A couple of months back I asked whether we should continue with the deep-bore-tunnel (DBT) replacement for the SR-99 viaduct. At the time, Bertha, the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) had been blocked for months with no date for its unblocking (if that’s a word), traffic on the viaduct was way down (though that data appeared to be bad, other data does show decline), the tolling revenue looked to be much than expected and there was confusion over who would pay for the seemingly inevitable overruns. In the intervening weeks, we’ve learned a few more things:
- The TBM will be stuck for nearly another year, restarting only in March. Assuming it does become unblocked by that date, the machine would have been blocked for 16 total months. That will lead to a 14 month delay for a tunneling project that was meant originally to take 14 months to complete.
- The repairs to Bertha are meant to cost the tax payer another $125 million. Keep in mind, this is to repair a TBM that cost $80 million to begin with. The state has refused to pay this, though who will ultimately pay for any cost increases is certain to be only decided in court.
- However, we’ve learned that one of the construction companies behind the tunnel has a decades-long history of suing to get extra payments from public agencies. They successfully deflected blame when projects have gone sour, and have forced government agencies to spend millions in court and legal fees. The company is already asking for $62.6 million in change order, and that figure is not a part include the previously mentioned $125 million. The original tunnel contract was for just over $1 billion.
None of this is very surprising, but what is surprising is that state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson is now saying there’s a “small possibility” the project could be cancelled. Now, I don’t know if these statements come from a bargaining position or an earnest assessment of the situation, but I hope more people wake up to the possibility of cancelling this project sooner rather than later; this project is unnecessary and promises to be a money pit far into the foreseeable future. Let’s cancel it now rather than throw more good cash after the bad we’ve already buried in this tunnel.