This was not supposed to fall over this way. Photo courtesy WSDOT
This was supposed to fall over this way. Photo courtesy WSDOT

Correction January 13th: Originally this said the coffer in the photo about was not supposed to fall-over that way. It was supposed to fall over that way. Apologies for the mistake.

Our state’s transportation agency, WSDOT, is having some serious problems on two of its three “mega-projects*” in the Seattle area. I think the problems highlight a number of problems in the way we plan, price and green-light these large highway projects, and really continues a long track record of weakness in the agency itself.

First, the 520 bridge replacement project, having already eaten its through its $250 million contingency, needs $170 million dollars more added to its budget. From the Seattle Times:

Cost increases on the new Highway 520 bridge not only will drain the megaproject’s entire contingency fund, but could require money to be shifted from other road work, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told lawmakers Wednesday.

These costs are apparently related to cracks in the pontoons and the delays these cracks have caused. This is merely the first cost overrun of what I am completely confident will be many for the project whose completion date has already slipped from 2014 to 2016.

Photo courtesy WSDOT
This pipe is costing you millions of dollars. Photo Courtesy WSDOT.

WSDOT’s other problem is a pipe blocking “Bertha”, the tunnel boring machine building the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. Bertha became stuck whilst boring and apparently there are a lot of complications getting the entire pipe out because of Bertha’s size and position relative to the pipe and its location.

What makes pipe incident so frustrating is that WSDOT itself put the pipe there. And not for some other project, but for research testing the soil and groundwater conditions for this very tunnelling project. This really raises a lot of questions about WSDOT’s culture and efficacy dealing with contractors. The Seattle Times again (different article):

The 2002 well site was listed in reference materials provided to construction bidders, as part of the contract specifications.

“I don’t want people to say WSDOT didn’t know where its own pipe was, because it did,” said state spokesman Lars Erickson.

However, Chris Dixon, STP’s project director, said the builders presumed it had been removed.

Who’s reviewing these plans? Isn’t some one there to ensure the plan has taken into account all the information? Who’s there to look at the tunnel plan, check against the soil map they presumably used to plan the tunnelling and say “hm, better make sure this pipe has been removed”. No big deal? We’re only spending billions of dollars here. And why is WSDOT leaving 119-foot steel pipes in the ground anyway? By my very rough calculation, the pipe itself is $15,000 worth of scrap steel** (I’m sure WSDOT spent much more). Now we’re wasting millions getting out of the ground.

WSDOT has a poor record building large projects going back decades. Galloping Gertie famously collapsed in 1940. The Hood Canal Bridge sank in 1979. The I-90 floating bridge sank in 1990. The 520 replacement already has cracked pontoons years before it’s scheduled to open, and the Tunnel Highway is blocked by one of WSDOT’s own pipes. Unlike Sound Transit, who seems to be getting better at building train lines, WSDOT doesn’t seem to be capable of learning from its mistakes.

* The other is the 405 widening.

** You could say something about being “green” and recycling if you wanted to.

102 Replies to “WSDOT’s Woes”

  1. I think you’re being a little unfair about the older projects you listed here.

    Galloping Gertie’s problem was a fundamental design flaw in all modern spension bridges. After its collapse, existing bridges around the country were modified to avoid that problem.

    The sinking of the old I-90 bridge was not a design flaw, but a series bone-headed moves by construction staff followed by bad timing and luck during an effort to widen the bridge. (If any of these things not happened, the bridge would not have gone down).

    Hood canal may be more problematic as it is fully in the sound and floating bridge designs from the time did not do well with storm surges. Supposedly it is better now…

    I do have to agree that these two modern projects have been disasters of bad planning within WSDOT though. The magnitude of the oversight problems here are telling because the failues now are during the initial construction phase. We never failed to make good pontoons before, and you would think with how many of these floating bridges we have here that pontoon construction would be pretty hard to mess up on.

    The pipes forgotten in Bertha’s path are really aggrivating though. No one wants to take the blame, and apparently no one had the foresight to ask the right questions.

    I don’t know if WSDOT as an organization needs to be shaken up, but new leadership might be in order…. some one who pays attention to the detals for once might be nice…

    1. Minor clarification: I think WSDOT was a much more capable organization even in the previous decade where they were able to put in a third (making it the second still standing) Tacoma Narrows without any apparent problems.

