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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Sinkhole Prompts Inslee To Halt Bertha Tunneling Project

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File photo of Seattle's waterfront and State Route 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct. A tunneling project aims to replace the aging double-deck highway.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has issued an emergency order to stop the tunneling project along Seattle’s downtown waterfront. The tunnel will replace the aging Highway 99 viaduct.

The “stop order” announced Thursday morning follows the opening up of a sinkhole behind the tunneling machine known as Bertha.

“We need to be assured that this is not going to happen underneath the viaduct with obvious ramifications that could be very, very concerning or under the city of Seattle,” the governor said.

Inslee announced the stop order at a news conference in Olympia. He said the tunnel contractor has not adequately sampled the soil in the area to ensure voids in the ground don’t develop.

The Bertha tunneling machine just resumed digging last month after a lengthy delay due to mechanical issues.