The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) announced today that the downtown deep-bore tunnel machine, Bertha, is damaged and will require repairs before it moves forward again—the seal around the machine's main bearing is damaged, leaking oil, and needs to be repaired (which is to say—surprise!—the real problem wasn't the infamous pipe.)
To quote WSDOT program manager Todd Trempanier, from a conference call with reporters this afternoon: "The issue right now is there’s heat that is being generated because of what has been confirmed as failures of the seal system [which] is important to protect the main bearing. The design-build contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is working to figure out exactly the best way to repair that … and why this may have occurred."
Trempanier said WSDOT currently has "no way of knowing" how much the delay will ultimately cost (so far, since its initial stoppage on December 6, the machine has only moved about four feet), how long the delay will last, or "exactly the best way to fix and repair this problem."
However, given the fact that WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners project manager Chris Dixon have been at loggerheads in recent weeks—with Dixon and WSDOT director Lynn Peterson exchanging angry letters about who was blaming whom for tunnel delays—our main (One) Question for Trempanier was this: At what point does this become a lawsuit?
And if Seattle Tunnel Partners is still WSDOT's "partner" on the project, why were they, unlike at previous press conferences (which included deputy administrator Matt Preedy as well as Dixon?), not included on today's conference call?
"Right now, there’s just a lot of things we’re trying to cover really fast, and we’re trying to allow the Seattle Tunnel Partners folks the opportunity of dealing with the issue. And it would be no indication of any sort of an issue with Seattle Tunnel Partners [that STP is no longer included in WSDOT's press briefings.]
"That is no implication from anyone who’s involved with the project [that there will be a lawsuit]. I know you have spokesn with Matt Preedy in the past but we’re trying to go forward with this as fast as possible, and Matt is talking to other folks in the media. It is no indication of any issue between Seattle Tunnel Partners and the agency."
Preedy also said it "would be premature" to suggest that the state will have to dig up the machine, which is currently 60 feet underground, to fix the problems with the seal.