Lindblom at the Seattle Times reports that the state has made the Highway 99 tunnel contract a bit sweeter:

As a bid deadline nears and pressure mounts, Washington state has sweetened its Highway 99 tunnel contract by offering a pair of bid teams $230 million in concessions.

The changes reflect a view by construction executives that the real costs are higher on this world-record project than the state projected several months ago.

The money can be shifted out of a large pool of risk and contingency funds, so the overall tunnel budget remains $1.96 billion, said Ron Paananen, state program administrator.

Why make these changes?

They’re designed to reduce the companies’ risk, so bids are more likely to meet the target price of $1.1 billion, published many months ago.

“Both teams, and maybe the two teams that dropped out, expressed concern the [state’s cost target] is too low. They couldn’t figure out how to bid the project at that amount or lower,” [one of the bidders] said.

WSDOT’s expert panel and the Seattle city council’s risk consultant say that reducing the amount of contingency funds is fine, and perhaps some of that contingency money exists for exactly the type of bid inflation we’re witnessing. But it’s slightly concerning that the engineer’s estimates are already unrealistic in a period where construction bids routinely come in under budget. Imagine what happens in 2014 or so, when construction is beginning in earnest and the change orders come pouring in.

22 Replies to “WSDOT Sweetens Deep Bore Tunnel Contract”

  1. Too bad we can’t spend the $2 billion on the surface option with a new a Ballard-West Seattle light rail line with a new 2nd Ave tunnel and improve I-5. Imagine the capacity improvements those three would bring over a 4-lane tunnel!

    1. There is so little planning on any of this at present that you would be looking at years out for a Ballard West Seattle line and who knows what the costs would be by that point in time.

      Stick with something that is currently a little more determinable and predictable in terms of cost than is a plan that is so much more unknown.

      We could have had a monorail by this point in time between Ballard and West Seattle, but as we all know, it all sadly got screwed up for various reasons.

      1. I wonder if this is true. Basic routing shouldn’t take that long, and if we commit to a tunnel for the whole route we can start the boring machines and design while they dig.

    2. Too bad we can’t spend the $2 billion on shovel-ready Link construction.

      And too bad we still don’t know where the $2 billion will actually be found.

  2. Re-elect Patty Murray and hopefully she will bring back to the project some federal dollars to cover much of this. Further delays to the project will only increase the likelihood of even more drastic overruns.

    Construction is supposed to start in 2011, not 2014.

    Imagine what the cost increases would be if the project is delayed by any more stalling actions from the mayor’s office. and the seeming lack of a realistic alternative to the present plan that yet preserves the current function of the viaduct as an important freight and through city corridor.

    1. Does the federal government have a history of funding state highways?

      I didn’t write that construction began in 2014 but that the major components of construction will begin around that time. At that point, we could be well out of a recession and could be competing with China over steel and concrete and oil again.

      A capable alternative plan is surface, transit, and I-5 improvements. But even if there were no alternative, we do not shove aside cost estimates and expect to blow through budgets no matter what the circumstances.

    2. Tim,

      What has the mayor done to successfully stall the tunnel? I don’t remember any actual delays that had to do with political process, at least this year.

    3. Why do I always hear so much about freight transportation, and we don’t have any dedicated freight lanes (outside maybe the immediate port areas)? If we really think efficient freight movement will help our economy, why don’t we take a lane on I-5 for commercial vehicles? I know it wouldn’t work right through downtown Seattle since there are only 2 through lanes to begin with (not counting express lanes), but what about from Lynnwood to Mercer St? West Seattle bridge to Ft Lewis? I see a lot of trucks sitting in traffic, burning dollars, behind SOV drivers who have easy alternatives.
      I just want to make sure this freight corridor argument isn’t just an excuse to justify huge expenditures for easy driving by SOV cars who could otherwise use transit (i.e. short-haul freight has no other option but Ballard to Tukwila commuter does, or would given a $4b transit investment).

      1. + 1 !

        Is WSDOT really trying to help move freight, or using the word “freight” as a hood ornament to help create more SOV capacity?

        I know. It wasn’t WSDOT that designed a tunnel that will take longer than heading straight down the new Alaskan Way. That was legislators’ doing.

        Mayor McGinn does have it within his power to open up the BAT lanes on Western / 15th Ave W/NW / Holman to commercial freight. That would be a good place to lead by example.

  3. Gee, I wonder what the odds are that the extra 1/4 Billion gets consumed by the contractors?

    1. It depends entirely on whether they decide to submit bids or not. It sounds like they both almost backed out. Oh, that would have been an occasion for celebration.

    1. The more we misnomer it/them the “surface option”, the less credible it/they will be to the public. It’s really the transit option, and that transit option could include a second DSTT for West Link.

      Sell it as the “transit option(s)” and it will poll better.

      When people hear “surface option” they assume we want to put more cars on downtown surface streets.

      1. Well the actually surface/transit option didn’t include anything like a second downtown tunnel… In fact, I don’t think that option included nearly enough transit. Oh well, it’ll happen someday.

      2. How could it be the transit option? How could you re-program $2+ billion in state gas tax money for a second DSTT, or even for more bus service?

        As much as I like the idea of using all those billions to build a better transit network, I have yet to see how it pencils out. If the tunnel dies, that $2 billion will go to build bigger, better highways in Goldendale and Spokane Valley and Mount Vernon.

      3. [lorax] The state can get this done if they wanted to. Sure there’s a constitutional ammendment against using gas taxes for anything but road building. But they could just add a sales tax to gas to only be used for transit. It’s just a matter of political willpower, and our current politicians love roads.

      4. “Sell it as the “transit option(s)” and it will poll better.”

        No, because the people you have to convince are the tunnel fans, and what they want is an SOV bypass, not transit.

  4. I just spent the afternoon at the Lean Construction Congress in Boulder learning [again] exactly how to avoid a zillion change orders, plan and execute on time and under budget, big or small project. The state and its contractors can learn this; it would save everyone a LOT of the usual exasperation and rework.

    1. It would save even more money if the government would stop trying to force freeway construction projects down our throats. Even if the tunnel could be build a lot cheaper, it is still a terrible idea for downtown Seattle, when high-capacity transit could carry a lot more people.

    2. [Tom] There’s a simple way to do this: use a fixed cost model, or something close to it. The problem is, no politician in their right mind would shift the risk to the contractor, because it makes the first cost seem much higher. That’s a perfect way to kill a project.

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