August 24, 2015 by John Crapper
Definition of a boondoggle: An unnecessary or wasteful project or activity.
Bertha is a 57 foot diameter tunnel boring machine built specifically to till the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel.
Boondoggle One: I’ve previously written about Bertha, Seattle’s Tunnel Project, which aims to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It is now two years behind schedule, seriously over budget and the timeline for restarting drilling continues to be a moving target. It is not slated to begin drilling again until around Thanksgiving.
Boondoggle Two: Right alongside Bertha is the Alaskan Way Seawall. Friday it was announced that that project too is behind schedule and seriously over budget.
SEATTLE – The new Alaskan Way Seawall will not be done on time nor on budget. That’s the word from the Seattle Department of Transportation which, for months, had hailed the project as a shining example of how it can handle major projects. It was scheduled to be completed by 2016, on time and on budget, leaders said. But, SDOT Director Scott Kubly admits the department underestimated the true cost and time needed to make the repair.
In 2012 voters approved a bond measure of $290 million to repair the seawall. Soon afterwards the budget for the project rose to $300 million. Quietly, that number rose to $330 million.
Now Kubly says it will take $409 million — more than 33% over the original budget — to complete. He also says it will take an additional year to build and won’t be completed until 2017.
Kubly admits it hasn’t been the most efficient process and has cost time and money. He also says a decision on “water management” and stabilizing the soil on the east side of the project has also proved costly. SDOT went with a “soil freeze,” said Kubly. That process, which involves a labyrinth of pipes, freezes water below the surface and provides a buffer to prevent liquefaction and any erosion, especially in the event of a quake.
Oh, so “it hasn’t been the most efficient process and it has cost time and money”. It happens that my wife and I traveled adjacent to this project every day Monday thru Thursday on our way to teach our ESL classes. We made a game out of counting how many people were standing around instead of working. The rule of thumb we came up with was three people watching while one person operating a piece of heavy equipment. Day in and day out this is what we witnessed.
And then there was the literal parking lot of heavy equipment lined up along the construction site with barely enough room to maneuver. That game count was more along the lines of four pieces of heavy equipment sitting idle while one was in use.
So yes, I can certainly agree with the statement “it hasn’t been the most efficient process and has cost time and money”.
So how is this cost overrun going to be paid for? Here are the options currently on the table.
A commercial parking tax, which is part of a revenue stream which could go to future large capital projects, like streetcars and bridge replacements A real estate excise tax, which is part of a fund dedicated to additional road maintenance and system enhancements Waterfront parking revenue A Waterway fund, which is from fee revenue generated from “waterway use permits”
Kolby was described as coy about the fallout from this cost overrun but it is just another example of a high profile project being delayed and over budget.
And the timing of this announcement is not opportune for another reason. Kubly and Mayor Murray are pitching a $930 million transportation levy to voters for a fall vote.
Remember that saying that these kinds of things happen in threes. Think about that before you vote for that transportation levy. I think we can assume that the projects the levy is meant to fund will run over budget. And it also behooves us all to examine closely where that money will be spent. It could be (and probably will be) boondoggle three!