You cannot hold others responsible for your own incompetence. Especially when billions of dollars are at stake.
That’s the primary lesson Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) should have learned from the many debacles involving Bertha, the name given the huge tunnel-boring machine doing the heavy lifting in digging the Viaduct tunnel.
You see, when the project was in its initial planning stages, the state failed to inform Seattle Tunnel Partners — the project’s contractor — about the location of a steel pipe which was put in place by the state and which Bertha struck in December 2013. According to Bertha’s builders, that critical mistake caused the giant drill to break and delayed the project for more than two years.
A dispute review board later ruled that the responsibility lies with the state, not Seattle Tunnel Partners — which the state attempted to blame.
Members of the board found that a “crucial, primary document the state provided to Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) — the geotechnical baseline report to describe soil conditions — is “silent” regarding the steel pipe. It does appear in secondary, reference documents.”
And, according to Hitachi Zosen (the company that built Bertha), it’s that early incompetence that caused the many subsequent problems experienced by the giant boring machine.
“The tunnel project was delayed by more than two years after the machine overheated and stopped boring through soil. The Japanese company responsible for making Bertha told the Times that it spent thousands of hours getting it back up and running.
“State crews performing groundwater studies are responsible for leaving the pipe in that spot.”
Additional problems include the lack of preparation made for loose soil and sinkholes.
Ultimately, the many mistakes experienced in the Viaduct project were likely not due to the contractor failing to keep up its part of the bargain, or a company building a faulty machine. It was just another case of government incompetence.
In the end, it will be up to the courts to decide who is on the hook for the massive cost overruns that the delays generated.