SEATTLE -- Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials rejected the notion they have a communication problem with their contractor on the viaduct replacement project.

A report released Thursday by the Expert Review Panel (ERP), which was formed to oversee the project, was generally supportive of the project, but did note that communication issues are creating confusion.

Changes to the Project's leadership have resulted in a loss of institutional knowledge and prior stakeholder relationships, which have led to potentially detrimental misunderstandings with Project stakeholders, read the report from the panel made up of experts in tunnel and other high stakes construction projects.

WSDOT Project Administrator Todd Trepanier said he was uncomfortable talking about the report until he had a chance to read all of it but did say,

I don t believe at this time there is anything detrimental occurring in the oversight and leadership and management of the project that is detrimental to the project.

The stalled boring machine in the Highway 99 tunnel under downtown Seattle could be late but still meet its budget, the governor's expert review panel said in the report.

The 43-page document predicts the four-lane tube will be completed in the first half of 2016 and open by mid-November, The Seattle Times reported.

Costs shouldn't overrun the overall $3.1 billion for the project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the experts said.

The ERP continues to be confident that the project is on course to be successfully completed, the report said.

Trepanier said he would not be able to read the report until next week and would comment on it at that time.

He is busy preparing for tomorrow when the contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners is expected to announce its plans for repairing Bertha, the tunnel machine, which hasn t made any real progress since grinding to a halt almost three months ago.

The department expected to meet with the contractor Friday to hear how long it would take to repair the damaged boring machine and resume tunneling. Another department official said earlier it would be months before the machine named Bertha is moving again.

The expert review panel was created to assess the viaduct replacement project's financing and assure that schedules, risks and management are reasonable.

The tunnel portion of the project is budgeted at $1.4 billion. At a news briefing Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the state needs to continue to be a vigorous and insistent customer of Seattle Tunnel Partners.

They have a legal obligation to finish this tunnel on-time and under-budget, Inslee said.

Meanwhile, work continues on the project to reroute Highway 99.

Workers have already started reconfiguring the pit used last summer to launch the boring machine. The pit near the waterfront and the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums will become a covered section of highway tunnel.

Crews also are starting work this weekend for future tunnel connections to city streets near what is now the south end of the Battery Street tunnel, not far from the Seattle Center.

Bertha ground to a halt in the first week of December about 1,000 feet into the 1.7-mile tunnel route.

The seals surround the main bearing are broken and have to repaired or replaced. The work will likely involve digging an access shaft.

The completed tunnel will allow the state to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the 60-year-old double-decker highway along the Seattle waterfront that is in danger of collapsing in an earthquake.

The viaduct will be closed this weekend for a routine inspection. Monitors have already found the viaduct settled nearly half an inch near the tunnel-boring machine. The Transportation Department said that was expected and the viaduct is safe, for now.

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