next month, Bertha had managed to start up again, digging all of four feet before overheating.

    In April of this year, we learned that Bertha would be off the job for eleven more months. It is also during this period that Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson acknowledged the nightmare:

    Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson went on Dori Monson's KIRO radio show and admitted that the 99 tunnel project might never actually get finished. Sure, that's just a "small possibility," Peterson said, but she wants to "make sure that everybody understands that it's a possibility."

    Here's how that admission came about. Monson asked Peterson if "there's a 100 percent chance that this tunnel project gets completed," to which Peterson answered, "You know what? No." She said WSDOT would "remain skeptical until we get more information, because we still have incomplete information from our contractor." Monson asked what it would take to shut down the project. Peterson's answer: "The fact that the machine is not actually going to be fixable." Is that a possibility, asked Monson? To which Peterson replied, "I'd say it's a small possibility. But we want to make sure that everybody understands that it's a possibility."

    So, everybody: Now you understand that there's a possibility that Bertha is not fixable and the whole project is completely fucked. Feel better now?

    That interview also produced one of the greatest quotes ever: "We have a project that is almost all complete, minus the tunnel."

    Yes, Secretary Peterson actually said that.

    And so the saga goes, and so we hear from Bertha: "I live!"


    Bertha. "I recently dug three feet as part of a systems check". Twitter. September 8, 2014. September 9, 2014.

    Holden, Dominic. "What Could Possibly Go Wrong". The Stranger. July 8, 2010. September 9, 2014.

    Knicely, John. "Tunnel boring machine 'Bertha' begins digging". KIRO. July 30, 2013. September 9, 2014.

    Lindblom, Mike. "Highway 99 tunnel mystery may take drill rigs or divers to solve". The Seattle Times. December 9, 2013. September 9, 2014.

    —————. "After digging 4 feet, Bertha stopped again, now with a fever". The Seattle Times. Januar 31, 2014.. September 9, 2014.

    —————. "Bertha won’t dig until at least March". The Seattle Times. April 21, 2014. September 9, 2014.

    Minard, Anna. "Today in Tunnel News: Our State Transportation Secretary Admits the Tunnel Might Never Get Finished At All". Slog. April 29, 2014. September 9, 2014.

    See Also:

    Minard, Anna. "Tunneling Machine Moves Three Feet, No One Rejoices". Slog. September 9, 2014. September 9, 2014.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2014
  18. Kittamaru Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adieu, Sciforums. Valued Senior Member

    SO if I understand it right... some grit got into the main bearing,and this was part of what caused the overheating?

    That's like having an assault rifle that jams whenever sand gets in it and deploying it to a desert combat zone... I mean, who would really use... that... ...

    OH... wait... we do...

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  19. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    No Place for Disgrace

    Something like that. Something about coolant, too, but that might have been when the thing ran into the well casing, and nobody could tell what was going on. But, basically, I'm wondering who at Hitachi Zosen will be kneeling in disgrace.

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    This is a disaster. The best the manufacturer can hope for is to blame the problem on the people who reassembled the forty-one pieces the drill was split into in order to ship it across the Pacific.

    (Speaking of, D'oh! I got so caught up waxing nostalgic about F&J that I forgot the helpful (sort of) image file, from one or another of Lindblom's articles.)

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    Last edited: Sep 9, 2014
  20. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    Maybe they should get a second machine and start from the other end, drilling towards Bertha. That's the usual way. Work from both ends towards the middle.
  21. Kittamaru Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adieu, Sciforums. Valued Senior Member

    Walter, the problem is is that, in several MONTHS, it has moved less than 135 FEET total.
  22. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Brief Notes

    Well, I'll throw two competing factors onto the table about a second drill:

    • At $80m a pop, why not?

    • Given the scale of this project, and the nature of what they're drilling through, it seems unwise; they're already worried about the impact of one drill on the city above.​

    And then, yes, there is the question of whether a second drill would have done any better. The idea of two drills with integrity troubles and fatal overheating? There really would be bodies in the wake of that disaster, though they'd probably be hidden away somewhere. It's almost a comic strip waiting to happen. Well, it couldn't be a manga because the plot is too unreal. I mean, just to start with the premise of two massive drills ... I mean, you'd have to be boring mile-wide holes in the moon, or something ....

    Hey ....

    Never mind. Still, though, this is about real estate. Seattle had three choices: a new elevated freeway, a tunnel, or the "surface option". The latter was the best idea, and had potential for including a county or regional mass transit hub. But think of all the office and condo space you could build there. That is why we're drilling.

    Fun story, true detail: So, cities, county, and state all get into a fight about the SR520 floating bridge across Lake Washington. The plan is finally agreed upon. And then they realize they cut off local access where the bridge meets the land, and oh, right, they also forgot to include the transit lanes. Imagine that. Whoops, what a silly accident.

    The rest of that story is an adventure in engineering sickness, too. It just pales to the scale of the Bertha Bust.

    That phrase isn't going to work, is it?

    I learned something today. They named the drill Bertha in honor of Seattle's first female mayor: Bertha Knight Landes; she served as acting mayor in 1924, when her predecessor went to the Democratic National Convention. And she fired the police chief. And then Mayor Brown reinstated him. So she ran for mayor. And won. 1926-1928. Defeated in re-election campaign because, apparently, Seattle wanted a man in charge.

    And now, this.
  23. DwayneD.L.Rabon Registered Senior Member

    Well, being from seattle, and a native i would say that the water front is much out of line with the historic vision that was put in place for the area, their should be no freeway or highway in the area, it should actually be a elevated farmers market and park in the original design, the original design sparked some how the concept of a elevated highway,along with planning the original highway which was replaced by federal highway.

    so then understand seattle history, and the design of the city the area on the waterfront should have been a elevated public or state park, that allowed citizens of the city to enjoy the nice view of puget sound and the cascade mountains, as it stands social nature of the city has become commerical, the social human public concept has been thrown out as of current, that means no street benches, no hand rails on step hills, no public bathrooms ect...

    Keep in mind what i said the original seattle order, the emerald city is the one where the water front has a state of the art elevated park, with parking in the south of the city near the stadium on down to spokane street, where people catch a rail car after parking into the downtown city. this original view started way back when the pike place market was built and was going to exspand, as with the trolly system. seattle would look and feel so much better if they would have stayed along the lines of the vision for the city as opposed to the current lets just do something.


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