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Lady Bird TBM emerges from her hole

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She did it! This morning, Lady Bird, a 1,323-ton tunnel boring machine, emerged from a 100-foot hole in the ground near Nationals Stadium. It took her just under two years to bore a 4.5 mile, Metro-sized tunnel from the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“Overall, it was a pretty uneventful dig,” says DC Water spokeswoman Pamela Mooring. “Early on she got a little behind, but the crew worked a little extra and caught up.”

Lady Bird’s tunnel is part of a $2.6 billion construction project to install 13 miles of tunnel under the District. The goal: to keep raw sewage from pouring into the Anacostia River — and the occasional basement — whenever storm water runoff overwhelms the city’s antiquated sewer system. Two other tunnel boring machines are still at work on the project, which is scheduled for completion in 2025. All three machines have their own Twitter accounts.

“I think Nannie and Lucy will miss Lady Bird, but they are probably glad they’ll get more of the spotlight now,” says John Lisle, DC Water’s chief of external affairs. “It’s their turn to shine.”

Workers lifted Lady Bird out piece by piece, starting with her 26-foot wide cutterhead. For a machine that’s digested about 13 million cubic feet of earth — first grinding it down, then turning it into a muddy slurry before conveyor-belting it out the other end — Lady Bird looked surprisingly clean. Her cutterhead’s bright blue and green paint job, however, was long gone.

Now that Lady Bird’s work here is done, she will return to the German factory where she was made, get refurbished and head to some other city that needs her help.

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