On April 4, 2017, the largest earth-pressure-balance tunnel boring machine (TBM) ever built finally completed its 2.7-km (1.7-mile) journey beneath Seattle, WA, nearly four years after it began boring the SR-99 tunnel that will eventually replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.
By now, readers of this publication are familiar with the ordeal that began on Dec. 6, 2016, when the machine overheated and shut down. Until that point, the TBM, named Bertha, had grabbed headlines for being the largest in the world with a 17-m (57.6-ft) diameter face. But after the incident that stopped the progress, the headlines suddenly stopped focusing on the engineering marvel of the tunnel project and began asking what went wrong. Just 300 m (1,000 ft) into the tunneling journey the machine was stuck, unable to move forward and impossible to retract.