Update 6:00 – There is a third possibility. Bid come in a few million “under budget” making the project look good to the general public. If you want to get conspiracy theoryish you could say that today’s comments were made to make low bids look like a pleasant “surprise”.

It looks like WSDOT’s public relations machine is getting into high gear on the deep-bore tunnel (DBT). This great scoop from the Seattle PI:

A sluggish economy that’s helped taxpayers save millions on several large transportation projects is unlikely to have much effect on the state’s planned $1.96 billion deep-bore tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Thanks to a slow construction market, the bids on several large transportation projects have been coming in at 18 to 25 percent below the state’s estimates. But the favorable bidding climate probably won’t mean big savings on the tunnel project, said Ron Paananen, the state Transportation Department’s administrator for the overall project, which is projected to cost $4.2 billion.

“I’m not so sure we’ll see that in this project because of the level of risk assigned to the contract and the nature of the tunneling industry,” he said. “This is a very big contract with a limited number of contractors. We made sure to get the best and put in a lot of protections to ensure any potential damages are minimized.”

Two joint-venture contracting teams are expected to submit their bids by a Friday deadline on how they would build the tunnel and for how much.

With last week’s announcement that WSDOT is throwing the two remaining teams hundreds of millions more, and today’s announcement that the bids aren’t likely to come in under budget because of the poor economy, it’s pretty obvious that WSDOT is trying bring their budget in line with higher costs and reduced expectations of low bids.

WSDOT doesn’t know what the bid are, but I’m sure they have been getting ample hints from the project teams that those teams will need more money. These teams have spent millions of dollars to get to this point, and neither them nor WSDOT are about to give up on this project. It’s in both of their interest to help each other out.

So with an under-budget DBT doubtful, watch for two scenarios. The first is that bids come in “on budget” thanks to WSDOT shuffling of money. The other is the tunnel still comes in over budget but through theses actions is able to minimize harm to the project.

In the next week or so WSDOT will be releasing their Supplemental Draft EIS (SDEIS). With Halloween this weekend and all of the election coverage over the next week or so, this is a great time from a PR perspective to release a such a controversial document and project bids.

19 Replies to “WSDOT Hedging DBT Bet”

  1. In a related story, New Jersey’s governor has decided to scrap plans for a rail tunnel under the Hudson River because of concerns about cost overruns:


    TRENTON, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie cited New Jersey’s lack of money Wednesday in standing by his decision to kill a train tunnel connecting his state to New York City, a move that will force the state to repay up to $350 million of the money it was given to start the nation’s biggest public works project.

    Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party for his fearless budget-slashing, has argued that his cash-strapped state can’t afford to pay for any overruns on the $9 billion-plus rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The state is on the hook for $2.7 billion plus overruns.

    “In the end, my decision does not change,” Christie said. “I cannot place upon the citizens of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit, and that’s what this project represents.”

    It seems that tunnels of any type are becoming just way too expensive to justify.

      1. I would love to see that $350 million go towards Eastside Access. Really stick it under Christie’s face. It’s the Feds’ money; some pissant governor doesn’t get to decide how it gets spent.

      2. It’s piss ant governors that are responsible for balancing state budgets. If the State can’t afford to pick up the tab for the costs not paid for by the Feds, let alone the operating costs, then why continue to pour money down a rat hole?

      3. Christie is trying to tell the federal government to give him the money anyway so he can spend it on roads.

    1. Christie has had it out for ARC for a long, long time. His decision to kill it had nothing to do with pragmatism and everything to do with political grandstanding.

    2. Can we fund a one-way ticket for Norman to NW Siberia? Gawd, I’m tired of seeing his one-track rants.

    3. “Seems”? What it really seems like is that another member of the political party that just wrecked this country is trying to prevent anybody from trying to start repairing it ’til the 2010 election. A desperate, poverty-stricken population is a lot easier to rule than one with a well-off, unionized workforce.

      Funny about Republican accounting: two simultaneous wars and a huge tax cut are good budgeting. Borrowing for public works is irresponsible. Truth is, the condition of this nation’s infrastructure is a worse menace to our national survival than anything Al Quaeda can do. Bin Laden really just has to sit back and take credit every time something collapses.

      The Seattle Waterfront tunnel probably isn’t anywhere near as critical as the Hudson Rail Tunel, and I’m still waiting to be completely convinced we need it. But like I’ve said before, bottom line is we shouldn’t spend four billion dollars on anything under the waterfront that doesn’t have serious electric rail on top of it.

      Those low interest and other costs also apply to transit- not just as another amenity like fountains and park benches, but truly the aboveground lanes of the tubes.

      Mark Dublin

    4. Well, the way we do them. There were things that they could’ve done differently with the ARC tunnel to make it less expensive, and better in general. I think in some ways this is good news because the ARC project was flawed, and so although it’s badly needed, they should do it better. For one, they should make the second trans-Hudson rail tunnel go somewhere other then where the first one goes.
      Also, the $3b that the Port Authority pledged to the project can now go to other things, like East Side Access and/or the Second Ave Subway (possibly for the second phase of the Second Ave Subway, up to 125th), and the federal government also pledged $3b, which I’m guessing they will be pressured to spend in the New York area, so it could go towards those projects.

      1. Agreed – ARC was a terribly flawed project which never should have arrived at the proposal stage let alone the funding stage. Some missle and upper-class north Jersey commuters to Penn Station won’t get their one seat, no standees ride – boo hoo.

  2. Arrgh, I wish there was a politician will to stake out the pragmatic middle ground between wanton stimulus spending for the sake of spending (Kenynesian madness) and thoughtful, targeted capital investments than will have high ROI for the economy

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