520 Floating Boondoggle, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

"While in the parlors of indignation," Saul Bellow wrote, "the right-thinking citizen brings his heart to a boil."

On this cold morning, more than our heart is a bubbling on the high blue flame. Then again, anything having to do with the new 520 bridge has that effect on us. So, pardon our latest spasm of outrage, but this floating bridge has veered recklessly out of control. Perhaps it should be put out of its misery. They shoot bridges, don't they?

Seemingly from the get-go, the project has been the stuff of old and tired jokes (how many engineers does it take to build a pontoon that doesn't leak?) -- and don't get us started about the idiocy of tolling one bridge, while leaving the other (less than three miles away!) free to cross.

And now it's the pontoons, the damn pontoons.

Yesterday, the Washington State Department of Transportation conceded that a series of mistakes were made in the construction of the pontoons, and that it will cost us taxpayers tens of millions to fix them.

Stymied for months by cracks found in the pontoons being built in Aberdeen, outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond -- who failed to get re-upped by Gov. Inslee -- said the pesky pontoon problem will likely push the completion date of this floating boondoggle into 2015, certainly beyond the December 2014 target date.

Hammond told reporters that she's not sure about how how the price tag will reach to be able to guarantee that the darn things don't take on water. It may hit $100 million, but probably not $200 million, she said.

"The results of our internal review show that we did not follow standards of good practice to validate the pontoon design elements, and as an engineer, that is particularly frustrating," said Hammond, who now has to be counting the days until her tenure ends March 8. "We also did not strictly follow some of our protocols for oversight and administration of the contract on the construction site."

Hammond also said WSDOT would take disciplinary action against staffers who approved the bridge design without doing computer testing that would have predicted the cracking.

"I agree with the internal review findings that there were technical design, construction management, and decision-making failures by our employees and managers," Hammond went on. "I am directing WSDOT's chief of staff to prepare the appropriate disciplinary actions, and make the necessary changes to agency protocols and practices."

In his biography, the late Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear submarine, recorded a Navy captain's assessment: " 'Look around. Do you see excellence anywhere? In medicine? In law? Religion? Anywhere? We have abandoned excellence.' "

With the 520 bridge, hell, we've abandoned mediocrity as well.

And our heart boils.

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