In a situation that sounds eerily reminiscent of horror-themed sci-fi movie, the world’s largest tunneling apparatus has been delayed by a mystery item known only at “The Object.”
Bertha is the biggest subterranean drill, currently boring a tunnel beneath the streets of Seattle. A cigar-shaped behemoth, 300 feet long and more than five stories tall, you wouldn’t think there is much that could get in her way. In fact, this beast was designed so that nothing would stop the progress, but low and behold something has.
On December 6, the 20-person team and this engineering marvel ran smack into something strange, and what’s stranger still is that they have no idea what it actually is. Even weeks after the first encounter, the true nature of the Object is unknown. Right now the atmospheric pressure in the dig site don’t allow safe access to the drill head. Every person who goes down there would have to do a turn in a decompression chamber like a scuba diver. Chris Dixon, the project manager at Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractors, said, “What we’re focusing on now is creating conditions that will allow us to enter the chamber behind the cutter head and see what the situation is.”
Though Dixon stated that he expects the blockage to be nothing more than one hell of a big boulder, likely deposited by the glaciers that covered the region in the ice age more than 17,000 years ago, the unknown nature of the disturbance has sparked the public imagination. After all, mysteries are fun and exciting.
Some residents believe that the Object could be a piece of old Seattle that has settled into the muck in the rush to build the city in the 1800s. There is some substance to these claims. An entire layer of the city lies preserved beneath Pioneer Square, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and the modern downtown was essentially built on top of these ruins. The area where Bertha encountered the blockage is also the shallowest part of the two-mile tunnel, only 45-feet below the surface. Others hope it could be a throwback to the 1890s Klondike gold rush, or perhaps even remnants from Seattle’s brisk Prohibition era bootlegging history.
I have a friend who claims the Object is obviously the ship from Predator 2, and while I doubt that, it’s fun to imagine that maybe we’ll when we clear the area and get a good look we’ll discover something otherworldly. How many times have movies or novels started out with a concept just like this? Maybe this will turn out to be something out a Michael Crichton novel, or some bit of alien tech left here by visitors long ago. Maybe it’s the tip of one of those Predator pyramids like they found under Antarctica in Alien vs. Predator.
Bertha is digging out a tunnel beneath downtown Seattle to replace the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct that runs along the waterfront. Constructed in 1953, the double-decker section of State Route 99 offers spectacular scenery. With the downtown core on one side, the elevated section of highway overlooks Eliot Bay on the other. On a clear day you can even see Mt. Rainer looming to the South. While beautiful, and one of my favorite views in the city, the Viaduct is also a seismic death trap. There’s been some retrofitting done, but when the Big One that experts have been predicting for years finally hits, the structure is going to dissolve like wet dust.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss the Viaduct, and driving through the tunnel will terrify me—I’ve seen too many movies like Daylight to ever feel entirely safe underground—but the finished product should be an impressive spectacle to gawk at. If nothing else, Bertha is impressive.