In a defiant letter to Washington state secretary of transportation Lynn Peterson today, Seattle Tunnel Partners' Chris Dixon, the project manager in charge of the deep-bore tunnel project, blasted the Washington State Department of Transportation for statements he says have cast STP "in a bad light." 

Specifically, Dixon objects in the letter to WSDOT's public order for the tunneling group to increase the number of minority-owned contractors it hires or face financial sanctions, as well as statements Peterson made in a letter to state legislators yesterday indicating that WSDOT has been worried about STP's tunnel-boring operations since July, when drilling began.

The Seattle Times published details of Peterson's letter today.

In the letter, Dixon blames WSDOT for the nearly six-week-long stoppage, noting that STP workers found a pipe installed by a WSDOT contractor blocking the machine. However, STP and WSDOT now say they think another factor might be causing the stoppage; yesterday, they announced plans to go into the machine's excavation chamber under hyperbaric pressure to get a closer look at what the problem might be. "Recent actions by WSDOT, for reasons which STP does not understand, have the potential of seriously damaging [our] relationship and adversely affect[ing] WSDOT's and STP's ability to move forward together to deliver this project."

He also says STP is on track to achieve its goal of 8 percent minority- and women-owned subcontractors. So far, by some measures, 98 percent of STP's subcontractors are run by white men, according to a federal civil-rights review—a breach, WSDOT has said, of STP's contract.

Dixon's letter reads, in part: 

Recent actions by WSDOT, for reasons which STP does not understand, have the potential of seriously damaging [our] relationship and adversely affect[ing] WSDOT's and STP's ability to move forward together to deliver this project. 

Only WSDOT's perspectives on current contractual matters are being provided to the politicians, public, and media, resulting in STP being put on trial in the court of public opinion without being given any opportunity to defend itself. ... 

STP will achieve [the] 8% goal. ... 

In addition to WSSDOT's public statements regarding WSDOT findingSTP in breach of the Contract, we note that WSDOT is now providing information to elected officials and the media, as evidenced by an article in today's Seattle Times, regarding the [tunnel boring machine] stoppage, in which STP was again portrayed in a very bad light.

We are surprised that WSDOT appears to be attempting to shift the responsibility for the cost and time impacts associated with the current TBM stoppage to STP when WSDOT understands that the cause of this stoppage was the encountering of a steel well casing, which was installed and left in place by WSDOT. 

If nothing else, the spat between STP and WSDOT will certainly make the frequent joint WSDOT-STP media briefings more interesting. 

WSDOT's Peterson told PubliCola, “WSDOT is committed to a strong working relationship with Seattle Tunnel Partners. We are confident in their ability to deliver on time and on budget in partnership with us, while WSDOT meets our responsibility to state taxpayers to ensure all of the contract terms are met and that the tunnel boring machine is ready to go under downtown Seattle.”

WSDOT Todd Trempanier is currently speaking to the state senate transportation committee; I'll update with his specific comments shortly, but the upshot is that WSDOT maintains that "it's the contractor's responsibility" to figure out what's going wrong and to fix it, but that WSDOT is bringing on an "operations task force" to oversee efforts to get the machine moving again.

Read Dixon's whole letter here.

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