520 floating bridge cracks will hurt other state projects

WSDOT mistakes on the bridge across Lake Washington will likely hurt other state projects.
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The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge

WSDOT mistakes on the bridge across Lake Washington will likely hurt other state projects.

The State Route 520 bridge's pontoon troubles could siphon off up to $170 million from other Washington transportation projects.

Washington Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson told the combined state Senate and House transportation committees Wednesday that the department's own pontoon design errors will cost $208.2 million to fix. That $208.2 million is far greater than the $81.1 million figure that The Seattle Times quoted last July.

And it wipes out a continengcy fund to meet unexpected expenses on the reconstruction of the floating bridge connecting Seattle and the Eastside. The $2.72 billion bridge replacement project has a contingency fund of $250 million. But that contingency fund already has $211.6 million charged to it. The change orders to fix the cracks due to pontoon design errors are expected to total another $208.2 million.

The bottom line: $169.8 million more is needed.

Peterson said the Highway 520 bridge replacement's budget needs an authorized increase from $2.72 billion to $2.89 billion. She was unsure Wednesday whether the Legislature needs to approve that budget increase in a bill, but speculated that requirement is likely.

State engineering mistakes have led to cracks showing up in several replacement bridge pontoons. Water will ooze through the cracks and shorten the 75-year design life of the bridge.  The problems have delayed the project by at least a year. The current completion date is April 2016, with demolition of the existing bridge to be finished by late 2016.

"You inherited a huge mess. ... We want to make sure that when the first car goes over the bridge, it stands there forever," Senate Transportation Committee co-chairwoman Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, told Peterson. Peterson took over the Transportation Department last March.

Peterson contended no extra taxes or increased tolls will likely be needed to scrape up the extra roughly $170 million. Senate Transportation Committee member Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, worried that the extra money will be transferred from numerous smaller transportation projects around the state -- a scenario that Peterson conceded is probable. Nevertheless, she said, "We will work to minimize the dollars coming from other projects."


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8