      I don’t know if there has been a recent change in leadership, but it does seem that their capabilities as an organization have gone down considerably in the last few years.

      1. I wonder how much of WSDOT’s problems have to do with retention problems from four years of state-mandated salary freezes. Probably any competent engineer could jump ship and get a job with a design or contracting firm for much more money.

      2. Charles B, I think the Narrows is the only project like this that has gone smoothly – and by smoothly I mean no obvious massive cock-ups. I really have trouble thinking of any others.

      3. The same WSDOT manager who oversaw the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Project also oversaw the SR 99 project until fairly recently.

      1. There’s also the skagit river bridge collapse, but that may not be entirely their fault.

      2. Yes, I also think the traffic management systems they have put in place have gone smoothly. It’s not all bad, it’s mostly good. It’s just the big, expensive exotic projects that they struggle with.

      3. Who doesn’t struggle with big, expensive, exotic projects? A private company budgets in lots of risk and stands to profit greatly if it succeeds. The government has to propose an initial budget that looks frugal and if it succeeds gets no profit, only a lifetime of having to maintain a complex megaproject. The goalposts are placed differently and the reward structure is different.

        Maybe WSDOT could be more competent at these sorts of projects. But the deeper truth is that we are trying to build a hell of a lot of complicated infrastructure in a physically challenging place as cheaply as possible. The biggest and riskiest projects involve trying to accommodate very large densities of cars in difficult terrain. The only winning move is not to play — to instead build around more space-efficient transportation. If we find space to keep transit moving within natural transportation corridors then we don’t need those exotic megaprojects.

  2. Remember when McGinn said he wanted it in writing that Seattle wouldn’t be on the hook for the waterfront tunnel overruns, and Gregoire said no?

    1. I like how Seattle is the only place in the state that gets stuck with the overage cost when WSDOT screws up on state highway work that just happens to be inside its borders.

      I’d like to see how other cities manage that. Maybe we should do this with every new project going forward for other cities too?

      What was the point of doing things together as a state again?

      1. I believe many of these “fuck seattle” laws would fail a constitutional challenge because of the 14th amendments equal protection clause. You can’t make laws that say “the cities keep this tax, except if the cities has a population over 400,000” constitutionally, even if it were not entirely obvious that Seattle was the only place that the law would apply to, and it is totally obvious.

      2. Equal protection only applies to people. Although some ludicrous and incorrect Supreme Court decisions have been claiming for the last 100 years that corporations are people, I believe the precedent still says that cities aren’t people. :-(

      3. Cities aren’t people but the people in the cities are people, and they are the ones who have to pay. I think it would make sense.

      4. John: it’s also logically inconsistent that corporations are people for purposes of equal protection (in the 14th amendment) but not for purposes of the right to vote (in the VERY SAME 14th amendment), but that’s the set of stupid precedents we got from corrupt Supreme Courts.

      5. I think we can do without the tinfoil election nonsense. Focus on the issue at hand, and all that….

      6. (for historical reference, corrupt *19th century* Supreme Courts — this stuff dates back to the Slaughterhouse cases.)

    2. The state was willing to just replace the viaduct with a viaduct. Mayor Nickels and city council said, “No, we want a tunnel,” and made a backroom deal with the state to get it. So it’s not the same as most highway projects. It’s like if Seattle, Bellevue, and the Points Communities insisted on replacing 520 with a tunnel. (Hmm, why didn’t Yarrow Point think of that….)

      1. I never liked the tunnel idea myself. It just funnels people through the city, making it only useful to people who have no business with the city and just want to pass through.

      2. I don’t think many vehicles are going to use the tunnel, either, because of the tolls. A toll high enough to actually be worth the trouble raising money will be a huge deterrent to people using it. At least it’ll be fast to get from West Lake union to Sodo, a trip people make all the time.

        Wait, no one does that.

      3. That brings up an interesting point. Maybe the tunnel will reduce the post-event gridlock downtown for stadium events.

      4. I doubt it. The tunnel users in the future are all viaduct users today.

        However, if we could somehow convince Metro to run special post-event E-line buses that use the tunnel and drive nonstop from the stadium to 45th St. (regular E-line stops after that), it would be really awesome.

      5. Yeah, you’ll be able to get to the Stadiums from the tunnel. A left-side exit as you exit the portal will put you on a eastern frontage road with access to both Atlantic and Royal Brougham. The surface streets between the SR-99 on/offramps and the I-90 Edgar Martinez on/offramps will be designated SR-519.

