The contractor says Sound Transit saved money building the station by underpaying for design changes the agency made while construction was underway. Sound Transit blames the dispute on “contractor error.”
When Sound Transit opened its light-rail line to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington in March 2016, the agency extolled a $1.7 billion tunnel that was finished six months early and $200 million under budget.
However, a major contractor alleges a piece of those savings came by underpaying for design changes the regional agency made — while crews were already building the Capitol Hill Station.
Ironworkers even had to sever some steel reinforcing bar they assembled for internal walls, Chris Killian, Seattle vice president for Turner Construction, said in an interview Friday.
The company seeks $12.5 million in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed Friday in King County Superior Court.
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Sound Transit already paid $8 million for contract or design changes, bringing a $105 million contract to $113 million. Turner argues it performed at least $125 million in work and eventually tapped its own funds to pay subcontractors.
The dollars at stake aren’t earthshaking — Sound Transit will collect $2 billion in taxes this year — but the soured relationship might be.
“These are taxpayer dollars and we don’t pay them out just to solve a dispute. We pay the contractors what they are entitled to,” Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said Friday.
The agency kept extensive records and will argue that “contractor error” accounts for Turner’s claims beyond what Sound Transit paid, she said.
Capitol Hill Station is among the agency’s first ventures into an alternate contracting method called general contractor/construction manager, whose very purpose is to avoid costly mistakes through early collaboration.
The agency is studying new contracting strategies or even public-private investments to keep the $54 billion, 25-year Sound Transit 3 expansion plan on track.
“What we thought was really going to be a partnership was never a partnership,” said Killian. “The project was continually changed from start to finish and the changes never stopped.”
The two new stations were an overnight sensation that doubled ridership, now 77,000 a day.
About 14,000 people a day board or leave trains at Capitol Hill Station.
Turner alleges that:
• Sound Transit ordered partition walls between passenger and maintenance areas to be changed, to resemble UW Station. Turner had to detach and “isolate” partly built internal walls, to disconnect them from big weight-bearing walls.
This required a four-month review and more materials, Killian said.
• Capitol Hill Station was to be done by August 2015 but took 152 days longer. That didn’t delay train service, because other parts of the tunnel weren’t completed yet.
• Sound Transit ordered builders to let concrete cure for five days, in the huge vertical walls of the station, before Turner could move its mobile molds ahead for the next pour. Turner says only two days were necessary.
• When winter rainwater seeped into the finished station, Turner was ordered to inject grout through prebuilt openings, at its expense. The company says such waterproofing is “the maintenance work of Sound Transit.”
Killian says he worked for two years to resolve matters without going to court.
Turner and Sound Transit underwent mediation, followed by productive talks with transit CEO Peter Rogoff and then-Chairman Dow Constantine, he said, until a lawyer’s letter cut those off in April 2017.
Constantine declined Friday to discuss pending litigation, his staff said.
Reason said it’s standard to require formal claims to be handled through the legal department. “Conversations initiated by the contractor around or outside of that process were appropriately rerouted back to legal,” she said.
Turner’s frustration appears in a verbal jab by attorney Christopher A. Wright, in Friday’s filing.
“While Sound Transit has failed to compensate Turner for all of Turner’s extra costs in excess of $10 million, Sound Transit spent approximately $858,379 on its grand-opening celebrations for the U-Link extension.”