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November 1, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Feds: Tunnel contractor, state failing to hire women and minorities

Seattle Tunnel Partners and the state Department of Transportation have failed to make a good-faith effort to meet their hiring goals for small businesses owned by minorities and women, according to a report issued today by the Federal Highway Administration.

With the job roughly one-third complete, the tunnel contractors have paid out only 1 percent of the alloted $91 million share to those small businesses, the 20-page document says.

Contractors imposed unnecessary bonding requirements and red tape on the small businesses seeking to bid, while the state took a hands-off attitude, the investigation found.

The FHWA launched its investigation based on a formal complaint by Elton Mason, owner of Washington State Trucking in Kirkland.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, led by Spain-based Dragados and California-based Tutor-Perini, accepted an 8 percent goal for contracts with small businesses owned by minorities and women. But project manager Chris Dixon of STP, and state DOT administrator Linea Laird both thought that level too high because of the specialized nature of the deep-bore tunnel, the report says.

It will be difficult for the project to make up for lost ground.

Trucking is one of the prime jobs that can be done by businesses owned by women and minorities, but the huge launch pit for tunneling machine Bertha was long ago finished in Sodo, and the north-portal excavation near Seattle Center is mostly done. So that opportunity to level the playing field is lost.

Current plans are to use barges, not trucks to remove the tremendous volumes of soil that the drill will remove beneath downtown, over the remaining 1.6 miles from South King Street to near Mercer Street.

Nonetheless, state transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson promised in a message Friday her agency “is taking this matter very seriously.”

Peterson said she is hiring an independent adviser, and will proposed “future actions” within 30 days.

The feds didn’t issue specific threats or deadlines. But a letter to the state DOT mentions that it could suspend or terminate federal funds, or refuse to approve future grants, unless the problems are fixed.

Comments | Topics: Federal Highway Administration, highway 99, Seattle Tunnel Partners

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