The Democrats who run the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) resisted all efforts during the last legislative session to reform the way they run the show. Instead, they insisted that they have learned from past mistakes and are being good stewards of your tax dollars.
Which is why it was somewhat surprising to see that WSDOT is currently advertising for a four-year, $600,000 contract with “a public affairs firm to assist in developing federal funding opportunities for transportation projects and programs, and in shaping federal legislative and regulatory transportation proposals to benefit Washington State”. Evidently WSDOT needs someone to set up residence in DC in order to keep up with the “sometimes fast moving nature of federal transportation policy.”
Of course in this state, “fast moving” and “transportation policy” are not usually used in the same sentence.
In addition to collaborating with WSDOT on developing transportation policy, the lobbyist would also be expected to stay “generally” up-to-date with WSDOT projects and build a rapport with Congressional offices. All of these tasks seem like perhaps senior managers currently working at WSDOT should already being doing — but what’s another $600,000 of taxpayer money to the financially-hemorrhaging WSDOT that has a record of mismanaging outside contracting?
The WSDOT has left a trail of poorly executed projects throughout Washington that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The 520 Bridge in particular is slated to cost an extra $170 million dollars as a result of design errors that the state was forced into admitting fault for, bringing the final price tag up to $4.3 billion dollars.
Another project worth mentioning in the long line of fumbled outside contractors is the Highway 99 underground tunnel. As of April of this year, the super drill Bertha was out of commission due to maintenance issues that will render the drill useless until next March, with a new project completion date set at November 2016. The drill is still under warranty from its Osaka-based developer Hitachi Zosen who manufactured the world’s largest tunnel-boring machine. Conveniently, Hitachi Zosen does not yet have a repair plan for its $80 million drill. Todd Trepanier, WSDOT’s program administrator, claims that Seattle Tunnel Partners—the firm contracted out to execute the $1.44 billion tunnel—is at fault, not the WSDOT.
Perhaps the WSDOT has spent so many hours working with these contractors that it slipped their mind to notify the Washington State Transportation Committee that they would be reducing I-90 to one lane next week. Rather, the Transportation Committee found out through media outlets. The Committee is the only authority with the ability to suspend tolling on 520, which could have helped alleviate what will assuredly be a traffic nightmare.
While it is impossible to argue that the WSDOT clearly needs better management—if not a complete overhaul—perhaps they should direct that $600,000 to finish a project, before attempting to take on more failures with outside contractors.