A massive machine nicknamed the Bumblebee in honor of Muhammad Ali is boring a four-mile waterway protection tunnel 18 stories underground for a Louisville MSD project.
Officials describe it as the city’s largest infrastructure project. Every day, thousands of pounds of rock are being taken out of the ground, they said, adding that the 412-foot-long boring machine is now under the Ohio River near 10th Street.
Over the next several months, the machine will continue east, according to MSD, moving deep under the river along the shore with downtown Louisville to Butchertown, then turning southeast and advancing to near Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive.
“It pushes about 6 feet forward with each push, which produces about 40 tons of rock, which is loaded into about 10 muck cars, which are carrier cars for a mini locomotive,” MSD project manager Jacob Mathis said.
At any given time, there are about 15 men underground. Project managers say it’s a potentially dangerous job.
“There’s only really one way in and one way out and that is through the working shaft through a man basket, which the workers are lowered into the tunnel at the beginning of their shift and removed from the tunnel at the end of the shift,” Mathis said.
The tunnel will act as a storage facility for storm and wastewater to prevent sewer overflow and pollution.
“The tunnel has many other advantages in the sense that it’s less invasive. So you can imagine digging out and I don’t know how many miles of street and putting in pipe, versus you have, MSD has six sites that you have surface impact,” said Alston Noronaha, construction manager.
MSD is working with the company Black and Veatch to complete the project.
“We are MSD’s eyes and ears to make sure the contractor does that they’re supposed to by contract, and make sure the product that MSD’s paid for, they get what they paid for,” Veatch said.
The tunnel is expected to be operational by the end of 2020.