Tunnel Update

A couple of updates on the deep-bore tunnel machine (spoiler alert: Still stalled!)

By Erica C. Barnett February 17, 2014

Our tunneling correspondent was out sick on Friday, so here's a belated update on the Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) current thinking on the prospects for repairing the tunnel boring machine (TBM), which has been stuck beneath downtown Seattle since early December, as well as some info on how much the project has cost the state so far in the form of change orders, or modifications a contractor (in this case, Seattle Tunnel Partners, a joint venture of Dragados and Tutor Perini) makes to a contract. 

On Friday, WSDOT announced that, contrary to a tentative Thursday announcement that STP could tell them as early as that afternoon how it planned to fix the gunked-up bearing seals that have apparently stopped the machine in its tracks, STP now plans to finalize its plans for fixing the TBM "by the end of February."

"This will include a schedule for how long the repair work would take," WSDOT said in its brief announcement.

As we reported last week, STP will either have to build a vault to allow workers inside the machine itself, an operation WSDOT deputy project manager Matt Preedy insisted was possible but "would be unconventional," or pull out the machine's main bearing through the front, 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.

Also last week, reporters asked WSDOT to quantify how many change orders the contractor had requested so far. Both of the STP partners, but particularly Tutor Perini, have a history of submitting low bids and then boosting prices above the contract amount with change order after change order. 

WSDOT spokeswoman Laura Newborn sent out a memo on Friday saying "The NET cost of the executed change orders, is $262,544," for things like cell-phone access in the tunnel and the removal of a building foundation near the tunnel's north portal.

However, that diminutive figure doesn't include a much larger change order—more than $11 million WSDOT will have to pay to the Port of Seattle for improvements to its Terminal 46 facility so that STP could load the muck it's excavacing for the tunnel onto barges bound for a quarry near Port Townsend. (That's the same terminal, you may recall, that was at the center of a huge labor dispute that shut down tunnel-boring operations for several weeks last year).

In the memo, Newborn says the $11 million increase doesn't count as part of the net cost of STP's change orders because WSDOT set aside a $20 million fund specifically for the purpose of making improvements at the terminal if STP decided it wanted to move the tunnel detritus out on barges. "Since this was an anticipated, pre-planned cost, it is separated." 


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