This Giant Mechanical Earthworm Is Fixing One City’s Poop Problem

This Giant Mechanical Earthworm Is Fixing One City’s Poop Problem

Washington DC is overflowing with crap — and not just the sort spewed in US Congress. Rather, its ancient sewage system regularly overflows, sending a literal river of poo into the city’s waterways. Lady Bird is the name of the giant tunnelling machine sent to stop it.

The Washington Post calls this 135m long beast “the most amazing and expensive construction project that no one ever will see“. Its job? To dig out a massive tunnel below downtown Washington over the next five years or more, creating a place for all the overflow sewage to be shunted away from the city’s rivers.

According to the Post, DC has one of the oldest sewage systems in the country — it hasn’t been renovated since the 1800s.

Thirty metres below the city, Lady Bird is now grinding through mud and rock at four inches per minute — making her a speed demon by tunnelling standards, but glacially slow by our own. Her 9m wide front end is covered in a cutter face that’s pushed forward by hydraulic jacks:

These rotate the head, which thus grinds the earth into a paste that’s then passed back through a tube to the end of the machine, where it’s removed.

Behind this giant worm-like machine, huge concrete panels are already being laid down to create the tunnel that will carry the sewage normally relegated to the Potomac and Anacostia rivers:

Of course, what’s a massive city infrastructure project without an anthropomorphic online presence? On DC Water’s website, you can find a profile of Lady Bird written in the first person — including details like her friendship with Mom Chung and Bertha, her tunneling counterparts in San Francisco and Seattle. And, on her Twitter, she tweets sweet messages to her fellow diggers — like congratulations to a Warsaw digger, now retiring after a long job well done.

For Lady Bird though, the job is just beginning. [Washington Post]