The Works

Seattle’s Bertha Comes Up for Air and Repairs

A section of the Seattle boring machine known as “Bertha” is visible as the piece is lifted from underground at the end of March. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Bertha, Unstuck, Returns to Its Maker for Repairs
The sad saga of “Bertha,” the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine, reached a turning point at the end of March when crews finally raised its cutting face to the surface on the Seattle waterfront.

The machine, built to dig a new tunnel to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct, stopped operating in December 2013, just four months and 1,000 feet into its task of digging out a two-mile-long, double-deck tunnel 57 feet in diameter. Efforts to repair the cutter onsite proved futile.

The Seattle Times reports that a defective bearing that caused the shutdown is already being replaced. The rest of the assembly is being partly disassembled to replace damaged seals and other parts. The plan is to resume boring in August.

The Times reports that Bertha’s raising proceeded just about flawlessly and on schedule, in contrast to the project as a whole, which is now set to be finished in 2017, about two years behind schedule. A related editorial in the Times notes that sufficient funds are available to complete the project, now slated to cost $3.1 billion.

Dubai Greenlights Metro Extension for Expo 2020
The Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai will become the first Middle Eastern and Arab nation to host a world’s fair when it holds Expo 2020 five years hence. The government this week gave the go-ahead to the new metro extension that will take visitors from around the world to the site.

The International Railway Journal reports on the approval for Route 2020, a 15-km, seven-station extension of the Dubai Metro Red Line from Nakheel Tower and Harbour station to the Expo 2020 site.

The line will run mostly on an elevated structure, but 4 km of it will run in a tunnel that will also contain two of the stations. The line will serve several densely populated areas, including Discovery Gardens, Dubai Investment Park, Furjan and Jumeirah Golf Estates, en route to the Expo site. An article in the Gulf News states the line will also connect with a rail line being built to the city’s international airport and that the extension will also include an eighth station that will not be placed in service when the line opens.

The metro extension is the centerpiece of the Roads and Transport Authority’s plans for a network of new roads and transit lines to carry an expected 25 million visitors to the international exposition. The RTA will request bids for work on the project beginning in July.

South Pasadena Residents Strongly Support Freeway Tunnel
The latest chapter in the continuing saga of I-710 in Los Angeles: At the first of several public meetings scheduled to obtain feedback on the proposal to build a tunnel to fill in the last gap in the highway, the residents who lived closest to the site strongly supported the tunnel and directed their strongest criticism at the light-rail alternative.

A story in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune noted that several speakers endorsed the tunnel because it would remove heavy traffic from local streets.

Carol Jones of Alhambra said, “I live two blocks from where the 710 Freeway ends at Valley Boulevard and the traffic is horrendous there. I’m hoping the tunnel will go through and take cars off Alhambra streets.”

The missing freeway segment would connect the Foothill, Ventura and Golden State freeways with the Long Beach Freeway, the main route for truck traffic headed to and from the busy Port of Long Beach. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has sponsored other projects, including a major upgrade to a parallel railroad corridor, meant to speed the flow of cargo into and out of the port.

San Marino Mayor Eugene Sun supported the tunnel for its impact on regional transportation: “A tunnel improves the regional transportation system and you will also improve the air quality in the region.”

The East L.A. residents who opposed the light-rail alternative, however, criticized it for the effect it would have on their communities. “Of all the alternatives, the light rail is the worst. You are taking away businesses with that project,” said resident Gilbert Hernandez.

Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which jointly conducted the environmental impact review for the proposed alternatives for the I-710 corridor, have three more public feedback meetings scheduled for the project and are taking comments at the Caltrans website. A final environmental impact report and recommendation is expected next year.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Tweet @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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