The public needs more, not less, information about the problematic Highway 99 tunnel project at this point. The state’s decision to disband a panel of experts reviewing the project is unsettling.

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THE Legislature’s decision to disband a panel of outside experts reviewing the Highway 99 tunnel project is unsettling.

From the perspective of lawmakers girding for lawsuits over the torturous megaproject, it was a pragmatic move, reducing the surface area exposed to attack.

Yet they did so by eliminating a source of candid, public reports on the project’s status, costs, weak points and risks. As reported by The Times’ Mike Lindblom, the Legislature decided instead to hear from project leaders at committee meetings.

This does more than trim risk.

From the perspective of a public fearing more delays and costs for Washington’s most controversial transportation project, lawmakers also lopped off a key source of transparency and objective analysis.

With the state’s credibility and billions of tax dollars on the line, it was important for the public to receive candid project assessments and not just the guarded statements of the state and its tunnel contractor.

Another short-lived attempt to provide accountability and transparency was a tunnel project oversight committee that Gov. Chris Gregoire formed in 2010.

Intended to be “a single point of accountability for cost, schedule and scope issues,” the committee included lawmakers and leaders of Seattle, King County and the Port of Seattle. It was supposed to meet quarterly and publicly share information it received, but fizzled after clashes between Gregoire and then Mayor Mike McGinn.

As the tunnel project enters crunchtime, the public needs more sources of information about what’s really happening, not fewer.

Rein in the lawyers and reconvene the oversight committee. Its reports might not have as much bite and reach as the expert panel’s, but the public will take whatever it can get at this point.