The state says it expects to spend $78 million extra on its own staff, consultants and road work because of tunnel-machine Bertha’s two-year delay, a letter to insurers says.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says it expects to lose $78 million because of the two-year stall of tunnel-boring machine Bertha, according to a letter from the state project team to insurers.
That figure reflects extra spending on administrators, engineers, consulting firms and office space as the job goes overtime.
It also includes construction inflation. More money may be needed to demolish the old Alaskan Way Viaduct and build a new waterfront Alaskan Way, which can’t happen until after the Highway 99 tunnel opens, now scheduled for March 2018.
The four-lane tolled tunnel was supposed to open to traffic at the end of 2015.
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WSDOT outlines its wish to be reimbursed by insurance companies, in the Sept. 23 letter by Brian Nielsen, deputy tunnel administrator.
It was added Monday to a growing file in the Supreme Court of New York state, where insurers have sued tunnel contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) to avoid paying $143 million toward a temporary access vault and repairs to Bertha.
The state says it is not a party to that lawsuit, but STP filed Nielsen’s letter with the court.
The eight surety companies declined coverage and sued, arguing that Bertha’s machine design was not up to the heavy-duty job of boring the 57-foot-wide tunnel to replace the viaduct, The Seattle Times reported in August.
The state spent $3.25 million extra as of June, and would consume an additional $75 million by the time the project finishes, says Nielsen’s letter, first reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Bertha’s 4-million-pound cutterhead and rotary drive were strengthened and successfully lowered into the vault in late August, next to Pioneer Square. The machine has bored one-ninth of its 1.7-mile route to the north portal at South Lake Union.
Also, in anticipation of the boring machine’s scheduled restart next month, the state released a 4-minute video Wednesday, “Getting Bertha back to work,” narrated by STP project manager Chris Dixon. The video included recent footage of welders at work.
Drilling is to resume Nov. 23.
Where does WSDOT find $78.25 million, if insurance money doesn’t arrive when the state needs it? A budget increase?
“At this time, we are not requesting funding from the Legislature. We are requesting the insurance company cover these costs,” answered Laura Newborn, state tunnel spokeswoman.
Asking lawmakers might cause a backlash. Six years ago, they approved a clause saying cost overruns are the responsibility of “Seattle area property owners who benefit,” language that many officials consider toothless, since it contains no tool for billing the city.
However, it conveyed statewide frustration about the extreme price of big-city megaprojects. And locally, City Councilmember Nick Licata has long warned that Seattle might suffer if tunnel costs soar, forcing the state to cut corners on related street work.
Boston-based megaproject consultant Thom Neff, who warned about risks in 2010 for anti-tunnel Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, wrote last month in Engineering News-Record: “Given the evidence to date, my opinion is that Bertha will not finish the tunnel, but that some other machine, or process might. The project will likely not be complete in early 2018, and much more money will be required.”
Tunnel officials have said $140 million in contingency money remains. Nobody knows yet if that will be devoured by claims that STP is making for more state money. STP’s contract is for $1.35 billion. Court skirmishes may continue for years after construction workers go home.