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Contractor to Appeal Boring Machine Verdict

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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Recently, a Seattle jury announced its verdict regarding the 2013 incident in which a buried steel pipe caused a breakdown of Bertha, the Seattle tunnel borer used in construction of the State Route 99 tunnel.

The decision: rejection of Seattle Tunnel Partners’ $330 million in claims against Washington state over the breakdown of Bertha.

Bertha Breakdown History

Months after its initial launch, Bertha’s gears came grinding to a halt in an incident in which it either hit an underground pipe, according to STP, or some dirt made its way into a bearing, overheating the machine, according to the Washington Department of Transportation.

It took two years (from December 2013 to December 2015) to fix the one-of-a-kind machine, but through 2016 and the early months of 2017, Bertha made quick work of the Seattle underground. Bertha was built by Japanese manufacturer Hitachi Zosen and was disassembled in July 2017.

In March, Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. made progress on the demolition of Seattle’s double-decked Alaskan Way Viaduct, which serves as part of a larger move for the construction of the $712 million Waterfront Seattle Program. The final stage of the structure’s $3.3 billion replacement will see the addition of the new SR 99 tunnel.

The following month, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy called out the borer operator for losing evidence associated with the incident, and also called for as-yet-undetermined sanctions against the company for the loss.

According to The Seattle Times, the buried pipe was left behind after the state conducted groundwater testing. The pieces of pipe were likely thrown away during an overnight job site cleanup in January or February 2014, and bits of steel and granite boulders were stored near the downtown waterfront, an area accessible to tunnel workers.

Murphy added that though evidence could have been moved to a locked building, contractors did not do so. The judge went on to accuse tunnel partners Dragados and Tutor-Perini of spoliation of evidence due to the loss.

Though some pieces of evidence were missing, a 55-foot-long piece of steel pipe and a small piece was kept and assessed.

What’s Happening Now

On Dec. 13, the jury not only rejected STP’s claim, but awarded the state $57.2 million in damages over delays in the construction.

However, STP still argues that the steel pipe Bertha hit was ultimately the reason for the breakdown of the machine, while WSDOT disagrees, claiming that the pipe was “nothing more than a toothpick” for Bertha’s cutter head. Evidence was also uncovered by attorneys that tunnel workers encountered and logged the pipe prior to digging.

As a response to the verdict, Tutor Perini Corp.—an STP member that holds a long record of litigation—told its investors that it “is disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal.”

The four-lane tunnel has since opened to traffic in February and replaces the old Alaskan Way Viaduct.


Tagged categories: Infrastructure; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Roads/Highways; Tunnel

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