        If you’re willing to pay the toll, you’ll also have a new route from the I-90 bridge to South Lake Union that avoids the both I-5 collector/distributor lanes and the northbound Mercer Weave. But the majority of current Viaduct traffic, which is bound for the CBD or Interbay/Magnolia/Ballard, will be moved to our new waterfront surface highway to make room.

      6. Except for all those trips that will move to nowhere because de-induced demand, or will move to 1st 2nd/4th I-5 or other routes for similar reasons.

      7. Also, would it be possible to implement a peak-only express bus route from South Lake Union to Chinatown/King Street Station through the tunnel (presumably with financial support by Amazon)? This should dramatically decrease travel times to/from South Lake Union from both the east and south (via Link, Sounder, and express buses), thus further supporting its growth as an employment center.

      8. If would work for people coming off of Sounder, but the 550, not so much. Given the unpredictable travel time getting downtown, schedules would be impossible to coordinate, so for any transfer, frequency is king. Once you’re on the 550, in the tunnel, there’s no reason not to stay on it all the way to Westlake. From there, if nothing else, the streetcar runs every 10 minutes, which is probably better than your route would get. You are also close enough where it’s feasible to just get up and walk the last half-mile if you just miss one. Yes, the streetcar gets stuck in traffic through SLU, but any express bus that used the tunnel would ultimately get stuck in the same traffic, once it comes out.

        Sounder, of course, is a whole different ballgame. You have to get off and transfer to something at King Street and given the huge number of people the train carries, I doubt you would have any trouble filling up a bus, assuming it picked up right at the station and had schedules carefully coordinated to meet each train (at least the trains from Tacoma).

      9. “Maybe the tunnel will reduce the post-event gridlock downtown for stadium events.”

        Imagine how many more people would have avoided gridlock if that same $4+ billion had been poured into building a real transportation system, like light rail lines to Everett, Ballard, West Seattle, Redmond, and Tacoma.

  3. Meh, what’s a few hundred million between friends? The money can be found, everyone else be damned. It’s not like transit or people walking or biking need anything, and roads pay for themselves anyway. And we have a governor who will finally take on climate change by a visionary building of $8B in new highways! What’s not to like?

  4. Let’s just be thankful WSDOT isn’t attempting to build something truly monumental like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.

    1. No, they’re just rebuilding the longest floating bridge in the world… and version 2.0 has cracks in it before its even assembled.

      1. These cracks are so frightening. They’ve sunk two of these already, I don’t want to be on the third when it sinks…

  5. Saying Sound Transit is getting better by linking a post that talks about U-Link, isn’t the most persuasive argument. When completed, U-Link will have been delayed over a decade.

    1. The delays for U link were about having enough money to start the project. Sound Transit did have a major weakness in that area (cost estimation) before they got their act together.

      They have not had any problems even remotely at the level that WSDOT has. Projects after the inital Central link have so far come in on or under budget and on time.

      All of their tunnel segments have gone in with no apparent problems and under budget with the latest sets.

    2. I think ST learned their lesson when many of the RTP, JRPC, & Sound Move estimates were scrapped in ~2002?, along with the Director and some senior staff. They nearly imploded as a result of presenting only the rose colored picture for so long, just as the Monorail Authority did.
      ST reset many of the budgets, priorities, and estimates, and hired a new Director to get ST2 to the ballot with at least reasonable timeframes and cost estimates for the mega stuff they do now. Ridership estimates given for 20 years down the road are pretty safe, as nobody will ever remember them once the thing is built.
      WSDOT has always been swimming in Federal $$ and rising VMTs with shitty CAFE standards. Life was good. Now, with electric cars, fewer VMTs per capita, falling Federal support, and dwindling local tax revenues, the Mega Projects of the past are just eating their lunch. Time for a major Reset there too.

    3. Bob, my point is that Sound Transit has gotten better, not that it started out perfect. It’s merely 20 years old. WSDOT is nearly 100 years old.

      1. I hear ya, but ST has now revised and moved the goal posts on some ST2 projects as well. It’s certainly not something to aspire too.

        And for the comment about ridership and “reseting the budgets,” don’t you realize how BAD that sounds? You are giving ST a free pass for misleading voters, twice.

