Image via WSDOT on Flickr.

Todd Trepanier, the Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) project manager for Alaskan Way tunnel construction, told reporters today that he "hasn't read" a 37-pge report from the governor's expert review panel on the project, and couldn't respond to multiple questions about the report's contents. 

As the Seattle Times reported this morning, the report concluded that the project could conceivably still open on budget, and only slightly delayed, despite months of setbacks (the tunnel-boring machine has been shut down since early December and repairs to damaged seals on the face of the machine will likely take months to complete). 

Additionally, the report noted "tension" and "strained relations" between WSDOT and the tunnel contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), as well as "confusion" over which party is in charge of various parts of the project. And it concluded that turnover at the top WSDOT had resulted in a loss of institutional knowledge and needless miscommunications at the agency. 

The report concluded, among other findings, that "several factors have strained the relations between WSDOT and STP, primarily at the executive level. If this relationship is not quickly repaired this critical relationship could be irreparably damaged, potentially adversely affecting successful completion of the Project."

 

Trepanier rejected the notion that there has been any communication breakdown between WSDOT and STP. "I don't believe we have a poor communication relationship with the contractor," he said.

 

The review panel also concluded that changes to leadership in charge of the tunnel project (Trepanier took over from previous project administrator Linea Laird, and Preedy was promoted to be his deputy) "have resulted  in a loss of institutional knowledge and prior stakeholder relationships, which has led to potentially detrimental misunderstandings with Project stakeholders.

 

And Trepanier minimized the turnover at WSDOT, calling the personnel changes "the natural kind of change in positions that would occur over the span of time of this project."

The report places the blame for the strained relationship between WSDOT and STP largely on WSDOT's shoulders, citing "One important example of how this essential relationship has been strained" as "the issues surrounding STP’s actions in implementing its contractually required [disadvantaged business enterprise] program on the tunnel project." (WSDOT determined that STP was in breach of its contract because it failed to meet its contractually required minimum of 8 percent minority- or women-owned subcontractors).  

"The issues have been intensified by WSDOT executive management’s decision to declare STP to be in 'breach' of the contract. The companies comprising the STP joint venture believe WSDOT’s 'breach' action has damaged their reputations and compromised their ability to seek business elsewhere in the United States."

The report goes on to say that there has been "confusion" over which party, STP or WSDOT, is responsible for various parts of the project. Trepanier categorically denied today that there is any "confusion on this project. This project, and the responsibilities of what resides with WSDOT and STP, is clear," he said, adding, "When you have a contract of this magnitude, there is going to be the appropriate tension that takes place between the owner and the contractor."

The report continues: "Both WSDOT and STP have retained experts for advice on technical issues, which would benefit the Project if both WSDOT and STP experts could meet jointly, or at a minimum, share the written recommendations with each other during meetings where observations, ideas and recommendations could be discussed. ... It is evident that no technical forum for open discussion of technical issues currently exists on the Project."

WSDOT is meeting this afternoon with representatives of Hitachi-Zosen, the company that manufactured the tunnel boring machine; earlier this week, the Times reported that the leaking seals that caused the machine's months-long shutdown were also a problem in Japan, where workers testing the machine had to take it apart to repair the same seal system. STP and WSDOT could announce a plan to repair the seals, by building a pit in front of the machine and removing its massive cutterhead, as soon as tomorrow. 

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