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.