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WSDOT: No guarantee Seattle tunnel project will be completed

In an exclusive interview, the Washington Secretary of Transportation tells KIRO Radio's Dori Monson she can't guarantee project will be finished. (WSDOT image)

Digging on the Seattle tunnel project is at a standstill and will be until March of 2015, but now Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson has told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson in an exclusive interview that she can’t guarantee the project will ever be finished.

When Monson asked if she could say 100 percent that the project would be completed, Peterson said:

“No. I’m going to be skeptical about it, right. I think we’re going to remain skeptical until we get more information. We still have incomplete information from our contractor.”

Monson asked under what circumstances Peterson would shut down the project. She said in the case that the machine is not actually fixable.

“Is that still a possibility?” Monson asked.

“I’d say it’s a small possibility,” said Peterson. “But we want to make sure that everybody understands it’s a possibility.”

Bertha has been stalled since December. WSDOT released a timeline from Seattle Tunnel Partners last week indicating the tunnel boring machine would likely not be up and running again until late March of 2015. In the meantime, they will be digging a pit to access and repair the machine.

But regardless of the Bertha delay, Peterson said pursuing another option could be more costly. “Since the decision was made, at this point, the least cost is to get this project done.”

“There would be a lot of rework that would have to go on to actually make whatever plan B, plan C, or plan D, whatever we would come up with to connect and reconnect, and then we would probably have a lot more debate about how to pay for all of that,” said Peterson.

Recent reports indicated Seattle Tunnel Partners was asking for an additional $190 million, but Peterson said most of that has been rejected.

“What we have is $188 million of proposed change orders by the contractor of which $157 million of that we have already denied.”

While she won’t guarantee Washington residents won’t see any cost overruns, she said the project hasn’t used up the contingency funds.

“The only case the taxpayers would be paying for a cost overrun is if we go through our contingency money, and we have not done that yet. We have a pot of money set aside for things that are unforeseen and that right now is at $170 million plus or minus a couple million.

“So what we’re looking at is we still have enough contingency to deal with the things that we believe will be coming up. But for the major issue here, the fact that Bertha is stopped and it’s a mechanical failure of some sort, that is on the contractor.”

Documents: Seattle tunnel contractor wants $190M more
A Bertha timeline: From conception to today
Bertha to remain stalled until next March

Correction: An earlier version of this report erroneously suggested that WSDOT’s Lynn Peterson said that an alternative to the tunnel might be a wiser option.

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