This Washington

State, Feds Address Concerns Over Tunneling Beneath Federal Building

By Erica C. Barnett January 18, 2011

State and federal officials responded today to my post on PubliCola Monday (a state and federal holiday) about concerns over building a deep-bore tunnel under the downtown Federal Office Building. The US General Services Administration (GSA) has written a series of letters to the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) asking how the state plans to deal with major issues related to the tunnel, including the possibility of soil settling under the building, the threat tunnel boring might pose to the ancient timber pilings that support the building, and security questions.

WSDOT viaduct project manager Ron Paananen, who also addressed the federal building issue at a city council committee meeting on the tunnel this morning, told PubliCola the state is in a much better position to answer the feds' questions now that they have chosen a design-build contract team to actually build the deep-bore tunnel. "I think we can resolve this through a good discussion of the technical issues" in time for construction in 2014, Paananen said. "We want to resolve these questions as soon as possible."

This morning, Paananen told the council that WSDOT's talks with GSA had been "positive," adding, "If you only read the letters outside of everything that's being done you'd say, 'Gee, they have a problem,' but ... we believe that we can satisfy all of their concerns."

It's true that the letters are pretty alarming. One of them, dated November 9, says that the GSA "will not be granting any further access to the federal property by the project team, their contractors, or potential bidders" until WSDOT has addressed all of the agency's concerns.

Contacted this afternoon, GSA spokesman Ross Buffington said the agency is "having active discussions" with WSDOT but that their questions remain unanswered and there's "no timeline" to reach an agreement with the state.
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