Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and anyone else who opposes the deep-bore tunnel project for SR 99 likely got plenty of new ammunition for their fight from reading a new, in-depth article by the Lower Hudson Journal News on Monday. The story concerns California contracting giant Tutor Perini, one of the winning bidders to construct the controversial tunnel, and it details what seems to be a long history of cost overruns, alleged fraud, lawsuits and payouts in the company's past.
Last week, Gov. Chris Gregoire awarded the $1.09 billion contact to build the tunnel to Spanish company Dragados-USA and Tutor Perini.
Some highlights pointed out by the story are that:
• In February, Tutor-Saliba and Perini agreed to pay $19 million to settle racketeering and fraud allegations in a San Francisco airport project.
• In 2004, Perini agreed to pay the federal government $998,500 to settle fraud claims in the construction of an embassy building in Venezuela.
• The companies are embroiled in an 11-year legal battle over $16 million in extra costs on a Los Angeles subway job.
• Perini sued for more than $170 million in cost overruns on three New York City projects during the 1990s before settling for about $22 million.
Seattle Weekly checked with tunnel project manager Ron Paananen at the Washington State Department of Transportation as to whether he'd seen the article (he hadn't) and whether he's comfortable with Tutor Perini's performance history (he is). He urged people not to concentrate on a few projects that went "maybe not so well" and instead focus on the company's overall performance, which he insists is impeccable.
"We pre-qualified both the teams (that won the tunnel contract) and we looked at the companies' financial capacity, their history with other projects of this size and the key personnel that they would bring on-board," says Paananen. "Both these teams have delivered thousands of projects, so you shouldn't look at a couple individual projects that either went real well or maybe not so well. I think there is a longer story here."
Probably. And we're guessing that Paananen, as well as Gov. Chris Gregoire and the other tunnel backers, are hoping that the story doesn't include even more examples of shady business practices or grave budget miscalculations.