Lawmaker calls Bertha cost overrun provision "toothless"



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Posted on April 21, 2014 at 10:34 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 22 at 4:53 AM

SEATTLE -- Seattle property owners should not worry about paying any extra for delays constructing the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel, according to a key lawmaker involved in the initial process to build the project.

Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said Monday a provision in the bill for the SR 99 Tunnel Project that says costs beyond $2.8 billion would be "borne by property owners in the Seattle area who benefit from replacement of the existing viaduct" is "unenforceable".

"It was some wording that was put in there on an amendment that was trying to make people not vote for the tunnel, and it didn't work," said Clibborn.

Rep. Clibborn introduced the provision on another lawmaker's behalf in 2009.  Though initially included to ensure those who benefit from the tunnel pay if extra is needed, she indicated Monday that is not legal.

"It doesn't mean anything," she said.

State Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) admitted "significant disagreement" about the enforceability of the provision.  He was not in the legislature when the Bertha project was approved, but said the big question of cost remains.

"I want to know the issue better," he said, "There is still no way to predict how expensive this will be."

The contract to design and build the tunnel is $3.1 billion, which includes millions of dollars in incentives for the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, to finish a year early, which is now no longer possible.

Cost overruns could also be financed by toll monies, Rep. Clibborn explained.

"We're doing a responsible thing in having contingencies that protect taxpayers," she said.