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March 20, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Tunnel team pledges to boost minority-owned contractors

Corrected version

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)  announced a settlement Thursday that requires its Highway 99 tunnel contractors to do $96 million worth of business with minority- and female-owned small contractors.  But there apparently won’t be any fines or punishment for Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), for falling behind on that goal during 2012-13.

Eight businesses — which include trucking, rebar installation, design, fuel supply, and photography — gave statements to investigators from the Federal Highway Administration, which issued a blistering report Oct 31. It said STP was hindering minority participation, and WSDOT failed to oversee the “disadvantaged business enterprise” (DBE) program.  STP subjected small trucking firms to unnecessary paperwork and bonding requirements for a roughly $22 million bid competition, the federal civil-rights report said. Since then, state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson announced several reforms in response. In January declared STP to be in “breach of contract,” and this week’s deal removes that label.

WSDOT will hire a minority-contracting administrator for the tunnel, and STP agreed to hire a diversity manager, and negotiate with the eight aggrieved business owners by May 1.  The $91 million figure meets the original goal of 8 percent of a $1.1 billion construction contract, but STP had paid less than 2 percent to DBEs by last fall, the highway administration said. (Insurance, inflation and incentives boost the total to $1.4 billion.)

Elton Mason of Washington State Trucking in Kirkland, who instigated the civil-rights inquiry, said he’s had a couple of meetings with WSDOT, but wasn’t hired. “It’s like being in a restaurant smelling cooked food. You can smell it but you can’t eat it,” he said. “These businesses that suffered because of this need to have these contracts to feed their families, to pay for their equipment.”

Information in this article, originally published on March 20, 2014, was corrected March 21, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the settlement required contractors to do $91 million worth of business with minority- and female-owned small contractors.
 

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: bertha; minority hiring

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