Tunnel builder seeking $190 million in extra pay
Documents reveal that the contractor of the stalled Seattle tunnel project has requested $62.6 million in change orders on top of a $125 million filing related to repairing the tunnel-boring machine.
Seattle Times staff reporters
The contractor managing Seattle’s stalled tunnel project has now requested nearly $190 million in extra payments from the state, according to records obtained by The Seattle Times.
In addition to a $125 million filing disclosed this week related to the damaged boring machine, the contractor is seeking $62.6 million for a variety of what it considers unexpected costs — including a labor dispute, watery soil and utility issues, according to documents released Friday under a public-records request.
The proposed cost increases are equivalent to nearly $300 for every resident of Seattle or $27 for every person in the state. If the state is ultimately forced to pay the entire tab, it would add 13 percent to the cost of a contract that’s already valued at $1.44 billion.
Todd Trepanier, the state’s Highway 99 tunnel administrator, downplayed the requests from Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), saying there was a “very slim chance” the state would be on the hook for those expenses.
The state already has determined that some of the big-ticket items are without merit, and Trepanier said he expects the state would end up paying a small fraction of what the contractor is requesting. He also said the requests are not unexpected, given the nature of megaprojects.
“I think it’s right on par with the size of the contract,” Trepanier said.
The tunneling machine Bertha has completed just 1,025 feet of its 9,270-foot journey under downtown Seattle and has advanced only four feet since encountering trouble in December. The machine isn’t expected to continue burrowing the new Highway 99 tunnel until March 2015, after crews are able to build a pit in front of the machine and replace the main bearing.
Chris Dixon, project director for STP, said earlier this week that the $125 million request for the tunneling delay was based on an earlier assessment the machine would restart in September 2014. He said it’s fair to assume costs for that portion will increase since digging has been delayed several more months.
In addition to those costs, STP is looking to be paid about $20 million related to a labor dispute that occurred when longshore workers picketed and protested over who would work four jobs on the project. The contractor says it is owed another $20 million for unexpected site conditions and groundwater at the machine launch pit. It also wants $5.7 million for a Seattle City Light service agreement and $5.5 million for strengthening the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Other proposed costs are smaller in scope, such as $32,000 for crane revisions and $13,000 to replace fiber-optic line.
Dixon declined to comment on the proposed payments Friday, referring questions to the state.
Change orders are a notorious feature of big construction projects — but Washington state’s ”design-build” process is supposed to minimize those, by placing the final engineering responsibility in the builder’s hands.
That hasn’t deterred STP from claiming there are “differing site conditions” that deserve compensation. Even before bidding in 2010, the state tore into its contingency funds to give contractors a $210 million allowance to cover insurance and inflation, so the tunnel builders could hedge their risk of losing money in Seattle’s risky soil.
Chances are, the contractors will get some but not all the money they’re seeking. Some of the claims will be denied by the state, some acknowledged but negotiated downward. Other cost disputes could be sorted out by a dispute review board composed of three tunneling experts who are following the project.
If that fails, the two sides could wind up in arbitration or court.
Mike Baker: email@example.com or 206-464-2729. On Twitter @ByMikeBaker