- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Seattle’s broken down tunnel boring machine is slated to start digging again by the end of November and should reach the north end of downtown in about a year, officials said Friday.

But drivers wouldn’t be traveling through the tunnel until 2018 - almost three years later than originally planned, said Todd Trepanier, the state’s program manager. And Trepanier said the state isn’t able to verify the contractor’s schedule.

The state’s contractor - Seattle Tunnel Partners - released the updated schedule and led members of the media on a tour of what would someday be a double-decker roadway, replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct after it was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

Although the machine isn’t digging, crews have continued to build other parts of the overall $3.1 billion replacement project’s entry and exit sites. In addition to delays, critics worry about potential cost overruns. The state has emphasized that under the contract, Seattle Tunnel Partners would be on the hook for extra costs. But others expect any disputes to be settled in the courts.

Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, broke down in December 2013 and crews spent much of 2014 digging a pit to access the front of the machine so the cutter head could be repaired.

Seattle Tunnel Partners pulled the machine out of the ground in March, and said in a statement Friday that they began installing a new main bearing on the machine this week.

Repairs are scheduled to be completed in the fall, said project manager Chris Dixon.

“We want to reassemble the machine and resume tunneling as quickly as possible, but we also want to ensure the repairs are done right,” he said.

Since lifting the front of the machine out of the pit, the contractor has fixed broken parts but also made enhancements, state officials said. They installed a new seal system that will protect the bearing, added reinforcing steel, a new monitoring system and upgraded to a soil-conditioning system designed to prevent clogging.

The new schedule has crews lowering the cutter head-front end of the machine into the access pit and attaching it to the tunnel boring machine on Aug. 15. They’ll spend months reattaching the many wires, hoses, cables, and pipes before running a series of performance tests by Nov. 21 and start building the tunnel again on Nov. 23, according to the schedule chart.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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