Nail-biting time on the waterfront tunnel

Bids are due today and Friday morning we should know if we're close to getting a contract we can afford.

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The proposed waterfront tunnel

Bids are due today and Friday morning we should know if we're close to getting a contract we can afford.

Today is the day when bids are due on the deep-bore tunnel for Seattle's central waterfront project, and many are the nails being bitten and fingers crossed. We probably won't know the outcome for several weeks, due to the technical review process by the state Department of Transportation. But there will be good news (one or two bids under the maximum bid price of $1.09 billion) or bad news (neither of the two bidders comply, opening the door for negotiations) as early as Friday. The two construction teams bidding are Seattle Tunneling Group, including Parsons Transportation Group; and Seattle Tunnel Partners, including HNTB Corp.

Here's how the bidding process will go, courtesy of a consultant to WSDOT, Amy Grotefendt:

Scenario 1.  Both proposals are equal to or below the $1.09 billion contract price limit:

WSDOT will conduct a technical evaluation of both proposals, and award technical credits for commitments that add benefit to WSDOT above and beyond the RFP requirements. Credits can also be earned by reducing, mitigating, or transferring risks to the benefit of WSDOT. In December after the evaluation is complete, the proposer’s price will be reduced by the amount of technical credits they receive. The successful bidder will have the lowest apparent best value score and be awarded the contract.

Scenario 2.  Only one proposal is equal to or below the $1.09 billion contract price limit:

WSDOT will evaluate each proposal to ensure they comply with the requirements of the RFP. No technical credits will be assigned because we no longer have two competing proposals. If the proposal complies with the RFP, WSDOT will open the price and award the contract in November.

Scenario 3.  Both proposals are above the $1.09 billion contract price limit:

Both proposals will be returned to the proposers, and WSDOT will proceed with negotiations with both teams. Issues that may be negotiated include the extent of tunnel construction included in the design-build contract, how risk is allocated, and the technical requirements. When negotiations are complete, WSDOT will request a best and final offer from the teams by the end of the year. If both proposals are equal to or below the contract price limit, WSDOT would conduct the evaluation as described under Scenario 1.

While WSDOT does have up to 130 days after the proposals are submitted to execute the contract, the agency will execute as quickly as possible. Each proposal that complies with the RFP requirements will be awarded a $4 million stipend.

If a contract is not reached soon, there is a danger that the matter will go back to the Legislature, possibly with new Republican and anti-Seattle leadership, where there could be a move, New Jersey-style, to take the Seattle money back and distribute it to other needs and highways. To fend this off, Gov. Gregoire would want to sign the contract quickly, and she has impressed people lately with her fierce determination to push ahead with the tunnel plan.

Tunnel foes have three arrows left in their quiver. One is to sue over the adequacy of the EIS that the state, with some of the best EIS writers they could find, is working on. That could happen this spring; keep an eye on the local and national Sierra Club, which could be key to fund the steep legal costs. The second arrow is to run a slate of anti-tunnel candidates against the City Council next fall. Probably councilmembers Sally Clark and Tim Burgess are invincible; Tom Rasmussen is campaigning and raising money in his usual, highly determined way, so he too may be safe. That would leave Jean Godden (slow in getting started and perhaps not going to run) and Bruce Harrell as the possibly vulnerable incumbents. Even so, the math does not add up, given the current council's 8-1 support for the tunnel. One rumor: tunnel foe Cary Moon, a highly mediagenic personality, may challenge mayor-in-waiting Tim Burgess.

The third arrow is an initiative blocking the tunnel, which may be hard to do if it involves voiding signed contracts. The second such initiative has just been announced, with a coalition of greens, homeless advocates, and social-service providers who will raise the issue of cost overruns and their potential effect on city funding of other services. Such a campaign would be a legal long shot, but it serves to widen the anti-tunnel coalition, stir up the troops, and keep the issue toxic.

But, throw in a bid price that soaks up most of the remaining contingency cushion, and local and state politics could change.


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