Dig to reach 'Bertha' halted after discovery of possible 'cultural materials' in pit

SEATTLE -- The effort to reach and  repair the Bertha tunneling machine on Seattle's waterfront was halted Thursday after possible "cultural materials" were found in the excavation pit, the Washington Department of Transportation said.

"WSDOT archaeologists monitoring the access pit excavation observed a deposit containing shell material that requires further evaluation and may indicate the presence of cultural materials," WSDOT said on its website. "No artifacts or human remains were found.

"WSDOT has very strict protocols when archeological material is discovered and those protocols were followed today," it said.

"Excavation activities in the access pit have stopped and we are now coordinating with the Federal Highway Administration and tribal governments, and the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation to determine the next steps."

On Monday, the contractor on the multibillion-dollar project, Seattle Tunnel Partners, began digging a circular pt that crews will use to access and repair Bertha, which has been stalled underground since last December.

Bertha is supposed to dig a tunnel under Seattle's waterfront that will replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct. But it made little headway before one of the seals on the cutter head apparently broke underground. Crews intend to dig a pit to reach Bertha's cutter head to repair it.