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Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien called a press conference at City Hall this afternoon to announce that he won't vote to ratify the city's contract to build the downtown tunnel unless there's clear language letting Seattle off the hook for any cost overruns.

“I will not sign a contract that doesn’t have language in it that clarifies who’s assuming the risk above $2.4 billion," O'Brien said.

Right now, language issuing forth from Olympia seems to put Seattle on the hook for paying the bill if the downtown tunnel project goes over $2.4 billion.

“I was elected to represent the interests of the City of Seattle," O'Brien explained. "I wasn’t elected to protect projects. I wasn’t elected to protect the interests of the state.”

With the council expected to vote on its contract language later this summer, O'Brien said he's hopeful he and other councilmembers can work out a way to address his concerns. If that doesn't happen, he said, he'll try to get at least three other people on the council to join him in voting against the contract—enough "no" votes that Mayor Mike McGinn's promised contract veto can't be overridden.

But, as none of the other eight councilmembers have taken this kind of stance, O'Brien will have an uphill battle, which he admitted. Still, indulging in some rather sunny optimism, he imagined a scenario in which he's able to draw every other member to his side: “I think that nine of us plus the mayor standing together are a pretty powerful force.”

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O'Brien then cast himself as the lonely odd-man-out at council meetings on the tunnel issue, and sounded bewildered as to why he finds himself repeatedly asking questions about the project's costs that no one else seems to be interested in. He also said it is "disingenuous" for city leaders to suggest—as council president Richard Conlin has—that raising tunnel questions causes cost overruns.

“I think more debate on any of this would be great," O'Brien said, endorsing McGinn's idea for a public dialogue between himself and Conlin (which Conlin has so far rejected). “I think that it would be good for Seattle to have a more robust dialogue and debate among elected officials.”

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