Washington state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson doubled down—in a refreshingly honest way—on statements she made to conservative talk show host Dori Monson on KIRO Radio yesterday about the downtown deep-bore tunnel.
Peterson told Monson she couldn't promise that the stalled project wouldn't run into cost overruns, and acknowledged that there was a "small possibility" that the project would never get built.
The tunnel project has been stalled since last December, when the tunnel-boring machine overheated due to damage to the bearing that helps turn its 56-foot cutterhead (and possibly to the bearing itself). The tunnel contracting team, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is digging a pit in front of the machine that will be lined with concrete pilings; eventually, the plan is to turn the machine back on, drill through the pilings, and bring the cutterhead to the surface and fixed the damaged bearing.
So it's hardly surprising that Peterson believes there could be cost overruns (the state's contingency fund, currently around $170 million, was reduced from 24 percent of the total project to 15 percent back in 2011), or that she's aware that, with all the mechanical problems the machine has had so far, it's possible that the project will have to be scrapped.
What is surprising is how candid Peterson, the top-ranking WSDOT official, is being about those realities."As Todd Trepanier, program administrator, mentioned to you in his email last week, we want STP to be successful. However, given the history of issues on this project, we are concerned."
Here's what Peterson wrote to legislators and state transportation commission members last night (bolds added).
Dear Legislators and Commissioners,
You will be seeing headlines and stories related to my interviews about the SR 99 Tunnel Project today. Some media outlets have sensationalized my comments. I want to be clear about what I said. We have concerns about the timeline Seattle Tunnel Partners recently made public that defines the milestones for getting the tunneling machine moving again. My comments do not mean the tunnel project will not be completed. As Todd Trepanier, program administrator, mentioned to you in his email last week, we want STP to be successful. However, given the history of issues on this project, we are concerned. As the owner of this project, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are following the intent of the Legislature and protecting Washingtonians. We will do that by closely monitoring their progress, making sure they meet their milestones, and by questioning any changes they make to the new schedule.
Secretary of Transportation