Tunnel contractor fires back at Washington officials

Tunnel contractor fires back at Washington officials
"Bertha," the massive tunnel boring machine, is expected to spend the next 14 months drilling a two-mile tunnel to replace the 60-year-old Alaskan Way Viaduct.
SEATTLE -- An official from the contracting team digging a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle has fired back after public criticism from the Washington state Transportation Department, saying the action could "adversely affect" project completion.

In a Wednesday letter to lawmakers, Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson said the state "had concerns about the machine's operations and critical systems since its launch on July 30, 2013."

The enormous machine ground to a halt on Dec. 6 after running into an 8-inch diameter pipe that had been left in the ground in 2002 after the department checked groundwater in the area.

Peterson said transportation officials have discussed Bertha's issues with the project's contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, numerous times since the machine began digging.

On Thursday, STP project manager Chris Dixon fired back in a letter to Peterson, saying WSDOT's recent actions "have the potential of seriously damaging this relationship and adversely affect WSDOT's and STP's ability to move forward together to deliver this project."

Dixon went on to say "STP is being put on trial in the court of public opinion without being given any opportunity to defend itself."

Dixon's letter to lawmakers and other state officials calls for a meeting to patch things up. He says "the cause of this stoppage" was a steel well casing left in place by the Transportation Department. The Times reports that the state has portrayed the steel pipe as only a partial reason for the stoppage.

The new Highway 99 tunnel is part of the project to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.