Seattle Tunneling Machine Has a Twitter Identity

December 11, 2012

The world’s largest-diameter tunneling machine now has a name, a face and a voice. Meet Bertha, the five-story-tall steel behemoth that will begin boring the SR 99 tunnel beneath downtown Seattle next summer.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) introduced Bertha via Twitter today, capping off a whirlwind week that included the installation of her signature component, the selection of her name by contest-winning students and her launch into the Twittersphere. She’s green and white and ready to dig – and chat.

“So nice to finally have an identity,” @BerthaDigsSR99 tweeted Monday. “Maybe now the folks at the passport agency will take my application.”

WSDOT officials are counting on that as Bertha’s journey to – and eventually beneath – Seattle draws closer.

Bertha’s name was chosen as part of a contest for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Proposed names had to be female and have significance to Washington state heritage, life, nature, transportation or engineering. Bertha was selected from more than 150 entries by a panel of judges that included Gov. Chris Gregoire and Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. Elected mayor of Seattle in 1926, Bertha Knight Landes was the first woman to lead a major American city.

“This project is about breaking new ground,” said Charley Royer, former mayor of Seattle and a contest judge. “Like the SR 99 tunneling machine, Bertha Knight Landes was one of a kind. It’s only fitting that the machine bears her name.”

The winning name was submitted by two entrants: Darryl Elves’ fifth-grade class at Poulsbo Elementary School and Elijah Beerbower, a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Hoquiam. All of the winners will be invited to Bertha’s dedication ceremony in Seattle next summer. They will also receive special t-shirts and the honor of having the name they chose painted on the side of the machine.

“The next generation of engineers is in our classrooms right now,” Hammond said. “Letting students name the machine and providing an opportunity to follow Bertha on Twitter is a great way to engage them in this historic project, which is an engineering marvel.”

Crews in Japan are putting the finishing touches on the machine. On Friday they installed its 57.5-foot-diameter cutterhead. Bertha will officially become the property of WSDOT’s contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, in late December. She’ll then be disassembled and loaded onto a ship scheduled to arrive in Seattle next spring. Tunneling will start next summer to the west of Seattle’s stadiums, where crews are currently building the massive pit down which the machine will begin its underground journey.