Cascadia Center, a Seattle think tank and longtime advocate of the Highway 99 tunnel, is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to help save parts of Bertha for public display.
The Cascadia Center, a Seattle think tank that had long promoted a deep-bore Highway 99 tunnel, is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to save pieces of boring machine Bertha.
In a letter sent Monday, the center said the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) or the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park would be suitable locations to display at least some of the 57-foot diameter cutterhead that finished drilling through downtown Seattle on April 4.
While many citizens share that notion, this letter is especially pertinent. A decade ago, the Cascadia Center hosted a pro-tunnel forum for local politicians, and played matchmaker between state leaders and leaders of the Underground Construction Association.
Hitachi Zosen, which built and owns the machine, has said in interviews that it’s willing to consider leaving pieces behind for artistic or historic displays. Otherwise, most of the steel front end is expected to be melted down and recycled.
Contractors are in the midst of carving away pieces, to be lifted out by crane from Bertha’s disassembly pit near Seattle Center. They must be trimmed to 20 tons or less to be trucked on city streets.
Among other problems is convincing the state, a museum or donor to spend thousands of dollars erecting a crane that can lift parts off a truck and position them in a park.
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“The governor will look at potential proposals to keep part of Bertha in the state, but hasn’t made any commitments one way or another,” said Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Inslee.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says there are no state funds allocated to preserving machine parts, which are the property of contractors.
Ivar’s President Bob Donegan, a longtime supporter of the tunnel, said he has made phone calls looking for someone to store the pieces temporarily, and the Port of Seattle volunteered to do so.
“Taking pieces of her head, cut into pizza slices, and turning them into children’s playthings or pieces of art in Seattle, makes all the sense in the world to me,” he said Monday morning.
MOHAI and the Manufacturing Industrial Council have shown interest in an exhibit, Donegan said. In addition, a Stonehenge-like array of cutter pieces has been proposed by landscape architect Guy Michaelsen and artist John Fleming in Seattle Magazine.
The new Highway 99 tunnel is scheduled to open in early 2019, three years late, while several parties argue over $480 million in potential cost overruns.
Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center, wrote to the governor, MOHAI and the art museum: “We are pleased that after some early challenges, she has successfully accomplished her purpose. Bertha represents the finest in worldwide tunneling technology while reflective of Washington state’s pioneer spirit in constructing railroad tunnels through the Cascades and in downtown Seattle, as well as today’s ongoing transit tunneling projects.”
Former Gov. Chris Gregoire made the controversial decision in early 2009, later approved by the Legislature, to build a $2 billion tunnel as part of a $3.2 billion replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Compared with a shallow, cut-and-cover tunnel, a bored tube reduced the disruption to waterfront business, but some citizens preferred a new elevated highway, a non-highway “surface-transit” concept, or fixing the old viaduct.
Other pieces of infrastructure have endured as Seattle art, such as the drawspan leaves of the old South Park Bridge, which now sit outside the city’s south refuse-transfer station.