WSDOT acknowledges there's a risk Bertha could be abandoned

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE - The state's transportation secretary Tuesday told KIRO 7 there's a risk the broken tunnel machine Bertha could be abandoned.   

In response to a question about that possibility, Lynn Peterson answered "I would hope not" and added "there's always going to be a risk of that happening.  We cannot take that off the table."

Peterson says she believes the tunnel will be finished but is still waiting for Seattle Tunnel Partners to provide detailed information about what's wrong with the $80 million machine.

The contractor has suggested the problem began with a steel well casing Bertha chewed through in December.

STP has asked for $125 million from the state to cover costs related to the breakdown.

Peterson has refused.

"There is no way within the contract that we would ever assume the taxpayers would pay for a mistake made by the contractor," Peterson said.

Peterson provided KIRO 7 documents she says prove the contractor knew about the pipe.

She also acknowledged the dispute over who pays for Bertha's troubles could end up in court.

Seattle Tunnel Partners has said it will begin digging a repair shaft for Bertha next month to access and replace the main bearing and the seals that protect it.

STP plans to resume tunneling in March 2015 and deliver the tunnel by November 2016, which is the date in the state's original request for bidders, but later than the contract date of January 2016.

Regarding the timeline, Peterson said "I remain skeptical that they can make November '16 until I have more information because right now the amount of information I have is just incomplete."