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Is SDOT intentionally deceiving the city council with inflated numbers?


With news that the city would fall short on several transportation-related promises, KIRO Radio’s John Curley is wondering if there’s an aspect of deception to such oversights. In recent weeks, SDOT announced that some bike lanes projected to cost around $860,000 will be $12 million. Streetcar expansion is being halted due to increased costs as well.

“Here’s the question I have on all these programs: Is SDOT intentionally deceiving the city council with inflated numbers of either ridership or decreasing the cost or delivery time?” Curley asked. “Are they giving them bad information for them to vote on these programs? Knowing full well that they can’t possibly get them down in time and at that budget?”

According to The Seattle Times, the city hired a consultant for $250,000 to teach executives about being better at communicating, and spent $400,000 to hire a consultant from KPMG to review the troubled street car project.

“There’s a lot of suspicion,” said KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney. “As we well know, you can always do a spin. So if you have a range, you can focus on the lower end of the range in terms of prices and the higher end of the range in terms of promises.”

RELATED: Putting unthinkable cost of Seattle bike lanes into perspective

The debate appears to revolve around whether the oversights are unforeseen factors that come with undertaking such projects for the first time, or whether they’re intentional.

“I would love to see somebody fined if they are deceiving,” Curley said. “There must be some evidence of an email back-and-forth. Somebody has something that says, ‘Listen, tell them that number as opposed to this number,’ like ‘If you like your health plan, you can keep it.'”

Tom pointed to the the recent streetcar miscalculation as evidence of miscommunication instead of any deception. King County Metro claimed that SDOT low-balled the costs to operate the streetcar.

Simple SDOT miscalculation or deceptive motives?

“Can you have a disagreement over numbers?” Tom asked. “Or do you have to impugn the motives?”

“Well, if folks have a clear identifiable pattern of giving you one number,” Curley said. “And then finding out shock and awe that it actually costs more. They tell you ‘Oh ridership’s going to be at 35,000,’ and it’s barely 7,000. It looks like there’s a pattern here. If they’re not trying to deceive, then they’re incredibly incompetent.”

The City of Seattle is currently searching for a permanent director for the Seattle Department of Transportation. Interim director Goran Sparrman will depart as of August. Tom sees the search for a replacement as evidence that the city is trying to correct the pattern, and believes the miscalculations are the understandable growing pains of a massive public works project.

“If you can explain why it went from X amount to Y amount, then explain it,” Tom said. “I think people can make financial miscalculations in a good cause.”

“But it’d be nice if they got one of these right one time,” Curley countered. “If SDOT actually brought something in under budget and on time.”

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