      2. Ridership estimates, budgets and schedules all depend upon economic forecasts. Since ST2 passed right at about the same time the country was finding out how bad the recession was going to be, is it a surprise that they over-promised?

      3. While the Sound Transit 2 measure passed just as the great recession was getting started (the start of the crisis being Sep 15 when the Feds allowed Lehman to go bankrupt), when it was actually written no one had any clue the crash was coming.

        In reality it pretty amazing what ST has been able when loosing about 1/3rd of their anticipated revenues. All serves maintained, Angel Lake Station sped up, the University Link extension coming in ONE HUNDRED MILLION dollars UNDERbudget and six months ahead of schedule, Northgate and Lynnwood extensions all on track. Even with Kemper Freeman buying the Bellevue City Council (for a time) and doing all he could to delay East Link, that project is continuing ahead. Unfortunately it looks like without additional funding the Federal Way extension will be pushed back, but for that to be the only causality from the largest economic recession since the Great Depression is almost unbelievable. It’s a testiment to the turn around the agency has made since the dark days.

        If WashDOT were run as prudently as Sound Transit I think we’d all be better off.

      4. “the University Link extension coming in ONE HUNDRED MILLION dollars UNDER budget”

        Of course, that’s also an artifact of the recession.

      5. If somebody says they’ll sell you a train for $100 and you only give them $75, then you get 3/4 of a train, or the deal is off, or you’ll have to wait until you come up with the other $25. That’s what happened to ST. It’s not “misleading the voters” to not have predicted how long the recession and unemployment would last, especially when that’s influenced by unpredictable federal actions.

  6. We Virginians should loan you our Philip Schucet. Before he was brought on board, our VDOT was horrible with delays and cost overruns for almost every project they did. Now, the agency is proud of its Ahead of Schedule / Underbudget completion.

    If anyone can straighten out the 520 Bridge, it would be him

    1. I think it really is a cultural problem to some extent. Someone like Schucet may need only a couple of years to turn things around.

      1. Andrew, Peterson hasn’t even held the position for a year yet, and inherited these problems.

      1. Exactly, if he can make WSDOT less wastefull, they can build more roads with the money they have!

  7. WSDOT has also slipped on their 520 work east of the bridge. Everything was supposed to be finished a month ago, but has now slipped to at least this summer. Meanwhile, all that’s left of the HOV lanes the buses used to have before the construction started is tiny pullouts for the Yarrow Point and Evergreen Point bus stops.

    Something has also gone seriously wrong in the planning – why is Yarrow Point getting such an expensive bus stop when so few people use it – and half the people that do use it are bikers who could just as easily use the Evergreen Point bus stop and will likely not use any bus stop at all, once the new bridge is finished.

      1. Once the Eastside project is done, there will be 2 GP lanes plus one HOV lane in each direction. Up to the not completed bridge anyway.

        Also when this project is done, they’ll need to restripe east of 108th NE to move the HOV lanes to the center.

      2. Just during construction: once construction is over there will be center HOV lanes in both directions across the entire bridge and on the east side off the bridge. I’m not entirely sure how these center HOV lanes would connect to the side ones east of I-405 though (there are plans to move those to the center, but I doubt it will happen by 2016…)

      3. The plans I read called for “restriping for continuous HOV lane” from 108th all the way to Redmond. I don’t see any reason why this can’t happen as soon as the construction is complete, as its just paint. Truth be told, this is something they could have and should have done years ago. This change will do wonders for the 542 and 545.

    1. According to Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan, the Yarrow Point Station will be fed by two local routes to Medina and Clyde Hill (basically extended versions of the 271 and 246). While the stop may not get high ridership, it would make little sense to force riders from those areas to backtrack all the way to Bellevue TC to get to Seattle.

      Ironically, it is actually the Evergreen Point Station that will be useless since there are no local bus connections, and while it is currently used as a transfer point from the 545/255 to the UW, this function will no longer exist once the 545/255 are rerouted to UW Station in 2016 (if that is planned). I’m not really sure that the walkshed of Evergreen Point would justify a station (it probably wouldn’t), but at least it will improve transit service dramatically for the relatively few people living in Medina and Evergreen Point.

      1. Plus you could just as easily transfer at Yarrow Point instead of evergreen point between the 545/255/542 etc…

      2. My observation going by these two stops every day:

        1) About 80-90% of the people using the Evergreen Point are transferring buses and aren’t leaving the stop. Most of the remaining people are bikers who need a ride across the 520 bridge. There is a small P&R lot supplying a few additional riders, but it’s too small for P&R riders to make much of a dent.

