Seattle transportation officials say the estimated costs of the waterfront seawall-replacement project have grown from $300 million to about $330 million over the past year as they refined projections for construction and labor, and for mitigation for waterfront businesses and Indian tribes over disruption to tourism and salmon migration.
That’s still well within the contingency fund built into the voter-approved project, officials said Tuesday, but likely means the city will have to find more money to replace the public piers
“We knew the cost estimates would continue to develop over time,” said Jon Layzer, director of major projects for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). “We have a lot more certainty now.”
But while Layzer said the higher estimates were known generally last summer, City Council members say they weren’t told until late December, after state Sen. Ed Murray defeated Mayor Mike McGinn.
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City Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen were briefed on the cost projections Dec. 20. Burgess said that when he asked SDOT why the council wasn’t notified sooner, he was told the mayor’s office asked transportation officials not to disclose the new estimates to the council.
“I asked specifically, ‘Who told you not to share the information with the council?’ and was told, ‘the mayor’s office,’ ” Burgess said.
Two other council staff members also present at the meeting confirmed Burgess’ account. Two SDOT officials also said they had been told not to relay the increase to the council.
Rasmussen is out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Tuesday was McGinn’s last day in office. His spokesman, Aaron Pickus, said the mayor’s staff did not prohibit SDOT from informing the council. He said that when the mayor’s staff was last briefed on the project in the summer, cost estimates were still being developed.
“We understand why council members Burgess and Rasmussen would like to change the topic from the current status of the deep-bore tunnel,” Pickus said in an email Tuesday. He added, “We gave no instructions to SDOT regarding communications with council.”
McGinn came into office in 2009 strongly opposed to the Alaskan Way Viaduct-replacement tunnel project supported by most of the City Council. An unknown object has blocked the tunnel-boring machine since Dec. 6.
McGinn’s first news conference, a week after taking office, was on the waterfront, where he called for a $243 million bond measure to replace the seawall, built between 1915 and 1936 and eroded by tidal action and marine borers.
At the time, council members said they hadn’t been consulted about the bond measure and doubted the cost estimates because only preliminary design had been completed. They submitted a $290 million measure to voters in November 2012 that won more than 70 percent approval.
Layzer, the SDOT major-projects director, said that over the past year, SDOT has learned that a jet-grout method to replace parts of the seawall’s vertical supports will be more expensive than originally projected. The department also agreed to pay local Indian tribes up to $4.6 million to mitigate expected disruptions to salmon-migration routes during construction. SDOT also finalized a contract with the construction and management firm and settled, for up to $15 million, with waterfront-business owners over disruptions expected during construction.
Department officials have also completed negotiations with the state to pay up to $4.2 million for historic preservation, including removal and restoration of the existing waterfront railing, historic markers and the pergola at the Washington Street Boat Landing.
Layzer said Interim SDOT Director Goran Sparrman gave the December briefing to Burgess and Rasmussen in advance of a report on the project set to be given to the full council Jan. 13.
SDOT Director Peter Hahn resigned in November after being told he wouldn’t be kept on by Murray.
Murray named Sparrman, the department’s deputy director, to replace him in a national search.
Layzer said construction was planned to start in September, but the legal challenge brought by waterfront businesses delayed permitting work for two months.
Bob Donegan, president of Ivar’s, whose flagship restaurant is on Pier 54, said business owners have raised concerns for years about the project’s schedule and costs.
And while the city will pay for some of the business lost during construction, he said the hit could be higher.
“We’re not being made whole, but we recognize the vital importance of replacing the seawall. We want it fixed as soon as possible,” Donegan said.
Donegan also praised Murray’s appointment of Jared Smith, an experienced project manager and engineer, to oversee the waterfront and seawall projects.
Layzer also welcomed Smith’s leadership and said the new estimates provide the city with a realistic budget. But he cautioned the seawall replacement is a huge undertaking and all the costs may not yet be known.
“It’s still a complicated and risky project so there are no guarantees,” he said.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes