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Videos

Watch Seattle's Massive Tunnel Borer Finally Emerge From the Ground

This glorious, cinematic drone footage commemorates four long years of digging.

WSDOT

An ominous, teeth-chattering rumbling; a sudden and great gout of muddy liquid; showers of falling rock and pouring water—this footage of Seattle’s Bertha finally emerging from the ground is almost like a lost scene of a sandworm attack from David Lynch’s Dune.

The world’s largest tunnel borer saw the light of day on Tuesday after its four-year journey eating through a 1.7-mile underground passageway. To celebrate, the Washington State Department of Transportation yesterday released this fantastically cinematic drone video of the machine breaking through a five-foot-thick concrete wall inside a deep pit. The immense size of the borer’s cutterhead isn’t easy to comprehend here; the above photo puts it into perspective that this is a five-story-tall maw built for god-sized grinding.

If all goes according to schedule, the tunnel will open as a two-level roadway in 2019 to replace an old viaduct that’s susceptible to earthquake damage. In the weeks ahead, work crews will reward Bertha’s job-well-done by sacrificing her—aiding her removal from ground by slicing her into parts, some for reuse in future jobs and others just for recycling.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.