        2) The Yarrow Point stop gets considerably less use than the Evergreen Point stop, primarily because the quality of the current stop is much worse. In fact, it gets used so rarely that I would personally be afraid to use that stop at night for fear of getting stuck there as buses zoom past me on autopilot.

        When the construction finishes, the quality of the two stops will be pretty much equivalent, but without a routing change, Evergreen Point will still be the only option for transfers to or from the 271.

        I have never understood why the 246 went halfway between Bellevue Transfer and Yarrow Point freeway station without going all the way there – I’m guessing it’s a problem of narrow roads leaving the bus nowhere to turn around. For all the money being spent, the planned roundabout at the top of the 92nd St. lid had better be suitable for a bus to use as a turnaround.

        That being said, there are some good uses for the Yarrow Point bus stop today for the athletically inclined. It’s only 2.5 miles from the Yarrow Point bus stop to downtown Bellevue and could be jogged in around 20-25 minutes. I tried an experiment once and actually confirmed that the quickest way from downtown Redmond to downtown Bellevue on a weekend using only the current bus network and feet is to ride the 545 to Yarrow Point and hoof it the rest of the way. It beats the “RapidRide” B-line anytime.

        Similarly, sections of Kirkland around Lake Washington Blvd. are within a 15 minute jog of the Yarrow Point bus stop, an option that would probably be faster than riding a milk run bus in the wrong direction to transfer to the 255 at South Kirkland P&R to get to Seattle.

      3. Bellevue’s TMP is only authoritative for Bellevue. It makes suggestions about how routes partially in Bellevue can be accommodated with minimal change to the status quo, but the report itself says these are not meant to be dictating to other cities or presuming what their needs are.

      4. From a network design standpoint, if you’re going to operate the 246 at all, extending it one more mile to Yarrow Point Freeway Station feels like a no-brainer. If necessary, I’m sure a route like that could be operated with vehicles far smaller than a 40-foot bus.

        Of course, if NIMBY’s object to having bus service on the grounds of noise or imaginary riff-raff passing through the neighborhood, we probably have bigger battles to fight than to shove bus service down their throat.

        As to the 271, I presume the primary reason it goes through Medina ultimately boils down to coverage – it’s the only way to maintain all-day service to Medina without coughing up the money to run a dedicated shuttle bus, which everybody knows almost nobody will ride.

        In terms of travel time, most of the day, 84th vs. Bellevue way doesn’t make all that much difference. Google driving directions claims the Bellevue Way route is 1 minute faster. However, for westbound trips in the afternoon peak, the actual difference can be much more than that. A lot of SOV drivers take the 271’s current routing in an effort to avoid congestion on 520 by not getting on the freeway until right before the bridge (where traffic usually starts speeding up). Combine this with the limited capacity of a 2-lane road, and the result is 20+ minutes of waiting in line for a turn at the entrance ramp. In a post-construction world where the bus has access to HOV lines to bypass the mess on the freeway, there is no reason to route the bus in a way that subjects it to these kinds of delays. In fact, since the Bellevue Way entrance ramp is often backed up too, I would actually argue that, once the construction is finished, the 271 should be rerouted to take 108th Ave. and get on the freeway using the (not yet built) HOV direct access ramps.

  8. So help me understand. A private company contracts with the state to build these pontoons. Why are they not being held accountable for the costs their substandard work has cost the project?

    1. It’s like the concrete highrise apartment building in Belltown that had to be demolished. The contractor and the hired inspector both said it wasn’t their responsibility to check if the work was done correctly (sealing the cable anchors)

    2. In the case of Bertha and the wellpipe, according to unnamed sources quoted by the Stranger earlier this week, it’s likely that the contractor will be on the hook for overruns, as they knowingly ran the machine through the pipe.

      In the case of the SR-520 pontoons, it’s likely that WSDOT will be on the hook for overruns, since WSDOT provided the contractor with flawed specifications, which were accurately followed by the contractor.

      1. So were these specs completely internally created or sis they involve outside designers? I thuggtni had understood that it was only a couple of the pontoons that were substandard?

      2. It’s only 4 pontoons that have become seriously cracked, but the entire batch was built to the flawed standards.

        And yes, to the best of my knowledge the design was developed in-house by WSDOT engineers.

