State officials on Wednesday said they are negotiating with 520 bridge contractors about schedule changes that could delay completion until early 2015.
That’s a sudden softening of earlier statements by the Washington State Department of Transportation that it could keep its goal of finishing the floating section on Lake Washington by the end of 2014, after problems in the first batch of six pontoons cast this year.
Project leaders had insisted that despite a three-month delay in the Grays Harbor casting basin, the crews from Kiewit-General would make up lost time. An interior corner of a large pontoon broke apart in May, forcing a retrofit of similar corners at other pontoons. In addition, errors in concrete curing led to more cracking than predicted. Many cracks have been filled, and others were recently mapped by a dive team for repairs early next year.
Program administrator Julie Meredith mentioned to the Transportation Commission on Wednesday that talks are under way with Kiewit about the schedule. Strictly speaking the contract already allowed for mid-2015 completion — but when Kiewit and partners won the bridge construction job, they proposed a date of December 2014 — an early finish that would win them $2.5 million in incentive pay.
That optimistic timeline has been consistently publicized by the state. Back in 2009, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she expected the floating section to be done in 2014, citing the old 1963 bridge’s risk of sinking in a windstorm or earthquake.
Suanne Pelley, a WSDOT spokeswoman, said Meredith’s remarks Wednesday did not amount to a schedule change, and WSDOT wouldn’t make such a change at a quiet commission meeting.
It’s unclear how a few months’ slippage would affect motorists and transit, if at all. Even after the floating part of the new bridge is finished, traffic must go through detours and bottlenecks at the west side, until the Seattle landings and Portage Bay bridge are replaced in phases.
Kiewit spokesman Tom Janssen sent this comment early Thursday:
We are at the front end of a large complex project. Kiewit is committed to the safe, timely completion of a quality, structurally sound bridge that will serve the region for generations. We are working with WSDOT to address the project’s challenges and potential impacts to the schedule.