After a couple years of being coy about inevitable overruns, yesterday the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) informed lawmakers that 4-year delays actually do cost money. WSDOT Acting Secretary Roger Millar said that the new best-case scenario is a $223m cost overrun and an additional year of delay, putting the tunnel opening into early 2019.
The costs are mostly related to additional administration and a more deliberate digging pace, including two new maintenance pauses underneath downtown. The tunneling itself has gone well lately, with Bertha easily chewing through 40′ per day prior to the recent planned maintenance stop. Mike Lindblom’s Times coverage has been comprehensive throughout this saga, and I encourage you to read his piece ($).
The $223m overrun is not only operationally optimistic (assuming no further delays or stoppages), but also litigiously optimistic, as it assumes that WSDOT will prevail in court against contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners, whose outstanding legal claims against WSDOT exceed another $200m. If WSDOT loses in court, taxpayers would ultimately be on the hook for considerably more.
The overruns aren’t budgeted by the state, and there is no contingency to draw upon. So the money will have to come from new state appropriations, and assuming no new revenue sources, the funds will likely come from reductions in projects elsewhere. Millar said Thursday that he will ask for $60M in immediate needs in the next legislative session, with the remaining $163M needed at a later date.
WSDOT also said it will now study a much higher toll ($2.50), double the previous consensus of $1.25.
With the Viaduct not coming down until a year or more after tunnel opening, it’s looking ever more possible that Northgate Link will be running before the Viaduct comes down.