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Gov. Inslee astounded by Seattle tunnel contractor’s decisions to stop quality control

"We do already know that the contractor - for reasons that are just astounding to us - stopped doing quality control work that they had been doing for the first thousand feet," Gov. Jay Inslee told Seattle's Morning News. (WSDOT)

The contractor responsible for operating the Seattle boring machine stopped doing quality control work sometime before a sinkhole opened up at the city’s waterfront.

Gov. Jay Inslee told Seattle’s Morning News that after the sinkhole opened behind Bertha Jan. 19, it became apparent that Seattle Tunnel Partners was not doing what it needed to in order to guarantee safety.

“We do already know that the contractor &#8211 for reasons that are just astounding to us &#8211 stopped doing quality control work that they had been doing for the first thousand feet,” Inslee said.

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It was a comment that KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross wanted to make sure he heard correctly. The contractor stopped doing quality control work?

For the first 1,000 feet of work, crews with Seattle Tunnel Partners measured the amount of dirt being removed from the tunnel, Inslee explained. That helped prevent sinkholes, by making sure there wasn’t a “void.” But for reasons Inlsee couldn’t explain, they stopped doing that work.

“We are very disappointed that the contractor failed in that regard,” Inslee added.

Inslee ordered the work involving Bertha stopped. The contractor now has to complete a root-cause analysis of how and why the sinkhole appeared and how crews will prevent it from happening again. Inslee hopes this will be done as “soon as humanly possible,” because the project is already two years behind schedule.

“This thing is going underneath the viaduct, and we know how fragile that is,” Inslee said. “Everyone knows a sinkhole under the viaduct could be catastrophic and we cannot have that risk without being assured that they’re going to preform quality control necessary to prevent that from happening again.”

Why not just stop Bertha, before it does some real damage?

It comes down to the money already invested in the project, Inslee explained.

“To throw money overboard and waste it does not seem [reasonable],” he said.

Inslee said the project still has a “reasonable chance of success.”

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