Try Not to Sleep Fitfully Tonight, But Tunnel Project Will Be Late

The most unsurprising news of the year is in: The Highway 99 tunnel will be late. Thanks a lot, Bertha.

According to a report issued today by the governor’s expert-review panel, the $3.1 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement will come in a few months late (if we’re lucky) – even if crew members work 24 hours a day.

Remarkably, the three-member panel wrote on page 3 of the 43-page document that “the launch and early operation of the Tunnel Boring Machine (“TBM”) was a success. In spite of a late start to tunneling and other delays to the tunnel project in late 2013, the TBM position on December 6th when it stopped was within two feet of its originally scheduled location.”

Indeed, there’s a silver lining in every gray and broken cutter head.

Despite the setbacks, the panel remains optimistic, mainly because the non-tunnel elements of project are going well, even if the world’s biggest boring machine languishes 60-feet below the city and in need of massive repair. Contractors say it will take several months to get Bertha on the move again.

“Current challenges notwithstanding, the ERP finds that, based on information available to us, the Project is likely to be completed, within the existing budget, and on a schedule that is somewhat delayed,” says the reports.

Instead of finishing Seattle Tunnel Partners’ proposed contract completion date of Dec. 31, 2015, the panel predicts the construction will last until the first half of 2016.

The panel offered no clues as to how much money it will take to fix the damaged bearing seals in the tunnel machine, which has moved 48 inches since sand was found in the lubricating grease Dec. 7.

The main factor jeopardizing the project, concludes the panel, is “strained relations” between the state Department of Transportation and STP executives. The noted especially Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson’s declaration that STP was in breach of contract, for failing to hire sufficient minority-owned small subcontractors in 2012-13.

“The issues have been intensified by WSDOT executive management’s decision to declare STP to be in ‘breach’ of the contract. The companies comprising the STP joint venture believe WSDOT’s ‘breach’ action has damaged their reputations and compromised their ability to seek business elsewhere in the United States,” the report says.

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