Thursday, June 3, 2010

Seattle Times: McGinn and Gregoire spar over tunnel costs

Everyday he earns the name Mayor McSandbag.

Politics Northwest | McGinn and Gregoire spar over tunnel costs | Seattle Times Newspaper
"Mr. Mayor, we have a track record that's loud and clear. We have a track record of getting every project done on time and on budget," Gregoire said, specifically referring to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the recently finished highway ramps in Sodo.

McGinn noted that costs overran at the Third Avenue bus tunnel, the Brightwater sewage tunnel and the Beacon Hill light-rail tunnel.

"I didn't manage those projects," Gregoire replied.

Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the city needs to pass utility and planning agreements with the state soon, so that construction teams can prepare their tunnel bids on time for the October due date, keeping the project on schedule.

"One thing I can guarantee to everyone at this table is we will have cost overruns if we delay," said Gregoire. "The taxpayers are counting on us."

The $1.96 billion tunnel portion of the project already includes a $415 million cushion for risk and inflation, she said.

McGinn countered that the state recently allowed bidders to propose a 2016 tunnel completion date instead of the original 2015, because at least one bid team perceived enough cost risk to seek the looser schedule.

Gregoire said virtually all McGinn's points were debated over 13 years and that he's a latecomer to the issue. She said work should start now, because of the ideal economic climate to attract low bids, and that the 1953-vintage viaduct should be "retired" for safety.

McGinn argued the timeline isn't entirely about safety, given that the state would leave the old highway standing until the tunnel is done.

McGinn accused the state of creating this scenario by breaking earlier promises to cover the highway costs and by refusing to act on his requests earlier to change the state law -- so that "we are asked to be the default payor of cost overruns."

Gregoire said the overruns language is merely "legislative intent," and the Legislature couldn't make Seattle pay cost overruns unless lawmakers pass another bill.

"When the state budget is being drawn by the state, the state is responsible for the projects," she said afterward.