'I am seriously disappointed:' Inslee halts tunneling machine for now

SEATTLE - The Bertha tunneling project under downtown Seattle has once again been halted.  Governor Inslee on Thursday ordered the stoppage because of an unexplained 15-foot sinkhole he says threatens the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and potentially some downtown buildings.

“I am seriously disappointed,” Inslee said at a morning press conference.

There was a lot of hope when Bertha started up again last month after a two-year delay, but it didn’t take long for a big new problem to emerge.

A frustrated Inslee said the project must stop until the tunnel contractor can solve the sinkhole issue.

“This contractor did not do this type of verification work to verify soil conditions,” Inslee said.  “Frankly, I don’t understand that decision at all.”

In a strongly worded letter today from the Department of Transportation, the state blasted the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, for the recent problems.

“STP has failed to correct conditions unsafe for the Project personnel or the general public," the letter read in part.

Inslee is calling for an independent analysis to make sure no more sinkholes happen before Bertha moves under the viaduct and downtown buildings.

“We must continue to protect the public safety," he said.

After two years of delays and over $200 million in repair costs, the governor admitted no one has an alternative if the tunnel project has to be abandoned.

“That would take millions of dollars, and the state has not invested that for Plan B at this time,” Inslee said.

In Seattle, where tunnel work continues to disrupt the waterfront, Mayor Ed Murray expressed his frustration at the latest developments.

“Are we disappointed that it’s behind schedule?  Absolutely,” Murray said.

But the longtime tunnel supporter said challenges with a project this size are inevitable.

“Mega projects are very, very complex,” he said.