  9. We are missing a level of accountability in the political system. The intent of ISTEA in 1991 was to begin to have that accountability with MPO’s — but most places pushed back on the idea so that it got watered down. Truthfully, PSRC should be refocused and given the authority to more closely oversee funding and project management, but to do that would require that we shift the way we look at funding and how the agency board is structured. All transportation agencies — weather highway or transit — need objective oversight outside of their own boards and staff to keep major expenses in check.

    1. One of the biggest problems is that our municipal borders in almost all of the US are *messed up*. MPOs were supposed to provide the accountability, but they couldn’t get any power, because the cities, counties, etc. jealously guarded their power, and the MPOs weren’t elected.

      But the MPOs were created because the city, county, etc. borders were whacked and had no connection to the actual areas which needed transportation planning.

      The natural thing to do is to change the municipal borders to map tightly to the MPO boundaries, but nobody does that. (I mean, they did stuff like that in the UK, several times, but nobody does that in the US. For some reason.)

      1. There’s the rub. I have sometimes wished Seattle had annexed Shoreline and White Center before the suburban movement grew in the 1950s and cut that possibility off. But much of north Seattle itself is suburban — with larger houses and a wish to retain a “country” feel — and those areas would have doubtless been the same. So the net result might have been to make the urban area an even smaller percentage of the city, with proportionally less clout, and that might have made it harder to gain even the density and transit we have.

        What would really have helped Seattle the most was if the population had been higher before the 1940s when cars took over, with row houses mixed with bungalows all the way up to 85th Street (especially in the northeast). That would give a large rectangular area of walkable density, like Chicago’s North Side that I have sometimes praised. But the population was only 250,000 and it was a small-town frontier mentality, so the urban areas were much smaller and less able to withstand the highway invasion and the degredation of transit.

      2. Even in a region with a very powerful MPO (San Diego), the state DOT is still substantially in charge of the details of highway construction (if not so much the funding).

      1. Oh, I had assumed that was for something more recent, like the construction of the new 520. Thanks.

  10. It’d be kinda darkly comic except you worry about voters who won’t distinguish between agencies and end up not supporting ST3 because they don’t trust anyone around here to complete large projects.

    PS, there’s some punctuation on the outside of quotation marks in this post.

      1. Seriously? That’s on purpose? You write on an American blog for an American audience and intentionally choose to break a basic rule of American English that all the other writers on your blog follow?

      2. I was just teasing. I lived a large portion of my childhood in Australia, give me that as break? Sorry if it offended you, I’ll try harder to be more pure ‘merican in the future.

    1. None taken. Just want to see this lovely blog as clean and polished as possible so folks focus on what you’re saying and take you as seriously as you deserve to be taken.

      I’m a freelance editor and did just spend weeks helping a client customize—er, customise—learning materials for an Australian market. Know how it is.

  11. I think your calculation of the value of the pipe as scrap metal is pretty off. Assuming an 8 inch interior diameter, and even assuming it’s an inch thick (10 inch exterior diameter), which is surely a huge overestimate of the sturdiness of this pipe, I get that it’s approximately 11,600lbs of steel. Which, at 10 cents a pound for steel, isn’t much in value.

    And, really, if not for the need to tunnel through this area, why would you ever pull this pipe back up? I would guess the cost of removing a well casing is not small. It’s basically worth nothing. And it’s certainly not an environmental hazard (it’s iron and some carbon).

    Yes, someone should have foreseen this and gotten the pipe out of there, because of the tunnel project, but I’m betting that only a tiny percentage of well casings are *ever* removed. There’s just no good reason to, barring the extraordinarily unlikely event of a TBM coming through.

    1. Yes, someone should have foreseen this and gotten the pipe out of there, because of the tunnel project, but I’m betting that only a tiny percentage of well casings are *ever* removed. There’s just no good reason to, barring the extraordinarily unlikely event of a TBM coming through.

      What? They put the pipe in their to study how well a TBM would go through. The only reason to put a pipe down was for a TBM. The pipe’s existence is predicated on a future TBM.
      This is why this is such a damning moment from WSDOT’s perspective… How do you not see your own reason for existence? How could the thing you are planning to do right now, your job, be unlikely? Not a certainty?

      Could you imagine WSDOT put a pipe down there for a tunnel project, and not being able to explain why it wasn’t brought back up?

