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April 22, 2014 at 1:28 PM

Tunnel contractors: Bertha stall may cost $125M

The costs to repair and restart Bertha, the Highway 99 tunneling machine, are somewhere close to $125 million, a senior executive says.

Chris Dixon, project director for Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), mentioned the figure during a midday briefing today to The Seattle Times’ Editorial Board, which is responsible for writing and choosing opinion pieces.

However, the $125 million isn’t a hard figure, and who will pay has yet to be determined.

Dixon said the number was based on restarting Bertha by Sept. 1, which was STP’s earlier, optimistic goal.  On Monday, he announced the job would take until March 2015, and Dixon said today the actual cost would likely exceed the $125 million. This is the first time contractors or the state have publicly offered an idea of the costs associated with restarting Bertha.

STP already filed a “request for entitlement” to be paid by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), on the premise that a steel well casing, left in the ground after WSDOT groundwater tests in 2002 and 2010, damaged Bertha just before the machine stalled in early December.  WSDOT says it has rejected the request. State officials argued that information had been given to STP in technical documents and so STP was responsible for knowing about the pipe and avoiding trouble.

Whether the pipe contributed to Bertha’s breakdown is still being debated, and could end up being argued before an expert panel.

As work begins on a deep pit to repair the stalled machine, Dixon said today that contractors will begin by spending a $40 million to be released from WSDOT. This is money the state had withheld as “retainage,” a routine 5 percent deduction from the normal monthly payments in the $1.44 billion contract. STP obtained a bond to substitute for the money WSDOT is releasing.

In the larger picture, Dixon and Todd Trepanier, the state’s Highway 99 program administrator, emphasized they keep a close professional relationship despite the sizable disputes. They were joined at the Editorial Board session by Tim Ceis, an adviser to STP. Ceis is a well-known political consultant and former deputy to pro-tunnel Mayor Greg Nickels back when the deep-bore tunnel was chosen in 2009 as a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“We want people to have confidence that the team of WSDOT and STP are working together to finish this project, so the city’s vision for the waterfront can be met,” Ceis said.

Comments | More in Traffic & Transit | Topics: bertha, Highway 99 tunnel, Seattle Tunnel Partners

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