Roadway deck taking shape (WSDOT Photo from June 23)
Roadway deck taking shape (WSDOT Photo from June 23)

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.

55 Replies to “Bertha Delayed Another Year, $223M in New Overruns, and Higher Tolls Expected”

  1. So to authorize large spending on transpo projects, we need to put it on the ballot in November, right? That’s how we do transpo funding here. #ST3


      Not sure of your point, Glenn. Mayor Mike McGinn opposed the Deep Bore Tunnel. And also spoke in favor of enough surface transit and traffic adjustments to replace the viaduct.

      In and advisory election, which carried no weight at all on the decision, citizens strongly endorsed the Tunnel project. As these projects go, including both the Deep Bore Tunnel and ST3, final verdict can take years.

      Because while a project can spend a long time overdue and over-budget, while still delivering benefits far outweighing the extra time and expense. I think that most cities with our same layout and population size would have dug a tunnel along the waterfront.

      Gothenburg, Sweden, has an excellent streetcar and bus system, but still gave themselves a tunnel along their waterfront. Though while they’ve also been discussing streetcar tunnels for years, the ground under most of the city is very bad for tunneling.

      For our Deep Bore Tunnel, I think success or failure could largely depend on what’s done at either end of it. Has anybody seen any plans at all about what-all is going to be done on SR99, a very old road, when the new tunnel is plugged into it?

      And I think that, considering the length of time already allotted for the project, it’s likely that neither details not delivery times can be written, or drafted, in stone. My own personal feeling that Sound Transit’s project delivery to date leads me to prefer their work record to the city’s and the State’s

      But since we the citizens both pay for and live with the results, whether we personally agree on every detail of a given project or not, we serve our own interests best by gaining enough knowledge and information to oversee our officials intelligently, to see to it they oversee the work the same way.

      Mark Dublin

      1. The DBT was rejected once by experts and once by the voters before being concocted in a back room at Olympia.

  2. How “ahead of schedule” is the Northgate Link anyways?

    It’d have to be going more swimmingly than has been publicly available to access I’d think. Otherwise, I don’t see this project extending into 2021.

    1. I said the Viaduct coming down…which is now likely scheduled for 2020. Any further delays and Northgate Link could be first.

      1. Gov. Gregoire *promised* us that the viaduct would come down in 2012. “If you don’t believe me, just watch” or words to that effect….

  3. “assuming no new revenue sources, the funds will likely come from reductions in projects elsewhere” – I should certainly hope so. Pretty tired of writing WSDOT blank checks while existing infrastructure crumbles.

    1. Yeah, let’s kill that idiotic Puyallup-Fife freeway that’s currently on the planning books.

      1. I was thinking the same thing (you beat me to it). That could be the best thing to come from this mess (no 167/409 extension). Of course, it probably won’t work that way. That will probably be kept, and something far more useful will be killed instead.

      2. Are you kidding me? The fact that it wasn’t finished 30 years ago is stupid enough. That is a highly important freight corridor that when finished will help ease congestion along I-5 throughout Tacoma/Fife/Federal Way.

      3. +1 on Ryan’s comments. Those of us who work in the logistics industry know how incredibly vital that highway as well as it’s related projects are to our local industry and the Port of Tacoma. It will allow them to operate considerably more efficiently and eliminate a lot of heavy truck traffic by creating a much more direct route.

        The issue of moving freight around is not a problem that our current or future planned mass transit projects are going to solve, nor would a heavy rail expansion be cost effective/viable as a lot of that truck traffic is going to the Kent Valley’s businesses.

      4. The 167 extension serves sprawl traffic from Puyallup to Tacoma. It’s not needed for freight going to the Auburn Valley area, since highway 18 already does this.

      5. On he planning books?

        They’re already working on the interchange. Looks like they’ll effectively double the width of I-5 through the area where I-5 crosses the Puyallup River.

      6. The work on I-5 in Tacoma is separate a separate project from the 167 extension. It’s purpose is to extend the HOV lanes from the county line to highway 16, and neither this project nor the 167 extension need each other.

      7. Oh please. At best the projects are a giveaway to the trucking industry (screw you railroads). At worst it is just a sprawl inducing waste of money. Ease congestion on I-5? You gotta be kidding me. In no way shape or form will this do a thing for I-5 congestion.

        Keep in mind, unlike a lot of the folks on this blog, I’m not anti-roads. I can point to many projects (including ones that won’t be built) that make a lot of sense. But those — like the subject of this post — are just plain stupid. Speaking of which, where will the waterfront entrances and exits be for this beautiful new tunnel (which I will gladly pay $2.50 to drive through when I need it)? There are no ramps at Western, and no ramps downtown. Oh yeah, that will be great for freight.

        No, it will help a handful of drivers (and a handful of truckers) but it sure as well won’t be worth the money. Like much of transportation in this state, it is driven by politics. The folks that live along the 509/167 corridors are swing voters, and both parties want to appease them That’s all it is.

      8. +2 on Ryan’s comments. Spot on. I’m not a big fan of roads in general, but certain components of our road system actually do make sense to build. This is one of them.

      9. Glenn, construction on the SR 167 extension has not started. The interchange will be up in the Fife/Milton area. You may be thinking of the Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Northbound HOV Project that is replacing the bridges over the Puyallup River near the current SR 167/I-5 interchange.

      10. The SR 509 project I find the bigger waste given I-5 congestion already builds at 200th. If it was done down to SR 516 that would’ve provided another route and gotten many people heading from Kent Des Moines off of I-5 but I doubt that will ever happen now.

        That being said, I notice during rush hours there isn’t enough capacity over the Puyallup River with 512 and the 167 termination point jamming up.

        The state continues to prioritize megaprojects over small projects which take care of the clogs in the pipes but we still don’t want to spend the proper $$ to maintain our existing mediocre system. Pavement in many places is absolute junk that needs repair sooner versus later.

      11. @Paul: that must be it. Whatever it is, if you take the 590 out of Tacoma (and to a lesser extent one of the trains) you certainly get a nice view of some huge interchange rebuilding project going on at the river.

      12. I honestly don’t see how the 167 extension will relieve congestion on I-5. If anything it will increase it by dumping traffic that currently takes 167 north toward Tukwikla over to I-5.

        The 509 extension might help divert traffic headed for the Port of Seattle farther south so it doesn’t have to navigate the flustercluck at Southcenter, but linking Puyallup directly to I-5 will cause a housing boom there.

    2. That’s from statewide projects not WSDOT projects I think. And “WSDOT’s projects” are the ones the legislature has ordered it to do by law.

  4. I know I’ll get many lashings for this, but I thought it was going to be much worse. I thought the whole project could end up Billions over budget. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it looks like the whole project might only end up 10% over budget. Granted, the tunnel portion is a much higher percentage over budget.

    I was never a DBT supporter, voted against it in the advisory vote, etc., and much preferred the surface + transit + I5 improvements. My only hope is that somehow the tunnel can be used in the future to help mitigate traffic impacts when I5 needs through downtown needs to be rebuilt.

    1. Yeah, the delay and cost overruns aren’t that bad. In many ways, they are simply a distraction. This tunnel — even if it was built on time and under budget — is stupid. Of course we should have spent money on other things. Maybe a new viaduct (as was one suggestion by the committee studying the issue). Or maybe improve I-5, surface streets and transit (which was the other suggestion). But building a two lane tunnel, with no HOV lanes, no ramps downtown or at Western is just not a very good value. Oh wait, it will make our waterfront nicer. That is something. But you could do the same thing by capping I-5 (for a lot less money).

      1. I’m not sure the waterfront will be all that much nicer. You exchange the traffic noise on the viaduct with having a pile of traffic going north to Elliott on Alaskan Way itself.

        It will make a huge improvement in LQA and SLU I think. Being able to reconnect the two could be a huge improvement.

        The situation with Alaskan Way reminds me of a number of cities in the Willamette Valley (Salem, Portland, Oregon City, Milwaukie in particular) where the city does or could have a decent waterfront but is completely cut off from it by a huge, busy road with lots of high speed traffic. Natio Parkway in Portland at least has a traffic light nearly every block for reasonably easy access to Waterfront Park, and it connects directly to the street grid. It’s still an awful obstacle.

        The speed of traffic and lower number of traffic lights on Alaskan Way makes it a worse obstacle. I know that there are complaints about the number of lanes on Alaskan Way, but to me the speed the traffic sometimes gets up to is far more of an obstacle.

        If it were me I would be pushing for synchronized traffic lights set for 30 mph or so on Alaskan Way, and more of them. That’s one of the things that makes Portland’s Waterfront Park less divided from downtown by Natio Parkway. Nobody on the street can get up to such high rates of speed as seen on Alaskan Way sometimes because the traffic lights are timed to keep the speeds reasonable.

      2. Is it going to be worse than the existing Alaskan Way? It sounds like it’s two more lanes, not much higher speed, with a pedestrian refuge in the middle to make it look like two parallel roads rather than one huge road. The whole mantra before the project was “Get rid of the viaduct”, not “Get rid of Alaskan Way too”. It can’t be as noisy as the viaduct, The seven lanes are south of Madison Street, the six lanes are south of Columbia Street, and the four lanes north of that is where most of the tourists and recreators are. As for not as many lights, my understanding is there will be some twenty lights along its length, which is what through drivers were complaining about. That’s enough for a light every block downtown, which it will have to have anyway for people crossing the street to go shopping, and as downtown also has.

        As for Naito Parkway, I saw it and crossed it in my last Portland trip. I wondered whether it’s pronounced like bake or bike and its relationship to NATO. It did feel expressway-like and a lot of blank asphalt. But I think ours will be more artistic and less monotonous like MLK.

      3. It will have a lot more traffic. All the stuff that currently takes the on ramp from Elliott to the viaduct is going to be there instead (except when BNSF decides to block the intersection at the north end with a 7,000 foot grain train or some such).

        I’ve seen a bunch of different plans, but if they don’t make specific plans to keep the speeds down it will wind up as an attempted freeway.

  5. This is at best a comedy of errors and at worst, a major scandal, plain and simple. But no politician will be defeated this fall because of this colossal failure of government. This project was a blind alley through inadequately surveyed ground, with unproven technology, and all our politicians know how to say is “whoops!” Who’s going to a pay $2.50-per-mile toll? The experience with S.R. 520 should tell us that drivers are willing to endure severe congestion on I-90 to avoid paying a toll. No, this project will be paid for by tax increases in years to come, by homeowners and renters who can barely afford to live in this city anyway.

    1. 520 is pretty darn packed during rush hour. This viaduct will get use, if only to bypass I5 traffic.

    2. Why do people care about the viaduct? Because I-5 is congested. Will they pay a $2.50 toll? We’ll see.. Probably a lot of people won’t and a few will. But the tunnel/I-5 situation is not very comparable to the 520 situation. 520 in the Eastside is necesssary only to cross the bridge. Within the Eastside it’s optional; there are many parallel streets, and the speed difference is less because the streets are wider relative to the population density. In Seattle there are a million people on each side of the central Seattle isthmus so much more demand, and only a few other through streets besides I-5 and the tunnel. It would be nice to get rid of the viaduct and build nothing, as Portland and San Francisco did at their waterfronts. And I still half favor that. But there is a difference between freeways to nowhere and the central bottleneck Seattle has.

  6. I say we get the Port and Christine Gregoire to pitch in for the overrun.

    Tunnel will last centuries no doubt but what a damn silly project.

    I say no more new roads at all. Let’s limit ourselves to the amount of planet destroying sprawl we currently have (although an urban tunnel is pretty benign compared to the other state highway robbery expansions planned – Puyallup, JBML, etc).

    1. If you go after Gregoire then you should also go after Nickels and the then-City Council. I don’t think the Port wanted the tunnel, although it might have put some money into it as a cooperative gesture. In any case it didn’t want this tunnel that it can’t use.

  7. For anybody who thinks $2.25 is too high a toll for the Waterfront tunnel, easy solution. Don’t drive it. If you can’t use surface transit along same route because it is either stuck or not there, get good and angry about fact that not one minute of serious planning has been done for it, let alone a single meaningful dime put into it.

    And also start contributing to aggressive candidates for King County Prosecutor and State Attorney General to effectively prosecute for negligent homicide every official who should have demolished in 2012 the viaduct identical to the lost one in California, right down to its multi-fatality fate.

    What in Hell is it still doing up there- let alone waiting a year after the Tunnel is finished? If it’s because the culprits know they haven’t got transit in place that can handle traffic without it…”Enhanced Sentence”, meaning good behavior in prison doesn’t count.

    Starting with personally digging out, by hand, every fatality, to spare the rescue dogs the depression they get every time they locate somebody who’s been dead for awhile. The conditions Bertha has encountered under the Waterfront are solid ground compared to the political leadership above it.

    Usual sincere and hopeful request regarding statements like the above: Prove I’m either wrong or blind.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Likewise: I avoid driving 520 and I’ll avoid driving the tunnel. That one will be easy, since I avoid downtown as much as possible anyway.

    2. This has been my intention since the SR99 toll was announced. The SR520 bridge mysteriously sank the same day they instituted tolling, as far as my personal map of the region is concerned; I commuted from Madison Valley to downtown Bellevue via I-90 for two years because I refused to knuckle under. I see no reason ever to pay the SR99 toll, particularly given that I’m living in Seattle and not simply trying to bypass it.

  8. Has it actually been decided who will pay the cost overruns? I suppose that will be decided in the courts, but given the level of design changes and re-engineering that went into the Bertha rebuild, and the fact that she is running well now as opposed to before, I would think that the State has a strong case that these overruns are the fault of the contractor.

