Tour Seattle’s insane subterranean highway by drone, as it’s being built

For nearly three years, a massive tunnel-boring machine known simply as Bertha has been hard at work drilling what will soon become a 2-mile-long underground tunnel in Seattle. Though it won’t officially open to the public until 2018, the Washington State Department of Transportation released a stunning four-minute video of a drone making its way through the partially completed tunnel.

Reminiscent of Rey piloting the Millennium Falcon through the insides of a Super Star Destroyer in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the drone deftly navigates Bertha’s endeavors, giving viewers never-before-seen footage of the project’s progress to this point.

Known as the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel, the future State Route 99 is a two-story highway that will connect Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood to the city’s northern suburb of South Lake Union. When construction on the tunnel began in July 2013, the intent was to open the underground highway around December 2015.

Unfortunately, after just five months of drilling, Bertha struck a steel pipe, which halted construction for roughly two years while workers dug a 120-foot vertical shaft to fix the cutting head. Once fully repaired, officials allowed drilling to continue on December 22, 2015 — or the original target for its grand opening.

An engineering marvel despite its problems, Bertha has performed work underneath Seattle that is absolutely awe-inspiring. While merely reading about the machine’s 57-foot-tall, 325-foot-long body certainly paints a picture of a rather mammoth device, the drone footage gives viewers a true snapshot of the immense scale of such a project. What is perhaps the most jaw-dropping part of the video comes near the end when the drone flies towards the actual drilling portion of Bertha, showing just how intricate and complex the machine is.

Currently, Bertha’s drilled around 1,500 feet of the SR-99 tunnel, relying on its cutting head to slowly drill through the Earth. As it bores, a conveyor belt transfers the carved-out Earth topside while another tube brings fresh air directly to the machine. Attached reinforcement rings support the shape and weight of the carved tunnel until a crew pours curved concrete walls to form the physical tunnel. If all goes according to plan — and Bertha avoids any more complications (however unlikely) — SR-99 will open to the public around April 2018.


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