News May 27, 2010 at 4:00 am

City Council President Richard Conlin Refuses to Talk About How to Keep Seattle from Paying for Tunnel Cost Overruns


Normally, I would be a fan of progressive, mega-engineering projects, but good engineering never has anything to do with it in Seattle for over thirty years now, it's all about corruption and kickbacks (and I'm not even going to touch NiCastro's latest scam).

Now this City has how much tunneling projects for that at-grade, poorly designed light rail?

A poorly designed people-mover, with poorly designed traffic configuration, with so much underground at exorbitant rates, with kickbacks to the usual pols at the city and county levels, and EVERY law firm in the state on retainer --- no lawsuit worries here!

With the train tunnel running diagonally under Seattle, with the bus tunnel (and with yet another secret tunnel, dating back to WWII), now there'll be a deep bore tunnel under a porous and resettled (dirt wise, after the Great Fire and utilizing removed topsoil from Denny Hill, now Denny Regrade) downtown Seattle --- not a good idea geotechnically speaking --- but when has that every stopped corrupt politicians?

And with the bottom of Elliott Bay raising an estimated three inches every year, not a very sound idea from a geoscientific vantage point!

Unfortunately your math is wrong...

Since the contingency set aside to cover cost overruns is unlikely to create cost overruns it should be eliminated from the cost of tunnel construction. The total cost for the tunnel related elements subject to some risk of cost overrun is reduced to $1.545B ($1.96B – $415M = $1.545B). If this amount incurred a 30% cost overrun as you hypothesized (which is approximately what the widely quoted Bent Flyvbjerg study says is typical for mega projects) then the cost overrun for the tunnel portion would be $463M which would be mostly covered by the $415M contingency with a 49M overrun (not $580M per your article).

However, what we learned during the 5.17.10 city council briefing by WSDOT / SDOT officials is that the State will contractually obligate the Design Build contractor to assume most if not all the risk for $520M of the tunnel construction with hard bid numbers. This means the Design builder has control of and some leeway over the design, and construction methods and therefore assumes risk for the elements they design and construct. If this is true, and the contractual agreements between the State and Contractor reflect this Design Build arrangement, then the portion of the project exposed to significant risk is further reduced to $1.025B ($1.545B – $520M = $1.025B). Subjected to a 30% cost overrun, the overrun would be $307.5M, handled by the contingency of $415M with $107.5M left to cover cost overruns on the remaining elements of the State’s 3.1B project which Ron Pananaan says WSDOT routinely brings in within 2% of budget (I assume he means on average).

This $107.5M will need to cover cost overruns on the remainder of the $3.1B state portion of the contract. At first glance this remaining portion is $1.14B ($3.1B – $1.96B), however it includes $345M for Moving Forward Projects / Utility relocation and prior expenditures to date which is largely money that has already been expended, and $140M for the Holgate to King Phase 2 project that came in 25% under projected bids (the savings will be rolled back into the project to protect from cost overruns, therefore has built in protection). The remaining items will cost $655M, and are largely low risk ventures (ROW acquisition, mitigation, design costs and demo and removal). With the leftover contingency we could withstand a 16% cost overrun on portions of the project the state routinely builds within 2% of the budget

Lastly, the actual tunnel bore (the riskiest part of the project) of the tunnel is $350M, which is less than the contingency of $415M. This portion isn’t even as ominous as it seems as it includes the tunnel boring machine (which is a design build contract and somewhat protected from risk), and the tunnel liner elements (which will be a massed produced Design Build element, and is also considered lower risk). Even without discounting these elements the tunnel bore could be 118% over budget without exhausting the contingency.
Dominic, you don't seem to understand. Most citizens of Seattle have decided to ignore McGinn for the rest of his term. He is a disaster who only creates chaos and destruction. You may think that is way cool, but most of us don't. We care about our fair city far too much.
The cost overrun issue is a ruse. The deep-bore tunnel has horrific design flaws that have NEVER been debated publicly, many never even disclosed to the public. Deep-bore tunnel supporters on the City Council, SDOT and WSDOT are guilty of deliberate or criminal dereliction of duty. The June 1st date for supposedly resolving the matter is nonsense. The shit is about to hit the fan and City Council will go down in sulfurous flames for their abject failure on this project. The only sensible tunnel option is some version of the cut/cover Tunnelite. Debate that, dumbass class.
I can't believe we're still arguing about how much money to spend on CAR infrastructure while the Gulf Coast is being sloshed with oil because of our "need" to drive everywhere.

