Image via WSDOT on Flickr.

Matt Preedy, WSDOT's deputy administrator for the deep-bore tunnel project, says the transportation agency hopes to hear back by Friday about Seattle Tunnel Partners' (the conglomerate that's building the project) plans to fix the gunked-up seals that have apparently stopped the tunnel-boring machine from operating properly, causing the machine's bearing to overheat (and prompting a shutdown that started in early December).

However, given the complexity of the operation, Preedy said, "I wouldn't be surprised if it takes them a little longer to make that decision." 

Essentially, STP is trying to determine whether it can do the work from "the back" (inside the machine itself), or "the front" (by pulling out the machine's main bearing via a 75-to-80-foot-wide shaft that STP would have to dig in front of the cutterhead of the machine, which is currently about 120 feet underground).

The former option has never been attempted—making the latter option seem more likely. Preedy said, "it would not surprise me if the contractor decided it would be more expedient and easier to replace that component from the front of the system by dropping it in from above." 

Yesterday, tunnel project manager Todd Trepanier said STP built a backup bearing to replace the existing $5 million tunnel component as part of its contract with the state. 

Preedy said that "since [STP] haven’t really advised us as to what their options are … I really can’t speculate how long it may take for one method versus another," but added, "they’re clearly going to be wanting to employ a method of repair that expedites the schedule. 

Preedy continued, as Trepanier did yesterday, to insist that the need for repairs isn't a big deal and shouldn't cause anyone to panic.

"There are almost always problems on any construction job—whether you're redoing your house, whether you're doing a kitchen model, whether you're doing a highway bridge, or whether you're building a tunnel," he said—a rather bland statement in light of widespread concerns about who will pay for cost overruns.

However, he added, "We did not anticipate that there would have to be something repaired on the machine to this scale, so to that extent … it has become more complex than the parties desired it to be." 

Asked whether WSDOT has any concerns about the numerous lawsuits for cost overruns, fraud, and other charges, against the two Seattle Tunnel Partners contractors, Dragados and Tutor Perini, Preedy responded, "I can tell you that we have very good working relationship here on the project with the joint venture and we are confident that they will bring whatever resources are necessary to bear to identify and correct the problem at hand and any other problems that may occur on this job.

"They are very committeed to completing this project, and I have no concern that they are not going to do do what’s right and commit whatever resources that are required to complete this job," Preedy said.

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