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August 28, 2013 at 9:49 AM

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Tunnel-boring machine "Bertha" off to slow start


An August 20, 2013 aerial view of the worksite where Bertha, the world's largest tunnel-boring machine is, shows that progress has been slow since it started digging on July 30, 2013. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, soon to be torn down, still winds through the waterfront.

Last week, I had the chance to charter a helicopter from Classic Helicopter to get some aerial images for a story I've been working on for the Times. Many times when we need to take aerials, we try to knock out any other future images we may need for file while we're up in the air. Photo editor Fred Nelson suggested getting a really close look into the worksite where Bertha is tunneling.

Skilled pilot Daiichi "Taki" Takeuchi flew me by the first few sites we needed and then we headed for the waterfront drilling site. He had flown other photographers around there before, but it was my first time in a small helicopter and things had been smooth so far - lots of hovering and stopping.

Once we got over the top of it, he said, "Ready?" and started into a spiral downwards over the pit of the machine. It caught me by surprise and the dizzy feeling got me laughing uncontrollably. Fortunately I had the camera set and the autofocus was working so I just shot away. Thanks to modern technology, we didn't have to do it over again.


The tunnel-boring machine has only traveled 24 feet of the remaining 9,249 feet it has to drill to the South Lake Union portal.


Contractors say fiberglass strands caught in the cutting face and a labor dispute are two reasons why the project is approximately two weeks behind schedule so far.


A closer view into Bertha's worksite. According to the Washington Department of Transportation, drilling has only occurred on eight of 22 work days so far.

Read Mike Lindblom's story on Bertha's slow start.

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