    Ya, STP will argue about the pipe, but supposedly the machine manufacturer was consulted about the pipe and they said it was not an issue and they should just drive forward through it. Where are those email records?

    1. You other commenters who’ve been ordered through something questionable, I seem to remember being taught that I was ultimately responsible for the safety of my coach. And chargeable for damage.

      Unless an engineer representing the manufacturer was on site watching the operation, once they became aware that their cutter had contacted an obstacle, STB should have stopped boring and dug the pipe out of the way.

      And if anybody complained once the problem was solved about the time the extra digging took, that’s what legal departments are for. And whatever legal judgment would have cost either party, if any, it would have been very cheap compared with what very soon did happen.

      STB ought to be very grateful for a lesson that spared them a destroyed machine and many more future delays, and also cost of a wrongful death ruling. Bad habits have bad results.

      Mark Dublin

    2. “Has it actually been decided who will pay the cost overruns?”

      No, that’s years away. That’s why the quotes say the cost may go higher if the state loses.

  9. Correction. Even if the manufacturer’s whole engineering team was on site watching, STB should still have stopped digging.

    And if the President of STB had been in the control cab and personally given the order to get that cutter turning, the driver should have turned in his resignation if in his judgment his machine was going to be damaged.

    Upon which stockholders would’ve demanded that the driver not be promoted to CEO, but instead be listened to the next time same thing happened.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I know STB (Seattle Transit Blog) is into a lot of shot, but c’mon Mark, you can’t make Martin and Co cough up 1/4 billion. You should go after STP (Seattle Tunnel Partners) for that.

  10. Mic, this is reason I need to hire an editor to put in “P”‘s instead of “B”‘s. Too bad that instead of skinny middle aged guys with pencils behind their ears, they all say Dell on them. Not going imagine what would’ve happened if the project made same mistake I did and hired STB to dig the tunnel.

    Which would result in years of exchanges in the Comments between Ed Murray and various people in Olympia that would fill the screen with sentences consisting of only [AH]’s and [OT]’s. And also page-long single-sentence paragraphs as to why STB always lets [AH] get at the controls so often.

    And fact that every time [MARKDUBLIN] gets into the driver’s seat he leaves the entire underground Waterfront look like all the a whole colony of moles (the little furry ones that mess up lawns) got the contract to connect the First World War in Turkey with Battery Street.

    Putting me in no condition to pontificate about who left the pipe in front of the machine or who had a bet whether or not the cutter could cutter it. Martin, just my anti- [AH] protection and also give the Mayor, the Governor, Christine Gregoire, STP, and the TBM manufacturer my address.


    1. Sam is always perfect, so you could call him up and tell him what you want to say, and make it sound exciting to motivate him to write an article about it. Offer him a free trip to Sweden, and maybe a guided tour of the commute to Olympia.

  11. I haven’t weighed on this subject in this page for years. I am sure that the Transit Blog editors just love most negative Bertha stories but say what you will, much of Mike Lindblom’s recent writing on the tunnel has been Trump-like fear mongering with no balance at all.

    $60m as an initial overrun cost in anew approx. $6bn transportation budget and $40bn biennial state budget is peanuts and you guys know this, right?

    Bertha is running well currently at around 40′ per day and is 34% completed on her journey. Those are the facts you won’t read too often here. Crews are working 24/5 and three barges are rotating in and out about three times each day. This is a mega mega mega project. Overuns are to be expected and we all know it. Not all surplus or current funds can go to bicycle lanes, sorry.

      1. Nope. Or at least it wouldn’t have been better spent on any of the things on the WSDOT wish list.

        The DBT will get built, the only questions are “When?” And “Who pays the overruns?” But nobody will give it a second thought once it is up and running.

      2. Within five years they’ll be trying to come up with ways to repurpose the practically unused tunnel.

  12. I say stop building the roadways inside. Let people drive a little tilted on the bottom of the tube. That should save a few hundred million right there.

  13. I hate our city officials and the people who are building our transit so so much.

  14. The viaduct will come down. Seattle Transit Blog should just concentrate on Link, Commuter Rail, buses, microhousing, TOD, the grocery store in Montlake and leveling the damn single family neighborhoods so many of you despise. Perhaps, even push for a link stop in the shooting gallery Jungle and all the surrounding bum tents. Plenty of density there.

    Barking at a tunnel that is a third of the way finished accomplishes exactly nothing. But Seattle Transit Blog, like all mature rags, gets diverted to bitching about crap that isn’t going to accomplish a damn thing.

  15. Words cannot express how disappointed and saddened I am by the incompetence of these people. They’re keeping us back in the mid-20th century. We can’t progress

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