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WSDOT awarded $57.2 million from contractor for SR 99 tunnel delays

A Thurston County jury sided with the state on who should pay for part of the construction delays on the Seattle tunnel.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A Thurston County jury has awarded the Washington State Department of Transportation $57.2 million from contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners for delays in the State Route 99 tunnel construction.

The jury delivered its verdict on the nine-week trial Friday after deliberating for less than one day.

"It certainly is good news for taxpayers," said Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar, who called the verdict significant.

WSDOT sued STP accusing them of violating the state’s contract for failing to meet project deadlines.

The tunnel boring machine Bertha broke down in December 2013, and it was out for service for more than two years while it was repaired. WSDOT attorneys blamed the breakdown on improperly trained staff.

Also see | Seattle tunnel delays: Why the project is 3 years late

However, STP had countersued WSDOT for $330 million, blaming a steel metal pipe that Bertha ran into for the delays. STP claimed the state never told the contractor that the pipe in the tunnel path was made of steel.

WSDOT says the pipe didn’t cause the damage.

"You hate to see something go wrong on a construction project," said Millar. "But we bought a tunnel, and the means and methods were the contractor's, and we're looking forward to eventually getting this behind us."

Gov. Jay Inslee said he was "grateful" the jury awarded damages to taxpayers and that Washington persisted in the project, despite a three-year delay.

Also see | Seattle tunnel use down 26% during weekdays after tolling begins

"We never wavered from our position that it was always the contractor’s responsibility to fix the tunneling machine and that taxpayers should not pay the repair bill," Inslee said in a statement.

Millar noted Seattle Tunnel Partners could appeal the ruling.

"So we don't think we're done, but it was a good day." said Millar.

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