      1) “We didn’t bother pulling the pipe back up, because, well, we didn’t imagine a tbm coming through here, it’s not like we were planning a highway.” NO! You knew you were planning a highway, that’s why you were there with the pipe! It’s the ONLY reason you put the pipe down there. This is the worst answer.

      2) “We didn’t bother pulling the pipe back up, because, well, meh, we figured we’d pull it up later.” I hope this was the answer, but I still think you pull it up when you put it down if you know it needs to be pulled up later.

      3) “We didn’t bother pulling the pipe back up, because, well, we didn’t think this tunnel was going to happen.” Is that a better answer? Getting bad here.

      4) “We didn’t bother pulling the pipe back up, because, well, I didn’t think it was my job at the time” Getting close to the worst answer.

      5) “We didn’t bother pulling the pipe back up, because, well, I didn’t care, it wasn’t my job, and/or I thought someone else would do it” This is the worst answer. I am not sure which of these (1-5) is the real answer, but none of them are good. If there’s another answer please provide it.

      I called a steel fabricator and asked how much it would cost to make it. I understand that trying to sell would get you less money than that.

      1. They placed the well before they knew they would be using a TBM.

        The scrap value of the pipe would be very much less than the cost of the new pipe. You would also have to subtract the cost of pulling the pipe up.

        It sounds like WSDOT’s main error in this case was not making it very clear to the tunnel contractor that the pipe was still there.

      2. What? They put the pipe in their to study how well a TBM would go through. The only reason to put a pipe down was for a TBM. The pipe’s existence is predicated on a future TBM.

        No. You are 100% wrong here. You are confusing these wells, sunk over a decade ago, with the recent soil surveys done in preparation for the tunnel. Two separate projects, two separate sets of holes in the ground.

        These pipes were sunk shortly after the Nisqually earthquake, to study the movement of groundwater underneath the Viaduct, so that WSDOT could better understand how and why the earthquake caused the Viaduct to sink, and how/why it was continuing to sink. At that time, it was not even known that the Viaduct would need to be replaced, much less what would replace it.

      3. These pipes were sunk shortly after the Nisqually earthquake, to study the movement of groundwater underneath the Viaduct, so that WSDOT could better understand how and why the earthquake caused the Viaduct to sink, and how/why it was continuing to sink. At that time, it was not even known that the Viaduct would need to be replaced, much less what would replace it.

        That’s not what WSDOT said to me when I asked about the pipes to confirm their placement.

      4. I would like to add that and “viaduct viability study” and “viaduct replacement viability study” and “viaduct replacement study” are different only as a matter of semantics. If they were to study a mountain, and then they decided to remove the mountain, you’d be surprised that the left their mountain study gear there and it stopped the mountain removal.

        They left their viaduct study gear at the site of the viaduct removal. You can replace “mountain” in the previous paragraph with nearly any other word (including “viaduct”, if you’d prefer – I would) and it still looks terrible.

  12. Don’t forget those are cost overruns and opening delays on the eastern half of the 520 bridge, and no one even seems to have a slight idea of how to pay for the half from Foster Island to I-5…

    1. “I’m dreaming of a cy-y-y-cle track, from Boy-le-ston Av-e-e-enue to the bri-i-idge.” Unfortunately, no highway renovation means no cycletrack.

  13. The biggest problem I have with the 520 project is the priorities are all backwards. Its supposed to be a bridge replacement project, so why did WSDOT start by building the huge “lids” over the freeway for Medina, Yarrow point, Clyde hill and Bellevue. The whole eastside part of the project could have waited while the pontoons were being built. Mega projects should prioritize construction on the most critical elements so that when those go over budget, money can be taken from other parts of the project. Those parts of the project that could be deferred or downsized or not built at all, are all already constructed. The way that WSDOT has constructed the 520 project is basically extortion. All of the money is spent and the bridge is not finished, what choice does the state have but to give them more money

  14. The democrats have done a great job running WSDOT for over 20 years wouldn’t you say?

  15. If you want some real fun with large highway projects, Google “Columbia River Crossing”. So far, this CRC project has spent about $170 million (the cost of the additional required for the SR 520 bridge), doing nothing but making drawings and paying lobbyists.

    If you want to learn the real reason why these types of things wind up costing so much, part of the story is well illustrated in the Willamette Week article about lobbying for this new Columbia River bridge:

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