Mister, don’t buy that tunnel.
Ma’am, it’s just a hole in the ground.
It’s a money pit that won’t let loose, till all you have left is a crater where there should have stood a house. It won’t let go until you let go, and that may prove difficult.
I know. When I bought the bit about underground highways and railways, I just knew we could do it. I was a true believer. Now, I am personally responsible for that screw-up down by the waterfront. Why did I do it? Because we’re a world-class city — it says so in the papers.
I’ve heard More Important People — MIPs, those who consider themselves to be more important than you or me — proclaim we do this or that since we can. It costs a lot of money; if we don’t do it, the whole kit and caboodle will cartwheel out of control.
I wanted to believe that if London could, and Paris could and Moscow, Mexico City and Tokyo and New York and Toronto, that Seattle could figure out how to dig a tunnel, and so replace a geologically abused Alaskan Way Viaduct.
They had been dug here successfully before: the railroad tunnel and the Interstate 90 twins. The bus tunnel was a challenge: It wasn’t originally planned for light rail, but rail was laid, at the wrong gauge. It had to be replaced before Sound Transit could run link.
Sound Transit has built tunnels, too, and to date, only one has partially caved in.
Then Bertha croaked. The largest tunneling tool on the planet shuddered to an abrupt halt last fall, a much wider excavation will need to be built to access and maybe repair it.
The citizens of the state of Washington will put their hands in their pockets over this one. They’ll cough like patients during an unpleasant exam.
Seattle will be even more excoriated by the rest of our fair state.
What can save our municipal reputation and put all on a right track again?
Bertha needs a new name.
How did Bertha become Bertha?
First, the Seattle angle: Bertha Knight Landes. In 1922, she was elected to the City Council, along with Kathryn Miracle, and became council president in 1924. She was elected mayor in 1926 and served until 1928.
Second, Big Bertha, a World War I German howitzer that fired a 16.5-inch shell that weighed as much as a Volkswagen. It, too, made mighty, big holes.
Maybe Seattle’s most major publicly financed faux pas should be named after a man — it’s a drill, after all.
I know that sounds sexist, and this is a family newspaper.
I hold no prejudice for the name Bertha: My dad’s mom, my grandmother, was named Bertha. I would have been proud if Seattle’s most current Bertha had dug her way through with the resiliency that my Bertha — who preferred being called “Grandmother” — met what life would pitch her. She buried a husband and two children: my dad and my aunt; the downtown deep-bore tunnel project has only buried itself.
She wouldn’t have opted for the most expensive solution; would that I had possessed the same common sense. I believed — as only a true believer does — that the deep-bore tunnel would work. It’s not much of a win so far, and I hate losing.
Hundreds of millions of dollars may go toward a fix — where could that money have gone? It’s a question worth considering. Everyone else in the state might ask that question; it’s only fair that we in Seattle do so, too. That’s a lot of dough to shake down.
A more appropriate name?
When my grandmother Bertha died, she left behind a small estate — some $12,000. She was in the black.
If she knew she shared a name with the largest piece of inoperative landscaping equipment on the planet, that it got broken for stupid reasons on the shores of Puget Sound, why, she’d be spinning in her grave — which is a lot better than Seattle’s latest, biggest loss leader is doing in its.
It’s the biggest drill that man has built, and it broke down before the job was done. There will be claims and counterclaims, lawsuits and lawyers, bottom lines and blame.
So, this modest proposal: To honor my grandma, let’s change the name of the bayside router. Let’s call it Tim.
CRAIG THOMPSON is a longtime community activist.
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