Two control-room consoles and four cutting pieces from retired tunnel-boring machine Bertha will be displayed someday at the Museum of History & Industry.
Someday, your kids can imagine themselves at the helm of tunnel-boring machine Bertha while visiting the Museum of History & Industry.
The museum accepted a gift of two control-room consoles Friday from Hitachi Zosen, which built the world-record cylindrical excavator.
MOHAI also trucked away a 1,000-pound pre-cutting disc, one of dozens that were fastened to the spinning cutterhead of the retired machine. Like a farmer’s disc trailer, these blades broke the surface so smaller 75-pound bits could follow and crumble the dirt.
David Unger, director of MOHAI’s curatorial services, says the Highway 99 tunnel ranks in Seattle history with the flattening of Denny Hill, straightening the Duwamish River, filling the Elliott Bay shoreline or carving the Interstate 5 corridor.
Though Bertha’s excavation was concealed underground, it’s inextricably linked to the coming demise of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, built in 1953.
“It feels like the viaduct has always been there, but in the ’50s the waterfront looked completely different,” Unger said. “It’s shaped how people travel, shaped where people live, shaped how people made money.”
The job reshaped politics, too. The 2009 decision by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature to replace the elevated highway launched disputes about whether or how Seattle should discourage private vehicles, as congestion and global temperatures increase. Urban planner Cary Moon, who gained local fame opposing the tunnel, is running for mayor, and currently in second place behind former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan in this month’s primary vote counts.
And lawsuits persist over whether contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners can make the state or insurers cover some $600 million in overruns for the $2.1 billion tunnel.
To Unger, the control room holds special value.
“It’s a place people went to work every day. It’s where the technicians were. They’re steering ever so slowly, the tolerances are incredible for the whole tunnel. This was the spot all this was happening. So we love the control panel, as a piece at human scale.”
MOHAI is considering how to illuminate buttons, gauges and graphics, where operators monitored the devices’ 56 hydraulic thrusters, the temperature, seal integrity around the axle bearing and nozzles that sprayed soil-softening slurries.
Friday morning, as a moving crew loaded the parts, Shinji Ogaki, project manager for Hitachi Zosen, asked Unger to please call for advice if MOHAI chooses to light up the panels. Ogaki hopes people envision a device hard at work.
“If someone comes to see the control panel, 000000 is not so good,” he said.
An opening date for the exhibit isn’t determined yet.
Hitachi Zosen also donated two of the used 75-pound prism-shaped cutting bits, and one new bit — to show the erosion from abrasive sand and glacial till.
Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle is warehousing a few 20-ton remnants of the giant spokes in the 630-ton cutterhead, and a triangular center piece nicknamed the fishtail. Those might be mounted outdoors at a port park or maritime terminal.
MOHAI didn’t ask for spoke artifacts. Its pine floor can’t withstand the weight, said Unger. The adjacent Lake Union Park is city property.
At 57 feet, 4 inches diameter, Bertha was the world’s largest boring machine when it launched in Sodo on July 30, 2013. It overheated and stalled four months later. Following a two-year repair effort, it ran smoothly beneath downtown and reached daylight near Seattle Center on April 4, 2017. The 330-foot-long device is now being dismantled.
Meanwhile, a slightly wider drill by rival Herrenknecht tunneled the short entrance for a highway to Hong Kong’s airport in 2015.
Seattle’s tolled, four-lane tunnel is scheduled to open for traffic in early 2019, followed by a tricky nine-month demolition of the viaduct. The Washington State Department of Transportation just released a preview video and plans a demolition open house next Thursday, from 5 to 8 p.m. at 1400 Western Ave.