By Maria L. La Ganga, December 23, 2014
Michael Petrone, general manager of J&M Cafe in Seattle's Pioneer
Square, points out a widening crack in the historic pub's basement.
Some say the pubs of Pioneer Square are haunted, that apparitions
appear mysteriously in photos, that guests feel a strong hand pushing
them down stairs, that ghosts lurk within some of the century-old brick
These days, the historic square's saloons are possessed
by a different kind of spirit — not just the 80-proof kind. These days,
the walls themselves are moving. So is the ground beneath them.
blames Bertha, a 7,000-ton drilling device — as long as a football
field, as tall as a five-story building — plagued by a curse of her own.
arrived with great fanfare in July 2013, designed to bore a 2-mile
tunnel beneath Seattle's downtown and allow this graceful city to tear
down a clunky, 1950s-era double-decker highway that separates
skyscrapers from scenic Puget Sound.
massive machine broke down a year ago and has barely moved since.
Efforts to fix it have been peppered with problems, the latest of which
are the talk of the slightly scruffy historic core. Parts of Pioneer
Square have sunk. Walls have split. Concerns have grown.
Petrone presides over the J&M Cafe and Merchant's Cafe and Saloon,
troubled buildings at the beginning and end of the Pioneer Square
Haunted Pub Tour. Yes, they're about 100 years old, but Petrone insists
their problems are of much more recent vintage.
have a lot of cracks in the basement," Petrone said on a rainy Thursday
at the J&M. "The bigger ones have gotten bigger. And some of the
smaller ones have gotten smaller because of the shifting.... We're in
the armpit of Seattle here. What happens when they get another half mile
down to the Four Seasons?"
beamed his flashlight along the pub's dank basement wall, illuminating a
nearly inch-wide crack that wanders down the old plaster. A sensor
spans the dark line, part of an effort to monitor earth settling and
building shifts in the blocks along the snake-bit tunnel's path.
the doors are stuck," Petrone said as he meandered below ground,
pointing out canted floors and damp spots. "The building is bending and
buckling. The floor was level a year ago.... There was never water
coming in the basement. Now it's coming in constantly."
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Alaskan Way Viaduct Project was envisioned as a means to move traffic
underground, demolish a seismically unsound elevated roadway and
revitalize Seattle's waterfront. Bertha was central to the ambitious
tunnel borer is named for Bertha Knight Landes, who was elected mayor
here in 1926 and was the first woman to lead a major American city. It
is unclear at this point whether she would appreciate the honor.
Tunnel Partners is the $3-billion project's contractor. In a lengthy,
online FAQ, the state Department of Transportation gave a spare and
optimistic explanation for its problems:
"In December 2013,
Seattle Tunnel Partners stopped tunneling approximately 1,000 feet into
the tunnel drive after experiencing increased temperatures in the
machine. While investigating the cause of the high temperature readings,
Seattle Tunnel Partners discovered damage to the machine's seal systems
and contamination within the main bearing."
The company "plans to
make repairs and enhancements to the machine and resume tunneling in
March 2015," the explanation continued. "The tunnel is scheduled to open
to drivers in 2016."
Um, not so fast.
a briefing last week to the City Council on Bertha's bothers, Lynn
Peterson, state transportation secretary, disabused the Emerald City of
any such notion: "Neither myself nor anyone in the industry can provide
you with a general timeline for completion."
On Monday, Peterson's
agency released Seattle Tunnel Partners' latest shot in the dark:
Tunneling won't resume until late April, and the project will open to
traffic in August — 2017.
Many things have gotten in Bertha's way:
A "mystery object" that turned out to be a simple steel pipe. A buried
deposit of shells first thought to be left by Native Americans was
really the detritus of white 19th century inhabitants. And now the
uneven settling of Pioneer Square.
Tunnel Partners has been pumping groundwater from the area to enable
workers to dig an access pit so they can get to the stalled drill and
fix it. The Department of Transportation and the partnership are trying
to figure out whether that groundwater pumping destabilized the area,
causing the earth to settle more than an inch in some places and the
viaduct to sink too.
Inspectors have surveyed about 50 buildings
in the neighborhood and are continuing to monitor for movement.
Excavation was stopped briefly and has since resumed.
Tunnel Partners refused to comment on Bertha's troubles, instead sending
an inquiry to a Transportation Department spokeswoman, who answered
questions on the state's behalf but not for the contractor.
officials say the sinking has largely stopped and that inspectors have
found minor, recent cosmetic damage in "a handful" of the Pioneer Square
Surveyors continue to monitor the area. In its Monday
update, the Department of Transportation said that some of the early
measurements were inaccurate and would be corrected. "We anticipate the
adjustment will decrease the previously reported amount of settlement,"
department officials said in a statement.
But the neighborhood
remains on edge, and many quibble with the official assessments. As has
been the case for the last year, there are more questions about Bertha
than there are answers.
"We are trying to decide if we can move
forward with the work," state tunnel project manager Todd Trepanier told
the City Council. "It's very important to analyze what are the impacts
of the settlement. That's the next piece ... that is very important.
are two pieces of information that we need to know in real time,"
Trepanier continued. "What is the impact to the viaduct, and what is the
impact to property? And so we have those efforts underway."