Governor Chris Gregoire and state transportation officials announced today that the state has chosen Seattle Tunnel Partners to build the deep-bore tunnel. The team is made up of New York-based Dragados-USA, Kansas City-based HNTB Corp., and Tutor-Perini Corp. STP's bid was slightly higher than the second-place finisher, Seattle Tunneling Group, but the team got extra points worth $72 million for promising to complete the tunnel by 2015, a year ahead of WSDOT's schedule of 2016, and for its tunnel design and soil-protection plan. The state's price limit was $1.1 billion, and both bids came in just under that limit.

"Today it's time, ladies and gentlemen, for the real work to begin," Gregoire said. "Competition is what makes us great and this has been a very competitive process. ... Let's get 'er built."

Asked about the risk of cost overruns, Gregoire said, "We're going to stay by our commitment. We are going to be on time [and] we are going to be on budget."

City council member Mike O'Brien, a tunnel skeptic (he's speaking for that side of the debate at our forum December 16), expressed alarm at the fact that both bids came in just under budget. "After we gave away a couple hundred million in contingency money, and with these bids coming in right under budget, there's not a lot of wiggle room for this project going forward," O'Brien said. "It would have been nice to see them come in a couple hundred million under budget, but it's pretty clear that WSDOT knew exactly how much money they had to give away." In October, the state offered the bidders $230 million in incentives, shrinking the contingency fund for the project by half.

Asked whether an initiative filed this morning by tunnel opponents (which says the city can't sign any agreements with the state on the tunnel until the state agrees to pay for overruns) would stall the city council, which plans to sign three tunnel agreements early next year, O'Brien said, "I think the initiative is an opportunity for Seattle citizens to step forward and say we need to figure out cost overruns before we move forward" but said he didn't know whether the council would delay signing the agreements until after a vote on the initiative.