With the world's largest tunnel boring machine indefinitely stuck 60 feet underground due to, I dunno, something, there's been a lot of chatter recently about who is going to pay for the seemingly inevitable cost-overruns. Tunnel opponents are lighting a bonfire of I-told-you-sos as tunnel apologists continue to insist that the state will have our back rather than knife it.
But according to state House Transportation Committee chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), all this cost-overrun talk is a waste of breath. "You can have that discussion because it’s fun in the press," Clibborn told me on Monday, but "it's not going to happen." And by that, she means cost-overuns in general.
Huh??!! How's that possible, you might ask, with the tunnel now hopelessly behind schedule? Because it's not the state's fault, says Clibborn, and thus not the responsibility of either local or state taxpayers.
Clibborn explains that the "design-build" contract on the tunnel puts the risk on the shoulders of the contractors. "The tunnel itself is being dug by the best in the world," says Clibborn, "and they will work it out." And if they don't, it's not our problem. At least, not contractually.
That's very different, Clibborn goes to great pains to point out, than the situation with the 520 bridge pontoons, where, quite frankly, the state totally fucked up. WSDOT was responsible for the faulty design that led to cracked pontoons, and so we're responsible for the resulting $170 million in cost-overruns. "We blew it on the pontoons," says Clibborn.
And if we somehow fucked up as badly writing the tunnel contract as we did on designing the pontoons, and end up being responsible for all or part of the cost-overruns, who would pick up the tab then? The state, says Clibborn, who insists that the provision requiring Seattle taxpayers to shoulder cost-overruns is totally unenforceable. And how can she be so sure? Clibborn says she wrote that provision herself, and she wrote it to be unenforceable, describing it as a "poison pill" that was necessary to win enough votes for passage, but which she never supported.