WSDOT says Seattle Tunnel Partners must include more minorities

Jan 13, 2014, 6:38 AM | Updated: 2:33 pm
Tina Benson owns a trucking company and told KING 5 that without DBE certification, she wouldn't be participating on the Alaska Way Viaduct Replacement project. (WSDOT Photo)
(WSDOT Photo)

While Bertha is stuck below downtown, the Seattle tunnel project has a new problem.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is warning Seattle Tunnel Partners it needs to include more women or minority-owned businesses. The warning comes at the same time the WSDOT says a program to help women and minority-owned businesses win more jobs is no longer needed.

On Monday, the WSDOT notified Seattle Tunnel Partners that actions identified in a Federal Highway Administration report constitute a breach of contract. It now has the tools to ensure STP takes steps to achieve an 8 percent participation goal in what’s known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise by the project’s 2015 completion date.

The federal rules give small businesses identified by the state as ‘disadvantaged’ a leg up on winning contracts on highway projects.

“The actions described in the FHWA report are unacceptable,” Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said in a news release. “We are increasing our oversight on these issues, and working to ensure that STP provides a level playing field to DBE firms and offers fair opportunities to compete for the work generated by the SR 99 Tunnel Project.”

STP must allow WSDOT to monitor all activity related to subcontracting policies and procedures and it must meet quarterly participation targets established by WSDOT.

WSDOT spokesperson Lars Erickson said STP could face up to $130 million per violation if the changes aren’t made.

Meanwhile, the WSDOT hired a consultant to conduct a disparity study last year and found firms owned by white women are winning enough jobs and don’t need extra help from the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise.

“It would be devastating if the DBE program for women, businesses, like myself, would be taken away,” said Tina Benson, the owner of a trucking company. She told KING 5, without DBE certification, she wouldn’t be participating in the Alaska Way Viaduct Replacement project.

WSDOT will take public comments on a proposed change through February.

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WSDOT says Seattle Tunnel Partners must include more minorities