When federal officials announced plans for a new port of entry on Interstate 5 at the Peace Arch in 2006, after more than six years of planning, the construction cost was estimated at $40 million to $45 million. Today, with completion still more than a year away, the cost has mushroomed to $107 million

Share story



BLAINE — When federal officials announced plans for a new port of entry on Interstate 5 at the Peace Arch in 2006, after more than six years of planning, the construction cost was estimated at $40 million to $45 million.

Today, with completion still more than a year away, the cost has mushroomed to $107 million, and the project needed a recent infusion of more than $30 million in stimulus funding to stay on track.

Darin Frost, regional director for design and construction at the U.S. General Services Administration, said he’s confident that the final cost won’t exceed the $107 million now appropriated. The challenges posed by unstable soil conditions have been overcome, Frost said, and contractors aren’t expecting any more expensive surprises.

“The largest unknowns in a project like this are under the ground,” Frost said. “The largest risks of the project are behind us.”

Preliminary cost estimates and appropriations were made before design was completed, Frost said. In addition to a new 30,000-square-foot building to replace the existing 1976-vintage structure, the project included an overall expansion of the site from three acres to 12, construction of a new freeway bridge and rebuilt freeway connections.

Frost said his agency has limited experience with highways and bridges, and the initial estimate was based on a much smaller structure than later determined to be needed.

Some of the biggest added costs were the result of the soft tidal soils underneath the site. Frost said project engineers knew there would be problems based on preliminary studies, but the severity of those problems exceeded expectations as work progressed. The soil problems added millions to the cost of footings for the freeway bridge, as well as the relocation of utility lines.

The pilings under the bridge had to go down 170 feet in some places.

“We just ran into challenge after challenge on the soil conditions,” Frost said.

The complexity of the project also added to costs, said Robin Graf, acting regional administrator. Construction crews had to work on a site tucked into the space between a railroad, a highway, a shoreline, downtown Blaine, an international border and a state park, while keeping freeway traffic flowing through the port of entry as smoothly as possible. Graf compared it to changing the tire on a moving car.

The general contractor for the project, J.E. Dunn Northwest of Kirkland, is part of the J.E. Dunn Construction Group of Kansas City, Mo.

Frost said Dunn was selected to manage the project from among a shortlist of companies with the ability to handle a project of this size and complexity.

According to online government data, J.E. Dunn got $204 million in federal contract awards in fiscal year 2008, which runs through the end of September.