Necessity can be the mother of invention, but it can also lead to mistakes. One local example is the ferry Chetzemoka and other vessels in the "I-Lean" class of listing ferries.
When the Washington State Ferries had to suddenly retire its "steel electric" fleet, officials were left without back-ups and had to scramble to get new ferries built that could handle certain routes. As a result, they rushed designs and ended up paying nearly $50 million more for the Chetzemoka than a vessel of similar design. The end result was a ferry that leans to one side, vibrates and uses more fuel than the ferries it replaced. Skeptics doubt the boat will reach its supposed 60-year life-span.
So what happened? There are a number of reasons for the flawed ferry, including not being able to bid the job more widely, but according to the Everett Herald, "State and Todd [Shipyard] officials say almost all of the gap stems in some way from efforts to get the boat built as quickly as possible." They were forced to rush, ferry officials say. My second grade teacher would reply: Haste makes waste.
Haste isn't the only thing that makes waste, but it sure helps. Seattle is ground zero for a huge number of mega-projects that will be coming on line in the next four years. The number and scale of the projects proves the myth of Seattle gridlock. Many projects are driven by a sense of urgency: they are required for safety, to prevent doomsday, to boost the economy, to create urgently needed family-wage jobs, to tap funding sources that might disappear, to avoid costly delays.
Because of that urgency, some have been started before they are fully designed or funded, which adds additional pressures on the designers, engineers and builders. The Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement commenced south of the central waterfront before any final decision was made about the tunnel. The new 520 bridge is being built from east-to-west despite the face that there is not yet funding (they're more than a billion dollars short) to build the highway on the Seattle side between Montlake and I-5.
The 520 bridge is another victim of haste. This week the Seattle Times reported, and WSDOT admitted, that the design of the huge new pontoons that are supposed to keep the floating bridge floating is flawed. We already knew about cracks in the pontoons that showed up due to manufacturing flaws. But much bigger cracks and leaks are now showing up as a result of bad design and failure in oversight by WSDOT.
According to the Times, the cost of fixing the pontoon flaws will be "tens of millions of dollars, and the bill will go mostly to the public rather than contractors — because the most severe cracking was triggered by what [outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula] Hammond described as the state’s own design errors." WSDOT engineers are said to have violated procedures by failing to make proper design models and conduct tests. In short, WSDOT took shortcuts and didn't catch mistakes. The size and complexity of the mega-project also led to communications breakdowns, according to a Feb. 26th internal report. The tens of millions to fix the problem will come out of the $4.6 billion project's $250 million contingency fund, which still has $200 million left in it. But there's also a long way to go.
The pontoon problem, again, appears to be due partly to haste. Reports the Times: "The state chose to design the pontoons itself on a fast track (rather than delegate that responsibility to contractors) as a strategy to attract lower bids and to get the floating section built by 2014, a timeline set by former Gov. Chris Gregoire." WSDOT has said that due to the pontoon fiasco, the bridge will not open in 2014, but sometime the following year. Paula Hammond told the Times, "Everybody wants you to take risks, until something goes wrong."
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