Since it's Throwback Thursday, and since Seattle's tunnel just topped the list of "Highway Boondoggles," let's flash back to a feature about the tunnel from 2010. Here's an excerpt titled: "The people who say, "Nothing will go wrong" are often wrong (or they're lying)." — xo Dom]
The top reason why transportation projects run over budget is because people who have the most to gain—developers bidding on contracts, labor unions worried about jobs, state agencies with reputations on the line, politicians looking for campaign contributions, construction unions that make campaign contributions—have an incentive to lie about risks. Once the project is under way, it is hard to stop, even if costs skyrocket. The Big Dig in Boston started with an estimate of $2.8 billion, which grew to a final cost of $14.6 billion, and is expected to cost $22 billion with interest when it's finally paid off in 2038.
"The use of deception and lying as tactics in power struggles aimed at getting projects started and at making a profit appear to best explain why costs are highly and systematically underestimated in transportation infrastructure projects," say Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Søren Buhl in a report from 2002. "Legislators, administrators, investors, media representatives, and members of the public who value honest numbers should not trust cost estimates and cost benefit analyses produced by project promoters."
In this case, the "project promoters" trying to muscle through the tunnel contract are Governor Gregoire and certain members of the Seattle City Council. And something else that undermines the credibility of tunnel backers: They are running from this debate. Mayor McGinn offered to debate council president Conlin about the tunnel and cost overruns, Town Hall Seattle offered to host the debate, and KING 5 was anxious to air it. Conlin refused to debate the mayor. After Conlin refused, the offer was extended to Council Member Sally Bagshaw, who made her support for the tunnel a big issue in her campaign for city council, but she also refused. Likewise, Council Member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council's transportation committee, refused to debate the mayor.
For his part, Rasmussen says that the city has consultants who will look at various potential risks—such as those associated with relocating utility lines, soil conditions, and insurance, among other things—and make sure the city isn't exposed to undue liability.
"There will be no sugarcoating, no rose-colored glasses," Rasmussen says. "We have to know all the risks and make sure all of them are honestly portrayed and explained to us... I don't want people to think that we want this so badly that we are ignoring any red flags."
There rest of the piece is here.