Seattle city leaders question safety of viaduct; say they've lost faith in WSDOT

SEATTLE -- Bertha can’t seem to catch a break.

The world’s largest tunneling machine now faces a new problem, as engineers say the soil around the project has been settling, causing many to question the structural integrity of the pit and surrounding structures, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The $2 billion tunnel machine that is supposed to replace the viaduct is already a year behind schedule. Bertha came to a screeching stop about a 1000 feet into the dig because of damage.

Now, the soil around Bertha’s access pit is sinking. In the last month, the soil has dipped about an inch in some places around the viaduct.

WSDOT told council members that the sinking coincides with the de-watering necessary to access and fix Bertha underground. WSDOT says they have stopped all repair work on the tunneling machine until further analysis can be done on the soil settlement.

State engineers are analyzing the data to make sure the pit, viaduct and nearby buildings are secure.

All this talk of settling and security has city leaders frustrated, with some saying they have lost faith in Washington State Department of Transportation.

“We were very dismayed, very disappointed that we did not know about this sooner,” Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden said.

They say WSDOT and its contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners failed to alert them.

“The faith has been shaken,” councilmember Mike O’Brien said.

On Monday, transportation officials blamed an email glitch for the late notification.

“There was that glitch, we apologize for that,” Todd Trepanier said.

But WSDOT emphasized the viaduct itself is safe but city leaders still have doubts.

“I am not feeling confident that I am getting information that I need whether it’s safe or not I don’t know,” O’Brien said.

That’s the last thing Pioneer Square workers and residents want to hear.

“It would really be a fiasco if they had to shut down the viaduct because of this,” Kevin McCluskey said.

But who and how will they determine the safety of the viaduct is still the biggest concern for city leaders.

“They have not articulated where they have drawn that line yet and what is safe for WSDOT is different for SDOT,” O’Brien said.

Going forward one thing is clear, the December 2015 tunnel opening is in jeopardy.

“It’s not clear to me that we have the funding or engineering to complete the project,” Obrien said.