A new report about the troubled Highway 99 tunnel project cuts against the predictions of a looming financial apocalypse.
THE world’s largest tunneling machine is not necessarily going to produce some of the state’s largest cost overruns. That was the tentative good news in a new report by an expert advisory panel monitoring the troubled Highway 99 tunnel project.
The fourth annual expert-review panel report, released April 3, said it appears no additional money will be needed to finish the $3.1 billion project. That includes what is described as a “worst-case” scenario in which the state Department of Transportation has to pay for all change orders related to the 16-month halt in tunneling.
The panel — three people with experience in megaprojects and engineering — made some blue-sky assumptions to reach that conclusion. There must be no new massive glitches, and the state would have to squeeze about $50 million in late fees from the contractor.
Still, the panel’s thoughtful work cuts against predictions of a looming financial apocalypse brought on Bertha’s stalled progress.
Some conservative legislators not from Seattle continue to play the “stick-it-to-Seattle” card. Most recently, Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, drew an imaginary line in the sand about state support for buses intended to mitigate traffic congestion in the construction zone.
Nevermind that the white-hot Seattle economy subsidizes state services in most corners of the state not visible from the top of the Space Needle.
Closer to home, anti-tunnel members of the Seattle City Council, particularly Mike O’Brien, also risk a miscalculation by exploiting the significant but fixable problems of the tunnel project for political gain.
To restate the situation, once again: The project is well under way. The city and state have a huge collective stake in successful completion, even if it is two years late. The state’s financial risk is insulated by a design-build contract signed by the tunnel’s construction consortium.
Last week, the main bearing for Bertha, made by Hitachi Zosen, was pulled to the surface. That bearing proved to be a lemon. The responsibility is on the Japanese manufacturer to drop in a substitute that gets Bertha moving again.
Once Bertha reaches daylight in South Lake Union, lawyers will undoubtedly haggle over who is responsible for the machine’s waterfront meltdown. The good news for taxpayers is that, as of now, the costs appear to be covered.