McGinn hires own consultant on viaduct
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has hired his own consultant to study potential cost overruns of the downtown tunneling project, a decision that once again shows he is trying to stop the project, two City Council members said on Friday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mayor Mike McGinn has hired his own consultant to study the potential risks of tunneling beneath downtown Seattle, a move that shows the mayor is again trying to stop the highway project, two City Council members said Friday.
McGinn said the city will pay Massachusetts-based consultant Thom Neff $44,000 to review work the state and City Council have done as preparations get under way to build the $1.96 billion tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
"We're asking him to look at where all the possible risks are," McGinn said. "We did think it was important to have one expert hired by someone other than tunnel cheerleaders."
The City Council plans to vote this summer on agreements with the state that will allow construction bids on the project to go forward. The mayor has vowed to veto those agreements if they don't address a provision in state law that makes Seattle-area property owners responsible for cost overruns.
"It feels to me like, you know, he's made it clear that he'll do anything he can to stop the project," said council President Richard Conlin. "I don't know anything about this particular consultant, but I don't know what his motivation would be other than to stop that."
During the spring, the City Council hired a legal consultant, an engineering consultant and a general consultant to protect the city's interests as it negotiates contracts with the state. The cost: $125,000.
With the addition of the mayor's expert, the city will be spending $169,000 on consultants. Conlin said the mayor shouldn't need his own consultant because he has the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to analyze the project.
McGinn's response: His consultant has "a type of specialized expertise that SDOT doesn't have."
In fact, the mayor said he took the $44,000 to pay Neff from a part of the transportation department's budget reserved for the viaduct replacement.
Neff has worked on major projects, including tunneling projects, in Boston and overseas, according to his online résumé. His company, OckhamKonsült, states its mission is to "quickly and cost-effectively resolve your current infrastructure problems or help you prevent potential problems from occurring."
During his run for mayor, McGinn campaigned vigorously on stopping the tunnel, but eventually he said he would go along with it, in part, if the cost-overrun provision were removed. As mayor, he's found himself outnumbered by eight of nine City Council members plus Gov. Chris Gregoire, all of whom back the project.
McGinn said he hopes his consultant's work will help sway the council to his position, that the project should not move forward until state law about the cost overruns is changed.
Council Transportation Chairman Tom Rasmussen said it would make more sense for the council and mayor to agree on consultants to do the work, instead of paying two sets.
"We all want this thing to succeed," he said, adding: "Well, maybe the mayor doesn't."
At a meeting June 3 with other high-ranking officials working on the project, McGinn got into a public debate with Gregoire over the project. Gregoire said McGinn is using the cost-overrun issue to try to stop the project.
"He doesn't want this project, period," she said. "This is just something to hang his hat on."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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