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January 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM

520 bridge project needs more money; other projects may take a hit

Errors and cost increases for the new Highway 520 bridge will chew up the project’s $250 million contingency fund and require more dollars from toll-backed bond debt and even from other transportation projects, state officials testified this morning.

However, the financial fix won’t require higher toll rates, nor a tax increase, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told the Joint Transportation Committee in Olympia. Many questions went unasked in the brief update, approximately 20 minutes long.  “The ability to fund against the existing tolling rate is greater than anticipated,” she said.

Bottom line is the $2.72 billion now budgeted for the six-lane crossing needs to rise to $2.89 billion, she said.  That’s a $170 million boost for the stretch crossing Lake Washington, and does not include about $1.4 billion needed to build through Montlake and a new Portage Bay Bridge reaching I-5.

The lake portion of the six-lane crossing is currently expected to open to traffic in April 2016, said 520 program Administrator Julie Meredith.

Peterson acknowledged some money must come from other highway programs by seeking “efficiencies,” rather than changing the “outcomes” for other roads.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said, “The money will be swept from other small projects around the state, and they won’t get done. That’s my prediction.”  Later, Peterson mentioned the state Department of Transportation (DOT) would take a harder look at design — for example, whether 12-foot shoulders could be reduced to six feet on certain highway stretches, saving money.

Peterson did mention last summer’s rapid Skagit River Bridge repair as a sign of agency reforms since she took the post not quite a year ago.

Previously, the DOT released internal documents showing that overruns might reach $378 million, chewing up the project’s financial reserve plus another $128 million or so. Those broad, preliminary figures included not just pontoon fixes, but cost increases on land near the Eastside approach, and general costs of project delays.

Today’s testimony suggests that contrary to hopes expressed in speeches by Peterson and  Meredith, the agency was unable to slash those numbers through negotiation with the Kiewit-General-Manson partnership and other contractors.

The $170 million request conservatively assumes that DOT hasn’t yet spent down the $250 million reserve, and is still protecting about $62 million of that cash, to tackle any further cost increases for 2014-16.

The first group of giant lengthwise pontoons from 2012 included long cracks, which had to be repaired, causing a redesign of other pontoons. Now, more than half the 77 large and small pontoons are finished or under construction. Three batches of pontoons have been completed at Grays Harbor, and others in Tacoma.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: Highway 520 bridge; Legislature


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