SEATTLE – The new administrator for the Alaskan Way tunnel project has a big task ahead of him.
The project to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way viaduct is three years behind schedule. Now, it’s up to Joe Hedges to get it done.
"My primary focus is completing the program, completing the construction," said Hedges, who replaced former administrator Todd Trepanier.
Trepanier moved back to his home town of Yakima to manage the South Central region for the state.
Hedges has been learning the ropes for about three months, and Tuesday marked his first round of interviews. Hedges has about 30 years of experience, including building more than $1.2 billion in projects in Iraq, some of them under fire.
Hedges said picking up oversight on the project is like watching a 10,000 foot skyscraper built on its side, complete with electrical, ventilation, fire suppression and traffic management systems.
Hedges met with us on the roof of the south operations building, which acts as the lungs of the project, handling ventilation and other tasks. Marked by its yellow stacks on the roof, a second larger operations building is built on the north end of the tunnel in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
Bertha should reach the so called "north portal" at Thomas street in 2017. Then the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, must finished the double deck roadway and infrastructure inside and tie it into other support projects for a rescheduled early 2019 opening.
One open question is how much the state will be on the hook for in cost overruns. Estimates range from $60 million to $223 million, depending on whether insurance picks up the tab and the result of litigation between the contractor and the state.
"I'll let the lawyers figure that one out,” Hedges said. “My focus is completing the project."