Thanks to the two-year shut down of Bertha (the giant tunnel boring machine), the opening of the Highway 99 tunnel will now be delayed until 2019. When the project was in its planning stages, officials promised it would open by late 2015.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only bad news to come out about the project. The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) delay will also burden taxpayers with at least an additional $223 million in cost overruns.
However, $223 million in cost overruns is a rosy estimate. As Shift pointed out, the estimate is based on the assumption that tunnel contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners fails to win claims against the state that exceed $200 million. The dispute is currently in court.
It’s important to note that a dispute review board has already ruled that the responsibility for Bertha hitting a pipe (and, consequently causing the breakdown/delay) lies with the state, not Seattle Tunnel Partners. Considering that result, it’s well within the realm of possibility that Seattle Tunnel Partners will win its lawsuit.
But, a possible win in the ongoing court case is not the only possible way the cost overruns can grow beyond $223 million. In fact, according to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, the cost overruns already exceed that amount.
Monson argues that the Highway 99 tunnel project is actually $523 million over budget. He points to the following statement made by former WSDOT Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond prior to the project’s launch:
“The project may cost $2.8 billion. We believe we could bring it in for under, although we’re not going to talk too much about that until we get further in our design…”
You see, WSDOT says that the original cost of the project was $3.1 billion. But, prior to the start of the project, WSDOT officials like Hammond said the project would cost $2.8 billion. WSDOT explains the extra $300 million by saying it would pay for entrance and exit ramps — as if entrance and exit ramps were not considered in the project’s planning phase (which would just make them incompetent).
So, just to wrap-up what we know, WSDOT officials say the original cost of the project is $3.1 billion. But, according to statements made by the WSDOT officials at the time, the original cost was $2.8 billion.
That, of course, means the project is actually $523 million over budget not — as WSDOT now claims — $223 million over budget.
Ladies and gentlemen, the incompetence of WSDOT for all to see.