State Senate committee chairman says bill to kill Bertha tunneling project is DOA

OLYMPIA -- Two Republican state senators proposed new legislation that would scrap the tunnel-boring project in Seattle and retrofit the Alaskan Way Viaduct instead.

Sens. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, introduced Senate Bill 5646, which aims to end the spending on the tunnel project.

But Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the plan is dead on arrival and he won’t allow the bill a hearing.

The bill’s architects vow they won’t stop their fight to bury Bertha.

“What’s not acceptable is to just pretend this giant white elephant boondoggle in the ground is working just swimmingly,” said Baumgartner, “No one believes that.”

For months the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine has been damaged and sitting idle underneath Seattle.

Setbacks have plagued the multibillion-dollar project. Baumgartner said enough is enough and that it’s time to pull the plug on Bertha.

“It risks potentially sucking up every transportation dollar in the state,” he said.

The bill would fill the hole dug by Bertha and instead retrofit the viaduct, all in an effort to stop what Baumgartner called wasteful spending.

“If the people speak loudly enough on this issue, I think we can get something done,” he said.

But King said the bill wouldn’t get a chance to see the light of day, adding that taxpayers need to have faith that Bertha will dig again.

“They’re within six feet of having that access hole drilled and ready to go. They have all of the parts here to rework the boring head and put it back into the ground,” said King. “There’s a lot of challenges here but we need to give them the opportunity to do this.”

King said the vision set forth by Washington State Department of Transportation and its contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, needs to have a chance to come to light.

“Those people that have their hair on fire, just put them out for a while and calm down,” said King. “Let the people work together and get this project done.”

Contractors said their next step is to replace Bertha’s damaged cutter head and try to get it digging again.