Image via WSDOT on Flickr.

At today's tunnel briefing—one of dozens of near-daily telephone briefings WSDOT has been holding since the tunnel-boring machine ground to a halt in early December—WSDOT's deputy tunnel project manager, Matt Preedy, answered questions about Hitachi did on the tunnel machine's cutter head in Japan, and the status of Hitachi's negotiations with Seattle Tunnel Partners, the tunnel contracting consortium, about who will pay to repair the machine's broken bearing seals. The Seattle Times has a good illustration of the complex inner workings of the machine here.

Preedy said the test in Japan, known as a cutterhead rotational test, looked only at whether the cutterhead could rotate properly while the seals remained intact. "They heard a noise, it was a noise that they should not have heard, and they determined that the seal ring [which protects the bearing that helps turn the cutterhead] city'shad a clearance problem that had caused some damage," Preedy said.

However, he said, the tunnel machine manufacturers have no way of testing how the machine will perform under actual tunneling circumstances. "The only way to test it under a live load is to start actually mining," Preedy said. 

As for negotiations between Hitachi and STP—who are, STP project manager Chris Dixon said next week, currently discussing which entity will be responsible for paying for repairs to the damaged bearings—Preedy could offer only, "We have received no information from STP as to the status of their negotiations with Hitachi." 

Today's briefing started out unusually, with Preedy chastising reporters for, in his words, failing to "reach out" to WSDOT to ask questions about, say, how to interpret internal agency documents.

Specifically, he singled out a story that ran yesterday on KOMO that suggested that there were "problems in coordination out at the dig site," that a contractor was unable to find critical information when compiling reports on the work, and that Bertha has never been on schedule. 

Preedy claimed KOMO had misinterpreted the documents—misreading a graph depicting the tunnel machine's progress before it stopped, and referring to a "secretary" who was briefly unable to locate some information as a tunnel "contractor," implying that her inability to find documents suggested widespread, high-level confusion about the project. 

"We're not trying to hide anything, we're not trying to shape your story—we just want to provide some context," Preedy said. Since we haven't seen the documents KOMO has, we're going to stay out of this one, except to point out that the "contractor" KOMO referred to, Judy Beebe, is indeed an administrative assistant.

Finally, one interesting point of trivia from today's discussion: One reporter asked Preedy what would happen to the spare bearing—a massive, $5 million component that's currently warehoused in Osaka, Japan—if the tunnel team doesn't end up needing to replace the entire bearing. "It would become the property of STP, and they could do whatever they want to do with that," Preedy said cryptically.

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