How about we don't replace the viaduct with anything. F*** the tunnel and the other options, let's get a clue already. Stop polishing brass on the Titanic. Let's spend the resources we have on something that won't be worthless in 50 years.

Honestly, I'm tired of the suburbs whining about how they can't easily drive from bummfark nowhere into our cities to work because of traffic. "Oh no, traffic!" Spoiled babies. Adapt or die.
Just build something already, Seattle. Your Mayor is a total joke and disaster. While we've spent the last 9-10 years debating and designing, the viaduct is still sinking and becoming more unsafe.

Debate and design time has come and gone, just finish it already.
I grew up driving into Seattle from the south end and still remember what all those unfinished freeway ramps used to look like along I-5. I sense another huge blunder for Seattle when I look at these stories, the tunnel is a bad idea. One of the things I love about driving on the Viaduct and the "collector/distributor" part of I-5 is the "Bladerunner" quality if gives commuting in Seattle. I won't drive on the lower deck of the viaduct, and I'll never use that tunnel. Whatever happens, there's trouble brewing. ;0)
@5 - love your silly Army-of-One, I-am-Legend urban wasteland scenario, but I think you meant to post to the Detroit story.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the residents of Seattle disagree with you, and don't want to be on the viaduct when it pancakes, nor do we want to play Frogger on the Alaskan way at-grade freeway proposed by other moonbats like yourself.

Civilization requires fuel, trucks and commerce, spoiled baby. That won't be changing in the forseeable future. Get over yourself.
I lived around the block from Conlin in the mid 90's, leading up to his election and sat with him as Secretary of the Madrona Council.

He is a good guy, but I fear he's doing a bit of an Obama on this issue - supporting the downtown Seattle 'business' folks with good intent, just like Obama supported the folks who Enron'd the mortgage market with enough foresight to short their own scam.

FWIW, the public money folks HQ'd in Downtown Seattle are why Olympia hates Seattle, and rightfully so.

Great piece Dominic, and I hope Conlin is using his vacation time to realize this isn't a situation with a completely positive outcome.
Ironic that Conlin is in Greece, the land of cost-overruns, with all of Europe on it's knees as a result, and the message he sends home is "let's hurry up and spend! spend!"

Unlike WaMu, Seattle has weathered a harsh recession better than most of the country. But that recession isn't going away. Deep, deep cuts are being made in government budgets that strip away the safety net for thousands of citizens. Yet we're already committed to a multi-billion-dollar Lake bridge. Did we learn anything from the past few years? We must not add to the potential exposure, in such harsh times, by taking on a debt of unknown proportions.

The voters have clearly rejected the viaduct. Again some in government choose to ignore the voters' judgment. Big overruns could mire Seattle's economy in misery for decades. Somehow the irrational exuberance of tunnel supporters - or something seamier - keeps them from seeing the darkness they're trying to lead us into.

Seattle may face unknown economic dangers. The times point to the wisdom of a simple, efficient solution. Destroy the viaduct and replace it with a beautiful street-level solution for a small fraction of the cost.
@8 - Highway 99 is at-grade for probably 99% of it's considerable length. Please explain why converting this short stretch of it back (Hwy 99 existed before the viaduct was built in 1953) to at-grade roadway is such a "moonbat" idea.

Please wait...

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