Corrected: State Viaduct Official Apologizes for Not Telling City About Potential Extra Year for Tunnel Construction

By Erica C. Barnett June 7, 2010

CORRECTION: I misheard the conversation between viaduct project manager Ron Paananen and City Council members. Paananen was not --- as I originally reported --- apologizing for failing to tell council members that a bidder on the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project had walked off the site of another tunnel project in Vancouver. Instead, he was apologizing for failing to tell some council members about the fact that bidders had been given up to an additional year to complete the project. I apologize for the error.

Viaduct project manager Ron Paananen apologized to City Council member Mike O'Brien today for failing to inform some council members that the state department of transportation had given the three teams bidding to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct up to an additional year to complete the tunnel.

"As I told council member [Tom] Rasmussen, if I could do the last 24 hours over again, I absolutely would have," project manager Ron Paananen said at a viaduct replacement committee meeting this afternoon. "You're 100 percent right that we had a duty to keep all our elected officials at all levels informed. At some levels, we didn't get there."

In a subsequent discussion about a decision by one of the tunnel bidders, Bilfinger Berger, to walk away from a Vancouver tunnel project it deemed too risky, Paananen added that the two tunnels were very different, and noted that the waterfront tunnel would be built under a design-build contract, in which one team is responsible for bidding on (and sticking to budget on) both the design and construction of a project.

Bilfinger stopped work on two water-filtration tunnels, saying it was worried about ground conditions and worker safety. The city then sued the company, which got the bid by bidding almost half of the second-lowest bidder, for $200 million.

The committee will hold a special meeting sometime in the coming weeks to discuss the risk of cost overruns and the size of the performance bonds the state will require the contractor to acquire, which some, including O'Brien, have suggested may be too small.
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