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WSDOT runs into even more problems on the 520 bridge project

Instead of floating the repaired pontoon out into Lake Washington, Pontoon W left its dry-dock and went straight to another repair facility along the Duwamish River. That's because six of the 10 columns built on top of the pontoon need to be demolished and rebuilt. (WSDOT Photo)

The 520 bridge replacement project is more than a year behind schedule and now the Washington State Department of Transportation says there is another problem with one of the pontoons that will float the bridge over Lake Washington.

The state has just finished repairing the second pontoon at a Seattle dry-dock to repair and seal cracks caused by a design flaw that wasn't caught until after they were constructed.

The state was so proud, it just released a video with deputy construction manager Greg Meadows.

But instead of floating out into Lake Washington, Pontoon W left that dry-dock and went straight to another repair facility along the Duwamish River. That's because six of the 10 columns built on top of the pontoon need to be demolished and rebuilt. The contractor says the reinforcing rebar inside those columns shifted during construction.

That contractor, Kiewit Construction, will have to eat the costs to replace those columns, and it doesn't expect the extra one or two months it will take to do that will add a lot of time to the already overdue project.

As for the costs of this project, the overruns are mounting.

Some estimates put them at close to $400 million right now. Keith Metcalf is the interim chief engineer on the project. "When you look at all the potential risks that have been identified by the contractor, a lot of those haven't even been agreed that they're real yet," he said.

A $250 million contingency fund was built into this $4 billion project, but that appears to be way short of what will be necessary.

And that's on the taxpayers. It works out that way because the state, not the contractor, designed the pontoons. "Because there was a design error that we acknowledged and owned up to, we own, the taxpayers own the changes that result," said Metcalf.

Former transportation secretary Paula Hammond said earlier this year that doing the design work in-house was supposed to save the taxpayers money. "We were $189 million ahead on this pontoon project as we came out of the gate," she said. "Had that pontoon design (been) perfect, we would have come out of that smelling like a rose."

Instead, the project is likely going to end up hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.

The new bridge was supposed to open sometime next year. It now looks like it won't open until the end of 2015 or the spring of 2016.

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Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.

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