Something’s in the way: Seattle tunnel path blocked

What has stopped the drill bit is unknown. Engineers have to investigate. Don’t panic, yet.

The mystery continues: What is blocking tunneling machine under Seattle.

The Transportation Department and contractors building a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle are trying to identify the mystery object that has blocked their tunnel boring machine.

The machine called Bertha ran into something Friday and was shut down Saturday about 1,000 feet from the start. The $80 million machine is designed to break up boulders, so there’s speculation about what it hit.

WSDOT says the latest trouble started Friday when Bertha’s five-story tall cutter head felt some resistance, then stopped. WSDOT says engineers with Seattle Tunnel Partners, the company in charge of building the viaduct replacement tunnel, have been consulting with other experts to identify the obstruction – whether it’s natural or manmade.

They say Bertha wasn’t damaged in any way. They’re keeping her idle until they decide whether crews need to dig the obstruction out from above or if Bertha can charge through it.

This is the latest pause in a project that’s had a few hurdles. The area contains fill so the blockage could be a boulder transported by glaciers in the past. It could also be a buried train car or boat though that is unlikely. Previous surveys did not identify anything large and metal buried here.

They may be too deep to use conventional remote sensing equipment to try to ascertain how big it is. But, these stories, they tend to make the monster fans a bit worried…

More – Heavy-duty tools lined up to get Bertha back on track | Local News | The Seattle Times.

Drano won’t work to unclog this blockage. Hopefully crews will know what it is by tomorrow.

(13-Dec-2013) They are drilling wells to lower groundwater pressure (by pumping the water out) so they can send people in to the tunnel to inspect the machine. Gee, robots would come in handy right now!

(20-Dec-2013) Covered by the NYTimes. Still no word but people are hoping for something more spectacular than a boulder. Under Seattle, a Big Object Blocks Bertha. What Is It? –

Look at the size of this tunnel! Is too deep to just run down and have a look.

Look at the size of this tunnel! Is too deep to just run down and have a look.

  18 comments for “Something’s in the way: Seattle tunnel path blocked

  1. lawn
    December 12, 2013 at 4:53 PM


  2. December 12, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    Read a French entertainment site about a new Godzilla film. Maybe i mistranslated again & it’s a documentary.

  3. Sam
    December 12, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Sounds like the old British Movie
    “Five Million Years to Earth” It was found in the subway too–KN6ZSeE

  4. cwart
    December 12, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    One word…. Reptilicus.

  5. Chris
    December 12, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    A few years ago I read a steampunk book that took place in a walled off part of downtown Seattle after a drilling machine released some kind of gas that turned people into zombies. That is kind of what I remembered. It was not really a good book, especially since one would expect a local author to not totally muck up the geography.

  6. cplamb
    December 12, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    The article says, “was stopped after unanticipated and increasing resistance was experienced, possibly due to an obstruction.” OK, so they aren’t even sure it is an obstruction. It could be a bad cutting surface or binding bearing. The diagram with the article shows that it stopped well below the fill layers facing, amongst other things, “Stiff clays with scattered boulders, cobbles and trace of sand.” Looking at the diagram I’m guessing they expected only clay, silt, sand, and gravel and ran into a big rock. I have the same problem when I dig in my garden.

  7. spookyparadigm
    December 12, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Wow, that trailer actually makes the movie look much worse than it is. The whole film is on youtube somewhere (EDIT: It now appears to be there in pieces, not the whole as it once was), as is the original TV miniseries, which I have not yet watched because it is ridiculously long but apparently even better than the Hammer version.

  8. spookyparadigm
    December 12, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    I haven’t read it, but the novel (it’s a YA novel) is Boneshaker

  9. spookyparadigm
    December 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    At least I thought it was supposed to be YA. Hmm.

  10. Sam
    December 12, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    It scared me when I was a kid many many years ago lol
    here’s a good review

  11. spookyparadigm
    December 12, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    The bit at the end when he mentions Tobe Hooper is a reference to _Lifeforce_ which does indeed borrow heavily (more in imagery than in plot) from _Quatermass and the Pit_. There is an apocalyptic London under attack from cosmic horrors that are the inspiration for traditional villains (vampires instead of devils in this case), and a number of visual cues in that part of the film that are reminiscent.

    Of course, both have something of an archaeological opening, but then so do about half of non-slasher horror movies, as do many science fiction movies.

  12. busterggi
    December 12, 2013 at 8:14 PM

    Have you seen the original Danish version? The flying scenes are accompanied by slide whistles but o/w its much (?) better than the US release.

  13. Chris
    December 12, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    It did not seem YA to me. I did not care much for it, but that may be due to the factual historical and geography errors. Things like that tend to bug me. Much like another novel where there was a large redwood tree just a couple of hours away from New York City.

  14. ZombyWoof
    December 13, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    Yes, I remember that movie.

  15. Brian
    December 13, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    “They may be too deep to use conventional remote sensing equipment to try to ascertain how big it is.”

    They need to try those remote viewers the CIA has hidden away *gets walloped* 😀

    Could it be something like heavy ore bearing rock, or there’s a composition of the stuff they are drilling thru that is just really solidly packed. I won’t say UFO till they discover it. Then, when it is opened, and all humanity is enslaved… I shall take my place among them, and *gets slapped* Ow. 😀

  16. December 13, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    OH MY GOSH!!! I was wondering why this story sounded so familiar.

  17. December 13, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    I’ll be bold and be on topic. These boring machines have cutting heads designed for the material they are tunnelling through. So, if it’s optimized for hard stone like granite, clay or some other material can bring it to a halt. So any surprise can put a huge delay on things.

  18. December 13, 2013 at 11:01 PM

    I recall the Big Dig in Boston that had huge financial costs. After it was made and traffic was running, a large plate from the ceiling fell and killed someone driving a car, due to the wrong adhesive being used to affix it to the ceiling.

    Even with only knowing what’s in this post, I see dollar signs in the eyes of the big contracting companies that are doing this.

    Also, I read some of Boneshaker, as it was supposed to be “good Steampunk” (I like the idea of the genre, but I didn’t like the allegedly seminal work “The Difference Engine”). After a few chapter I read a review online – the “machine” in the first chapter never returns in the book, so I stopped reading. These stories need some Real Machine Action! I’ll have to write my own…

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