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Thursday, January 16, 2014

House Transportation Chair Calls Tunnel Cost-Overun Talk "Premature"

Posted by on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM

With the world's largest tunnel boring machine indefinitely stuck 60 feet underground due to, I dunno, something, there's been a lot of chatter recently about who is going to pay for the seemingly inevitable cost-overruns. Tunnel opponents are lighting a bonfire of I-told-you-sos as tunnel apologists continue to insist that the state will have our back rather than knife it.

But according to state House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), all this cost-overrun talk is a waste of breath. "You can have that discussion because it’s fun in the press," Clibborn told me on Monday, but "it's not going to happen." And by that, she means cost-overuns in general.

Huh??!! How's that possible, you might ask, with the tunnel now hopelessly behind schedule? Because it's not the state's fault, says Clibborn, and thus not the responsibility of either local or state taxpayers.

Clibborn explains that the "design-build" contract on the tunnel puts the risk on the shoulders of the contractors. "The tunnel itself is being dug by the best in the world," says Clibborn, "and they will work it out." And if they don't, it's not our problem. At least, not contractually.

That's very different, Clibborn goes to great pains to point out, than the situation with the 520 bridge pontoons, where, quite frankly, the state totally fucked up. WSDOT was responsible for the faulty design that led to cracked pontoons, and so we're responsible for the resulting $170 million in cost-overruns. "We blew it on the pontoons," says Clibborn.

And if we somehow fucked up as badly writing the tunnel contract as we did on designing the pontoons, and end up being responsible for all or part of the cost-overruns, who would pick up the tab then? The state, says Clibborn, who insists that the provision requiring Seattle taxpayers to shoulder cost-overruns is totally unenforceable. And how can she be so sure? Clibborn says she wrote that provision herself, and she wrote it to be unenforceable, describing it as a "poison pill" that was necessary to win enough votes for passage, but which she never supported.

Because politics!


Comments (14) RSS

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TomJohnsonJr 1
Politics, how do they work?
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on January 16, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 2
OMG its "hopelessly behind schedule"!

Yes, it will probably wind up costing more than budgeted, just like every construction project ever. Can you at least wait until the divers come out of the hole today before you panic?
Posted by Max Solomon on January 16, 2014 at 2:50 PM · Report this
@2: Except for all the projects Sound Transit builds, which seem to be opening on or ahead of schedule.
Posted by aleks on January 16, 2014 at 2:56 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 4
Oh no this does not feel good. Will the contractors disappear in the night?
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 5
@#: and none of the contingency in those projects was used to cover change orders? yay ST, but i kinda doubt that.

i didn't want it either, but this tunnel's going forward, and it doesn't help WSDOT or STP for everyone to have their knives out. holden and goldy are gleeful over a remnant well casing whose existence is beyond the control of the GC.

caution is warranted in devising the fix, no? i could give a fuck if it delays the boring machine by 6 months.
Posted by Max Solomon on January 16, 2014 at 3:15 PM · Report this
Goldy 6
@5 Can't speak for Dom, but how was this post "gleeful"...?
Posted by Goldy on January 16, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
Goldy, the tone of your posts has gone from irreverent to what I imagine they would sound like if a petulant teenager wrote them in a series of text messages. "Because I, dunnno, *something.* Huh!?!?!?! Because politics!" A touch more formality would make your stuff a lot more pleasant to read. You're almost joining the category I reserve for most Mudede posts: skip right over on the way to Dom's, Dan's and Eli's pieces.
Posted by Centrists Rule the World today on January 16, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
MrBaker 8
Yes, Goldy, Because politics!

It's more important to be able to say that you stuck it to the big city than to actually stick it to the big city.

To recap: it's a state road, contract, responsibility.
The "Seattle area" isn't on the contract.
Posted by MrBaker on January 16, 2014 at 5:23 PM · Report this
Clibborn's a crafty one. Thank god someone is; she may have done the only effective thing in this whole meshugenah play.
Posted by sarah70 on January 16, 2014 at 5:29 PM · Report this
Goldy 10
@7 Yes, it was formality that garnered me an audience in the first place. I shall take your advice and go back to the formal voice that built me a loyal readership over at the oh so formal
Posted by Goldy on January 16, 2014 at 6:14 PM · Report this
Am I the only one troubled by the practice of writing a law with a provision that doesn't do what it appears to do? That's not politics; that's deception.
Posted by Charlie Mas on January 16, 2014 at 8:40 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 12
@3: You must be new here.

@Goldy: If you're gong to take the time to write a post, can't you at least pretend that it is based on either news (i.e., something new happened) or analysis (i.e., you've actually thought about the matter some)? Clibborn's response was completely rational. Your unfounded speculation is just inane. You might as well write a post wondering what would happen if the contractors just leave the machine down there and then sail back to Spain in a pirate ship. Cuz, like, I told you so!
Posted by kk in seattle on January 16, 2014 at 9:26 PM · Report this

You must be new - light rail to the U-District is over 10 years late and costs billions more than voters were told it was going to.
Posted by Mr. X on January 17, 2014 at 8:44 AM · Report this
Clibborn was against Hansen's welfare arena, so naturally, politics.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 17, 2014 at 9:01 AM · Report this

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