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520 bridge shows us how costly it can be to save money

WSDOT management explained the repair procedures for the 520 bridge pontoons during a tour, July 30, 2013. (WSDOT Photo)

The state has now revealed that fixing the holes in the first 520 bridge pontoons, which is still underway, will cost more than $81 million, and that’s not the last of it.

So why do taxpayers have to pay to fix a defective product? Why doesn’t the contractor have to pay?

Because as then transportation secretary Paula Hammond told me last October, it was the state that approved the design change that caused the cracking.

“In fact, I know that our bridge design team caused, or allowed the design change that caused some of this cracking,” Hammond said.

The state engineer in charge was eventually fired.

And here’s the irony: The purpose of that design change was to speed up the construction and reduce the cost of the project.

Instead, the change caused the pontoons to crack and leak, which had the effect of slowing down the construction process, and increasing the cost of the project.

So that now instead of being open to traffic in 2014, we’re talking 2015, or possibly as late as 2016.

And the reason it cost so much and takes so much time to fix is that they didn’t realize how serious the cracking was until the pontoons were at the site of the new bridge — and so they had to be towed back through the ship canal and into a dry dock to be fixed. Remember, these things are 360 feet long!

This reminds us once again just how costly saving money can be.

By the way, the Seattle side of the project, with its fancy lids and ramps, still isn’t paid for.

Oh, the things we do for cars!

Also, Bertha the giant boring machine has started its journey under the city, digging the largest diameter tunnel ever attempted, and I know engineers have anticipated everything just like they did with the 520 bridge, but just keep your eyes peeled.

And if you notice a building suddenly being sucked into the ground, let us know right away.

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